In my last blog entry — “Everybody Needs A Break” — I focused on the impact of stress in the workplace, especially its effect on our emotions, thought processes, judgment and performance. My emphasis was on the important role of managers to monitor stress levels and act proactively to mitigate their most damaging consequences.
Ironically, the evening of my post, my wife drew my attention to a Bloomberg BusinessWeek item in “The Week” noting that “since January 2008, 34 workers at France Telecom have committed suicide prompting French President Sarkozy to urge France Telecom to develop a more compassionate culture and test employees for stress”.
Today, I not only wish to reiterate that managers pay attention to workplace stress — although the impact will generally be far less severe than the potential consequences suggested above — but to discuss the other side of the coin: the need for managers to take care of themselves as well.
Any manager worth his or her salt will work hard and put in totally unreasonable hours at times. But I do not believe a manager’s pay is simply for hard work. As a manager, you are paid for quality thinking, your judgment, your problem solving ability, and for the decisions you make that effect those entrusted to your management skills.
Being at your best as a manager absolutely demands some reasonable balance between your work and the rest of your personal life. Without some down time, some relaxation, some distance at regular intervals from your professional responsibilities, you and your workforce are headed for trouble. Maintaining your sense of perspective and the mental and emotional qualities you are paid for as a manager – to say nothing of your health – demands you occasionally do something other than your job.
Over the years, many managers have challenged me on this point arguing that they see it as an unavoidable choice: either accept the workload, hours, and stress necessary for success as a manager, or lead a more balanced life at some lower level of organizational responsibility. For me, however, maintaining a balanced life is not an either/or proposition. Rather I believe it is a fundamental requirement for maintaining the sound judgment and clear-headed thinking required for your success.
Trust me on this point and do it. Start small; leave early one night a week. Make your days off, days off when possible. Concentrate on engaging in off-time activity that isn’t timed, tightly scheduled, competitive, and where failing to complete something will not leave you feeling like you failed. Otherwise, how will your body know it isn’t still at work?
Learn to really experience what it is like to feel relaxed so that you will be more acutely aware when your body and mind are not. Athletes talk about the necessary recovery time following an event. I suggest you acknowledge and accommodate the regular recovery time demanded by the stress and strain of your management responsibilities. Whatever you do, don’t wait until your management performance starts to slip or worse, you get sick.