Reflecting on the past twelve months should give us a perspective of how much change and stress everyone has had to deal with on a consistent basis. While initially, energized (dealing with problem solving and getting remote working set up), the reality of blurring work and home life quickly became a reality. What has the effect on individuals, especially C-level executives been? What strategies have worked to mitigate the negative effects?

A recent Harvard Business Review article” Beyond Burnout” by Jennifer Moss offers some background and context to this issue.  In 2019, the World Health Organization classified burnout as “a syndrome conceptualized in chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”. The inference is that it is both organizational and individual problems need to be addressed from both sides.  It has long been acknowledged that individuals and organizations can successfully deal with short term heavy workloads and “off the chart” working hours per week. For example, 1) accountants and tax attorneys in the months prior April 15, tax filing deadline; 2) lawyers preparing for a big trial; 3) consultants working on a final presentation; 4) members of the military standing watch or guard duty during the night and putting in a full workday. But what about those times when there is no break in the action and the tempo of operations remains at peak levels? How does an organization and its leaders ensure that its workforce wants to remain with the organization?

Successful strategies have been implemented both for organizations and individuals.

Take care of Yourself First.

I heard this term during a recent webinar, and it stuck with me. Like the preflight briefing on an airliner that says, “if you are travelling with small children, put the oxygen mask on yourself first and then take care of your child.” That makes a great deal of sense. If you are the CEO or another C- level executive, your people will be looking to you to set the example. Here are a few ideas I have seen work with very successful individuals:

  • Stick to a Routine: It takes approximately six weeks to develop a routine and about six days to let it lapse. Find out what works best for you. Are you a morning or late evening person? Writers are disciplined to write “at least a certain number of pages per day” starting at the same time in the same location. Athletes exercise regularly to prepare for the season, and then adhere to a different routine prior to and after game days. Frank Sinatra used to swim laps underwater to increase his lung capacity and breathing techniques. All are working on mind and body routines to ensure peak performance. I have known executives to start the day at 5:00am by swimming laps at a health club pool or completing a 20-mile bike ride. Others find solace in yoga, prayer, or meditation. I have made a Jesuit Silent Retreat, Thursday through Sunday evening the first weekend in October for 22 years. The silence and contemplative time finds me walking and thinking slower by Friday afternoon. There is no other time during the year when I get that kind of mental break.

Take Care of the Team

  • Provide Guidelines and Major on the Majors: Do not make the people that you work with adhere to your routine but encourage them to establish whatever works for them. Guiding principles like expected times to return phone calls or emails and when NOT to be expected to respond are foundational. As important, is what you will not expect. Give everyone permission to say “no.” When I ran a large IBM office, my expectation during month three of every quarter was that NO STAFF WORK WOULD BE REQUIRED. All my managers knew that closing business was the ONLY priority. Their contemporaries in other offices would complain about not enough time to get things done, and my folks let them know that they were not burdened with the same expectations.
  • Ensure Psychological Safety: The definitionis being able to show and employ oneself without fear of negative consequences of self-image, status, or career. It is also a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking, feeling accepted and respected. If someone is struggling, you want to know about it so you can help. You need your people to tell you bad news about both the business and themselves with equal confidence that they will not be ostracized. Is that the case in your company?

The issue of wellness and burnout are not new but certainly have been exacerbated during the past twelve months. Are you looking for signs in yourself and others that all is not well? Ask your spouse, a trusted friend or colleague, or an executive or life coach to help you make an assessment, and then take appropriate action. Everyone will notice. For more information about Executive Coaching and Team Development, contact us.

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