Spending time at the office is a chance to escape domestic pressures, says Pinpoint One’s Lucia Mabasa.
There is still a huge debate raging around returning to work versus working from home. But in truth, it’s actually a distraction. The new pandemic that no one is talking about is burnout – executive burnout. The C-suite and the senior executives are caught between a rock and hard place. Staff are wrestling to keep their newfound freedom and resist getting stuck in traffic for an hour each way each day (loadshedding permitting), while the board just wants results.
Every executive I speak to tells me the same story . It doesn’t matter what they tell their directors, the answer is always the same: “Just make it happen.” But doing that requires even more sacrifice, more effort from people who have already been burning the candle at both ends trying to keep their companies going through the pandemic.
Then, it was “lives before livelihoods”. Now, though, it feels like we are prioritising livelihoods over lives. Many executives I know do want to go back to the office – because that’s where they escape. The office is a place of boundaries; of times to begin and times to knock off and go home. Traditional offices don’t have Post-it notes and reminders on just about every surface like your home office does; from the dining room to the fridge door and even the bedroom mirror to remind you of who you have to call.
And that’s the problem. For many executives, home isn’t a place where you go to escape, it’s a prison. It’s a pressure cooker where you juggle the various roles of high-powered manager, parent, spouse and just being you. Something has to give. Normally it’s your own needs.
It’s difficult because the rewards are good: executives get higher pay and better performance
bonuses, but at what cost? I know some executives scheduling meetings well into the evening, sometimes as late as 10pm. It’s even worse for those with international affiliates, having to juggle global time zones. Nobody wants to be the person who isn’t going the extra mile when everyone in your team seems to be doing that. No one wants to be seen as the weak link or the passenger.
Nothing’s changed from the pre-pandemic days, except the pressure has ramped up to
unimaginable levels. Always on, always available – except we aren’t. We can’t be there for the critically important sports game or the prize-giving that our child needs us for. We can’t even schedule romantic breaks or getaways. But we must. We need to learn to impose boundaries – again. We need to manage up – the demands of our boards – as well as manage down: the expectations of our staff. We need to take breaks.
Not everyone can afford the time to take a whole month or even a week, so we start small. Take the evening off. Take the weekend off. It’s incredibly difficult to unwind when you walk through to the kitchen on a Saturday morning to put the kettle on and the first thing you see is your work Post-it reminder on the fridge door. So, take the Post-it off. In fact, consider spending more time at the office.
I do, and it’s been wonderful. There are clear boundaries, and fantastic opportunities to engage on a one-to-one basis with colleagues, which was so cruelly denied us for so long during lockdown. It’s a chance to escape, for a moment, the domestic pressures we all face.
Learn to win back time to do things for yourself. Exercise is vital for every aspect of our health: physical, mental and emotional. Some people swear by high intensity activities, others (like me) can’t stand them. I walk or I cycle at a bike gym or I go to a yoga class. Just stretching and concentrating on my breathing takes me to a different place.
Invest in friends, people you can talk to who aren’t part of your business. Leadership is lonely by definition; we need people we can unload to and just get things off our chest without offending anyone in the chain of command. We need the incredible clarity we can often get by speaking to someone who knows nothing about our business, but can bring an insight that is totally on point because they have the distance to provide perspective. We need honest feedback about ourselves that most subordinates can’t give us.
We have learnt so much during the last two years, but in the process of absorbing all that’s new, we’ve lost sight of some of the old that was so good. C-suite and senior managers are vital to the success and growth of companies, but they’re no use to anyone – least of all their families – if they burn out.
From what I’m seeing, burnout has never been as real or as prevalent as it is today. They say charity begins at home for a reason; just like airlines tell you to put on your oxygen mask first before you help others when the plane depressurises. You can’t help others if you can’t help yourself. You can’t lead or encourage, you can’t be there to pick up others when they fall, if you’re already falling yourself.
Re-establish your home as a safe space for you and your family. Take the time to recharge your batteries and reconnect with your children while you still can. Get the balance right and then get right back in there and show everyone what you’ve got and why you’re worth the corner office.