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This CEO's Must-Do Meeting: Dinner With the Family

This CEO's Must-Do Meeting: Dinner With the Family
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A few years ago, a study by the London School of Economics and Political Science found that the average CEO spends roughly 18 hours of a 55-hour work week in meetings, more than three hours on calls and five hours in business meals.

As a busy CEO myself, I can relate. But my most important calendar item has nothing to do with work.

It’s dinner with my family.

First things first.

In fact, I consider being at the supper table with my wife and two boys, ages seven and four, an inviolable rule. The only exception is when I’m traveling (and even then I make getting home in time for dinner a priority in my trip planning).

This routine isn’t easy for a tech industry executive to maintain, but I adopted it a few years ago and kept it even after becoming a CEO for the first time last year.

As dedicated as I am to leading my company and driving great results, my top success metric in life lies outside the corner office: What kinds of people my kids grow up to be.

Related: Balancing Act: Work-Life Balance Should Be Your Enterprise's Concern

The verdict is in.

Study after study has shown that children who regularly eat with their families are better off.

  • Kids who eat dinner with their parents five or more days a week have a decreased risk of smoking, drinking or using drugs, eat healthier, do better in school and have better relationships with their parents than children who eat dinner with their parents less often, says a report by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.
  • A study by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that shared family mealtimes mean a child may be 35 percent less likely to engage in disordered eating, 24 percent more likely to eat healthier foods and 12 percent less likely to be overweight.
  • Students who do not regularly eat with their parents are twice more likely to be truant at school, according to an analysis by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

And yet, according to a survey conducted by Eckrich, a product of ConAgra Foods, only 40 percent of American families eat dinner together, and then, no more than two or three times a week.

Related: Why You Should Hire Your Kids This Summer

Your EOD is up 2 U.

Dinner with the family has become so unusual for busy professionals that when Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, declared publicly a few years ago that she insists on leaving the office at 5:30 every day to get home for dinner with her two kids, the Wall Street Journal said the announcement “stunned the world.”

Shame on all of us if it’s astonishing to want to be truly present as your children grow up, even if it means setting limits or getting creative on your schedule.

I shut down around 5 pm every day and head home to Burlingame, CA, for dinner. I consider it a much wiser investment than staying in the office until 6:30 or 7 just to prove how hard I’m working.

The conversation around the table tends to be that of a typical young family -- from what happened in school that day to a great song one of us heard. Devices are prohibited. (I’ve instructed other executives at the company to call me in the event of an urgent work matter -- but I won’t be online.)

Nearly every dinnertime, something happens -- whether it’s a teaching moment or a shared smile with my wife after something one of the kids said -- that feels irreplaceable.

Related: What Sheryl Sandberg Would Have Told Her Younger Self

Get a jump on tomorrow, don't drag out your employees' today.

The kids are off to bed at 7:30, and that’s when I sometimes log back on. Technology affords this amazing flexibility -- why not take advantage to balance life and work?

(By the way, I focus on “me” tasks after firing the laptop back up, such as working on a presentation I have to deliver, rather than bombarding the team with e-mails that they’ll feel obligated to respond to during their off hours.)

While I didn’t announce my dinner rule via a company-wide e-mail, after declining a number of dinnertime meetings and saying why, my philosophy was learned. I’ve been amazed by how respectful and accommodating everyone has been. In fact, most have taken my lead, are spending more quality time with their families, and are much happier (and more productive) employees for it! When you tell people what’s important to you, they have a wonderful way of following along.

If you have the flexibility to make dinner with the family routine -- and I realize not everyone’s job can accommodate this, for example a single parent trying to make ends meet by working two jobs or a police officer working a long shift -- I’d vouch for it being one of the best moves you’ll ever make.