Family can't be allowed to come a second to work, but striking a balance is tough
Ask people to write a list of the THINGS that are most important to them and the chances are that their family will be number one.

Yet many committed family men and women find themselves arriving at the office or on site at 6am and leaving at 9pm – this is often the badge of the true corporate foot soldier. What more could a company want than an individual who puts his or her whole life and effort into the business in order that it can succeed and prosper?

The after-work drink with mates from the office – "just a quick one then!" – which ensures that you miss the rush hour but get back after the children have finished their homework or gone to bed is all part of the work approach in many offices or companies.

So, is this a satisfactory model for companies?

Is it good to allow employees to operate in this way? What is the alternative? A company that encourages staff to get home and spend time with their families? A company that tells off its staff for not taking their full holiday entitlement, or for getting in to the office too early and not helping with the family chores? These are the kinds of question we should all be asking ourselves, no matter what our business or role in the company.

Over the past few years it has become evident to me that the biggest area of stress in business is the tension that exists between work and family commitments. If you are too committed to work, you risk mucking up your family, and if you are too committed to your family you tend to miss all those "social moments" that can help you progress up the career ladder. Some people manage to get the balance right. However, the ever-increasing carnage of divorce and single parenting is often testimony to many people getting things out of balance. Often they attribute part of the blame to their work.

But it's not just the obvious areas of family relationships that need attention. In construction companies, so predominantly male, the lack of parenting input from "dads" must have an impact. Lots of eminent writers quote chapter and verse on the need for male role models for young children. So, when your office and site staff are working so hard on all the projects, what's happening to their families? "But this has always been the way things work", I hear you say, and perhaps in the UK this is the model. Other countries have a more balanced approach to work and family, and industries other than construction have set better standards as well.

Go to any "black tie" do and the story is laid out before you. Hoards of males (5% female is high) and all their support at home covering the main event. My wife constantly tells me that she doesn't understand why I can't do the business I claim to do at these events during normal working hours, like any sane person.

The ever-increasing carnage of divorce and single parenting is often testimony to many people getting things out of balance

Where does the weekend company golf event or corporate entertainment fit into all of this?

As far as my children are concerned, the weekends are their time, and any event is a breach of the covenant that they will get quality time with me, if not quantity.

Companies need to make sure that their employees work as hard at their family lives as they do at the office. After all, the statistics on absenteeism are increasing for whatever reason, and that costs money and loss of productivity.

We need to encourage flexible working hours to attract more women into our businesses and to make sure we do not "stress the team" and put the family under pressure.

What we might have to do to ensure this new balance happens is to let it be known that it's OK to say "no". That it's OK to arrange meetings that enable you to get home on time, to keep them short and to make decisions more speedily. The basic disciplines of time-keeping, teamworking and pre-meeting briefings all need to be improved. A quick

phone call to avoid that wasted two-hour meeting and getting home in time to help with the 12-year-old's homework is good management. If this were the test, who would be the best in your team?