It feels like only a few weeks ago that we were coming back to work from the last summer holiday. Yet, here we are, with days to go until Christmas.
Across Australia, most people head out of the office for at least a few holiday days away during December and January. Some make tracks for the beach, while others look further afield to the snowy peaks of the northern hemisphere.
For some executives, even reading about taking time out will trigger a stress reaction. As a leader in their organisation, they feel the team’s success and ability to deliver to deadlines depends on them. And, even when the team are delivering, there is planning to be done for future phases of work to ensure ongoing success. They feel they simply can’t holiday. And if they do leave, they’ll be tethered to a device to ensure they maintain a finger on the pulse.
Other leaders fear the consequence of stepping away from directing their team daily. Will the initiatives in progress de-rail or slow? Will complications arise which no-one on the team is qualified to manage?
Yet others again, are energised by the prospect of taking time out but fatigued by the thought of returning to a pile up of work after a holiday.
Former chairman and chief executive of Deloitte Consulting LLC, Jim Moffatt, acknowledged to Forbes he often found himself unable to unplug from work even during family holidays.
When a colleague pointed out his level of responsibility required he take time to refresh, and that day-to-day operations were managed by good people, it was a light bulb moment.
As he said, “A true leader steps back, trusts his or her people, and allows them to succeed. By taking a break from the day-to-day operations, not only was I spending some much-needed time with my family, but also I was able to focus on the bigger picture of where we were and where our business was heading.”
One of the reasons executives work so hard is to build teams around them who have the ability to manage the business. A strong leader knows how to build talented teams. And when to place trust in them to manage day-to-day.
Once upon a time it was something of a badge of honour to have leave days rolling over, quarter after quarter. Even year after year. Today there is a mounting body of evidence to support that one of the best actions leaders can take for their organisations, their teams and themselves is a holiday.
Benefits of executives taking time out can deliver a wide range of positive influence, including:
Creativity: an average day in an average workplace brings leaders a string of meetings, opportunities to jump on, fires to fight, ad-hoc conversations and interruptions. It is rare to have regular windows of time to enable what Cal Newport describes as “deep work” or “professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit … to create new value, improve your skill and which are hard to replicate.”
Time free of distractions allows the mind to wander, ponder and reflect. Without interruptions, your mind can process many facts and past conversations and make unexpected connections. Most of us have experienced breakthroughs in the shower. Why? It’s a small window in each day with zero interruptions and distractions. We’re occupied with the easy activity of bathing which allows our minds to roam around complex problems. If you can get a breakthrough in the shower, imagine what could happen during a week at the beach.
Promote a culture aligned to balance and wellbeing: having a career is like running a marathon. In order to make the distance and stay healthy, work-life balance is critical. Most contemporary organisations recognise the importance of work-life balance. Balance helps protect teams against burnout, helps prevent the negative impacts of stress and helps teams manage competing work and life priorities.
Organisations who nurture a culture where employees can genuinely satisfy commitments to work and life take a huge step closer to having a happy, healthy, loyal workforce. What better method to highlight the importance of work-life balance than by executives role-modelling those precise behaviours by taking time out themselves?
Give teams a chance to lead: chances are, you’ve invested heavily in your team. For the most part, they’re likely to be a group you’ve either hand-picked, or personally coached, to your standards of performance. Most teams tend to enjoy the opportunity to self-manage while their leader takes time out. For your peace of mind, agree the deliverables, guidelines, any limits and back-up plans in advance. Let them know they can always contact you if things get too much for them to handle within the support structures you’ve agreed. You created the team. Show them you trust them to deliver what you hired them to do.
Control burnout: burnout is a slow-moving condition that results in feelings of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion. Burnout usually results from prolonged periods of stress and, once it takes hold, can spill over into all areas of life, leaving the sufferer feeling demotivated, overwhelmed and drained.
While holidays won’t cure burnout, time out from the regular routine can help slow the effects. More importantly, time out can create the space necessary to develop a plan – or seek help – to combat burnout. Burnout can be complex, but is also more common than you might think. For more information and suggestions on how to handle burnout visit resources like these or consult your general practitioner.
Every executive faces a time deficit. Yet, when time is carved out, it is all too easy to get pulled into doing something unproductive.
As William Penn once said, “time is what we want most, but what we use worst”.
To help ensure you can maximise any time taken out of your usual routine, try one or more of the following suggestions:
Sleep: deep, rejuvenating rest is essential for everyone to maintain perspective, avoid burnout and remain energised for whatever each day brings. Quality sleep is particularly for executives whose careers demand long hours, high productivity and constant mental presence. After suffering debilitating professional burnout, Ariana Huffington discovered the nurturing power of sleep. Using data points and scientific evidence, she’s become a sleep evangelist. Catch her TedTalk on the power of sleep here.
Digital detox: we’re not suggesting you choose the point at which you’re furthest from the office to ditch the devices. What we are suggesting is that devices can tether you to the very environment from which you need relief. Try putting light limits on technology usage while you’re on holiday. Perhaps agree to having no phones during mealtimes, designate specific times of day to check emails and put devices away thirty minutes before bedtime. Be present.
Exercise: which comes first, a healthy body or a healthy mind? The reality is the two are closely connected. So closely connected that if one is unhealthy, it can affect the other. Good emotional health helps ensure resilience to handle work challenges, improves stress management and helps maintain positive perspectives on work and life. Good physical health helps contribute to good emotional health. We know you know about the benefits of exercise. So this is just a light reminder of how regular exercise can help oxygenate your body, activate muscles tired of sitting most of the day and relieve tension, all of which help you achieve better emotional and physical health.
As Ariana Huffington says, our eulogies are not filled with statements about our long hours in the office, promotions or the white papers we published. Instead they reflect our cherished relationships, good memories, “acts of generosity, lifelong passions, and the things that made us laugh.” And these are all things that occur most often when you’re taking a break.
Use this July to invest in your own creativity, emotional and physical health and give your teams a chance to prove their leadership.
(And for more information about how Morgan Young can help you build a team you can trust so you can take time out with peace of mind contact us here)