5 work/life balance tips from Chicago CIO of the Year winners

How do you disconnect on vacation? Model balance for your team? Try these strategies
253 readers like this
remote work lessons

CIOs are busier than ever. The demands are constant. We caught up with five of the CIOs who recently won the 2019 Chicago CIO of the Year ORBIE Awards to find out how they try to find a work/life balance. The awards were presented by the Chicago CIO Leadership Association, a professional community that annually recognizes CIOs for their excellence in technology leadership.

We asked the winners to share some of their personal strategies for staying afloat. Their answers ranged from truly disconnecting when going on vacation, to staying connected to their children  during business travel. 

[ Read also: Blended, not balanced: 8 ways to reclaim sanity at work and home. ] 

1. Text your kids motivational quotes when traveling 

Leadership CIO of the Year 

Tim Theriault, Global CIO, Director & Advisor, Former CIO, Walgreens Boots Alliance (retired): For me, it was most important to be “present” in situations which applied to work or family. Specifically, if I was at an event for my kids, I would make sure I was paying attention to what they were doing – and not focused on my phone. That said, when the opportunity presented itself, I would also take advantage of technology to help me be effective. The other important role I think I needed to play was supporting others by not demanding that they be available 24x7. Everyone has their own situation and needs to find their own comfort in how to do this.

As the kids have gone away to college they call me their "hype man."

I never felt guilty for balancing this. I worked hard and long hours and also was available for my family as much as possible. I used technology effectively to ensure I found the right balance. When I was out of town, I would often text my kids motivational quotes in the morning so they’ll have it when they wake up and start their day. My favorite has always been: “Be amazing!” As the kids have gone away to college they call me their “hype man.”

At work, I felt it was very important for me to model the right behavior. I respected each individual for their own unique work/life balance needs and encouraged them to find their comfort zone. I always had a special sensitivity to working mothers as I learned through listening to their unique challenges.

Everyone needs to find their center on this important topic and live comfortably with it. People should not feel guilt or regret, and if they do, they should listen to themselves and make the necessary adjustments to find their balance. In the end, people should do the best they can, and if they can accept not being perfect at all times –  they will successfully find their balance.

2. Treat vacation as sacred - no work calls or texts

Global Chicago CIO of the Year 

Creighton Warren, VP & CIO, USG Corporation: One important lesson I learned from a former boss is that vacations are sacred. When I’m on vacation, I’m on vacation. I expect my direct reports to handle things. Otherwise, I don’t have the right team. In return, I do the same thing for my direct reports. When they are on vacation, I never contact them, and should I have any needs or questions, I go to the person they put in charge. It’s healthy to get away from work, and I’ve seen productivity increase when people return. It also offers opportunity for others, when their boss is out, to develop and get a glimpse of what truly is involved at the next level.

USG is a company that values and respects all of its employees and their need to manage work/life balance. Our employees work hard; however, we recognize that our employees need to make time for themselves and their families. As such, our senior management leaders encourage flexible schedules and other initiatives that help employees work in an environment that gives them the chance to be more present for their families, including on their children’s first day of school or coaching their children’s soccer games. It’s a way-of-life that is important to our company.

3. Keep your lunch hour free 

Super Global Chicago CIO of the Year

Glenn Schneider, CIO & EVP Business Technology, Discover Financial Services: Maintaining a healthy balance between work and life is an important part of fostering a productive and healthy work environment. Discover places a strong commitment on improving employees’ health and work/life balance through the benefits, resources, and tools it provides. I do my best to take advantage of these benefits to foster a healthy balance for myself.

My phone and the ability to check email and join conference calls from wherever allows me to stay connected even when I’m not in the office. When I’m in the office, I try and keep my lunch hour free and use that time to interact with colleagues or check-in at home. Discover embraces a culture of working smarter which provides me the ability to delegate meetings and projects to the most relevant teams, regardless of titles, and allows me to coach rather than lead in every meeting.

Personally, a few things I’ve implemented into my routine in order to strike a balance between work and life is my travel schedule and leveraging the tools and technologies we make available at Discover that help me stay connected. I travel quite often for work and I make an effort to only travel during the work week. I highly value family time, so I do my best to keep my weekends open and free from work travel. I also do my best to leverage the tools and technology at Discover that help people work remotely.

I routinely talk about the many employee benefits we provide during our department town hall meetings or within breakout huddles, and I stress that employees take advantage of them. I also discuss it with leaders throughout the department to ensure they are embracing it within their teams. 

4. Consider work like a rubber ball ...

Large Enterprise Chicago CIO of the Year

Chris Nash, CIO, Adtalem Global Education: My approach to work/life balance was heavily influenced by something Bryan Dyson, the former CEO of Coca-Cola once said. He described life as a game in which you are juggling five balls: work, family, health, friends, and spirit. The work ball is made of rubber but the others are made of glass. I try very hard to never let any ball drop. In fact, I work on improving my skills so I can juggle additional balls like volunteering, board work, and hobbies. However, I know that if I have to let one of “the big five” drop, I will protect the glass balls at all costs. 

While this may surprise you, I would make this choice because of the strength of my team at work. I know I can rely on them to step in and manage things, and if for some reason they can’t, the work ball is made of rubber and will bounce back. 

You are juggling five balls: work, family, health, friends, and spirit. The work ball is made of rubber but the others are made of glass.

To maintain balance for myself, I recognize there are circumstances when I need more time outside of work. To make time for those moments, I get to work earlier and stay later than usual so I can throw the work ball much higher and provide the extra time that I need. As a leader, my team knows this model is not just for my life alone, but that I acknowledge each of them is juggling, too, and that their balance and well-being is of great importance to me.

5. Do your work while your kids do their homework

Corporate Chicago CIO of the Year 

David Hoag, SVP & CIO, Options Clearing Corporation: Throughout my professional career I’ve generally had a hard time with “work/life balance” as a concept simply because work is a very large part of your life. I don’t think I am unique in saying that many of my greatest lifelong friends have come from my work experiences.

However, I do strive to find some semblance of balance. I make a good attempt to not send any emails on the weekend, but I often find that this is more of a goal than a hard and fast rule. Absent an extraordinary need, I do try to limit the time I spend reading and responding to work emails to the early hours of the day before my family is up and operational. With that said, much of my professional work is very much aligned to my personal interests, so I greatly enjoy reading and studying work-related information on the weekends when the time allows.

With the arrival of my children, I’ve recognized the importance and the value of my home life away from work. There are many times I can marry the two. For example, during homework time I’ll often sit at the table and work while my children cruise through their homework. In contrast, when we are vacationing I seek to fully disconnect from my work as I trust my OCC colleagues to keep things moving forward so I can provide my family my undivided attention.

[ Working on your emotional intelligence? Learn the behaviors to avoid as you build your EQ: 10 things leaders with emotional intelligence never do. ]

As community manager for The Enterprisers Project, Ginny Hamilton helps build the site's community of CIOs, IT leaders, and readers. She is responsible for helping tell the stories of leading IT executives – showcasing the projects, experiences, and challenges they're facing in their roles as IT leaders.


It could be really tough for a workaholic to simply drop everything and go enjoy him/herself during vacation. What it takes is pure dedication even when it is time to finally wind down. Force yourself to take the break that you deserve.

Social Media Share Icons