How appropriate – I wish I could say we planned it – April is stress awareness month! Perfect timing as we focus on the Self-care and Balance part of the Professional Growth Wheel™ this month. The purpose of this series of articles is to help you focus on goals to grow and succeed in your career. This section of the Growth Wheel is often the most neglected by those striving for professional success. We often believe that more time and effort will lead to success; but we all know the likely outcome – stress and burnout.
Stress and pressure have been exacerbated in 2020/2021 due to the pandemic. As leaders, many of us have been asked to guide our organizations through the financial and health impacts of COVID. Working from home has also added to the challenge. While commutes went away, that “extra” time has been taken up by more Zoom meetings and the reality of never leaving the office and always being “on.” This topic of self-care has taken on more relevance than ever before.
While we have been told about the importance of taking time to relax and recharge, we seem to always give it short shrift. It either is not on our to-do list, or it is the easiest thing for us to drop off the list. For you hard chargers, I am going to try to reframe its importance: to those who want to get ahead, refueling your tank is not just good for your health – it contributes to high performance.
In 2016, Arianna Huffington, founder of the Huffington Post, was compelled to leave her role to start up Thrive Global, an organization aiming to support individuals struggling with stress and burnout. According to Huffington, “When we do take care of ourselves, we see benefits to our physical and mental health, performance and productivity. When we don’t, we pay a price: innovation, creativity, resilience, empathy, decision-making and team building are the first to disappear when we are burned out and depleted.”
In one of her blog posts, she makes the connection with top-performing athletes. “They were the first to recognize recovery is an essential part of peak performance.” She lists study after study that prove it is true. She then focuses on the workplace and shares a similar study done with a group of HR Managers. After mindfulness and mediation training over eight weeks, there was a significant increase in their ability to concentrate longer, and they had lower levels of stress. There is more and more science out there proving the importance of taking time to recharge our mental and emotional batteries to drive higher performance at work.
For those who are managers, you not only have responsibility for your well-being, but that of your team. Are you role modeling self-care? Or is your team exhausted too? As a leader, you can’t get the results you need given the less productivity and creativity that comes with a burnout team. Tired, unengaged employees are not willing to go the extra mile for you. To progress your career, you need to get results through others and be seen as the leader that people want to work for. Taking it all on yourself and not delegating is just as bad. Wanting control and believing that no one can do it as well as you creates a “hero mentality” which is not sustainable.
Research conducted by Project: Time Off studied the importance of taking time off/vacation. It showed that those who did not take time off were 23-27% less likely to receive a promotion, and 78-84% less likely to receive a raise or bonus compared to those who do take their deserved time away. The author of the study, Katie Denis, calls these individuals “work martyrs.”
“At a certain point, our productivity and energy suffers,” notes Denis. “They feel that they are sacrificing their vacation time in service to their jobs, but in reality, they are trading away opportunities to be better for their companies by skipping time off.” This research reminds me of something I once heard an executive coach say, “if you are so irreplaceable, then how could you ever be promoted? They need you too much just where you are!”
Hopefully, I have convinced you of the importance of self-care. But what do you do? That is an answer that only you can discover. How you build your energy back will look different for every person who reads this article. There will be some extraverts out there who need to connect with family and friends to re-energize, while introverts might get refreshed from some quiet time reading a good (nonwork focused) book. Some may need to run a marathon or participate in other high-intensity sports, while others may need the relaxation that comes from yoga and meditation.
Take the time to identify what it is for you. The one common thread for all is setting boundaries to insure it happens and doesn’t fall off the priority list. How will you hold yourself accountable? A great resource to help you on your quest is the Thrive Global website – short articles filled with good ideas about this topic.
Let’s celebrate Stress Awareness Month by focusing on self-care. As we have said for all areas of professional growth, be intentional if you expect to make progress. Remember, more hours and more stress will not get you to where you want to be professionally. Focus on refueling – you owe it to yourself to be successful!
- Huffington, Arianna, March 2020 The Eye of the Hurricane: Leadership in the Age of COVID-19 Thrive Global
- Huffington, Arianna November 2016 Lessons from the Sports Page: The Ultimate Performance Enhancing Drug Thrive Global Blog
- Gould, Wendy Rose, June 2017 Why Taking Vacation is the Best Thing You can do for Your Career Better by Today Blog