Britain’s new prime minister dubbed a ‘part-timer’ for saying he won’t work past 6 p.m. on Fridays, but experts credit Sir Keir Starmer for setting a good example for healthy working standards

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The newly elected leader recently revealed that for years, he has “protected” that time to spend it with his family, including a 16-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter—and he has no intentions of ditching that habit because, in his eyes, he’s a better politician for it.

“I don’t believe in the theory that you’re a better decision maker if you don’t allow yourself the space to be a dad and have fun for your kids,” the Labour Party leader told Virgin Radio last week.

“Actually, it helps me. It takes me away from the pressure, it relaxes me and I think actually, not only is that what I want to do as a dad, it is better.”

In politics, “some people think if you fill your diary 24/7 and don’t do anything else, that makes you a much better decision maker,” the 61-year-old prosecutor-turned-politician added. “I don’t agree with that. I think you’ve got to make space.”

In the aftermath, the opposition party labeled Starmer a “part-time Prime Minister” on social media.

Meanwhile, his predecessor, Rishi Sunak—who is richer than the King of England and served as PM from 2022 until he lost last week’s election —scoffed: “I haven’t finished at six ever.” 

Downing Street declined Fortune’s request for comment.

Work-life balance in leadership is rare 

Nobody likes to work well into their evenings or weekends. The only problem? As Sunak (and many CEOs featured in Fortune) have pointed out, being a leader isn’t a normal 9-5 job. 

Doug Baird, CEO of the people advisory business New Street Consulting Group, tells Fortune that the pace of the world has changed dramatically, and leaders need to always be on if they want to keep up with today’s high standards.

“It’s interesting that Sir Kier Starmer has this goal of not working past 6 pm on Fridays, but leadership is not like that,” he added. “I suspect most leaders in business may have a little chuckle at this lofty and unrealistic self-made deadline.”

“Would the answerphone be on if a world leader called him?”

But realistically, there’s a big difference between being available and being on the job.

“I wouldn’t expect him to put on his out-of-office,” Lewis Maleh, CEO of the global executive recruitment agency Bentley Lewis, says while adding that leaders need to balance being on call and switching off for the good of their health and that of the business—or in this case, the country.

“I think it’s important for leaders to protect their energy and manage their time in the right way,” he adds. “The road is long and the CEO position is all-encompassing. If you don’t look after yourself how can you look after anyone else?”  

A burned-out leader isn’t good for anyone

Burnout is the modern-day business epidemic.

While young workers are struggling the most with their mental health at work, managers are no strangers to feeling burned out.

Barnaby Lashbrooke, CEO of the virtual assistant company Time Etc, tells Fortune that he “unapologetically” clocks off work on a Friday after doing his 35 hours (with regular breaks) because pulling 100-hour workweeks when he founded the company caused his physical and mental health to take a hit. 

“If you don’t make time switch off, you can’t expect to function optimally in the long term,” he says from experience. “While a Prime Minister is technically always on call, a burned-out leader simply won’t have the capacity to make good decisions.”

The entire workforce benefits from the trickle-down effect of having a leader who prioritizes work-life balance, and so numerous CEOs and leadership experts told Fortune that Starmer’s stance on working 24/7 sets a good example for healthy working standards.

“We’re all used to seeing leaders who would be up by 4am, then in the gym for intense workouts, before carrying out a couple of hours of work all before 7am,” Amrit Sandhar, CEO and founder of the employment engagement firm, &Evolve says. “They seemed to have no off switch, as they worked well into the night and weekends.”

Sandhar suggests that Starmer’s indication that he’ll schedule dedicated downtime shows that he has the emotional intelligence to understand that how he works dictates how others work.

“When leaders are taking time out to be with their family, it’s a message to everyone else to be the best you can be at work and when you leave work, to focus on those aspects of your lives that really matter.”

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