How Today’s Leaders Should Cope with Workaholism
C-Suite executives who led their companies through the Great Recession years ago are now opting for portfolio lifestyles that are comprised of a number of less time-consuming jobs such as consultancy, advisory and Board functions. Combined, all of these responsibilities add up to a fulfilling and fruitful next career that also allows for increased personal time. As the old guard transitions to new jobs and makes way for the next generation of leaders, increased pressure is placed on those elevating into the C-Suite to continue the same functions needed to push businesses forward but with fewer resources than the previous managers had.
“Today’s leadership ranks are facing the kind of pressure predecessors typically have not encountered,” says Hugh Shields, principal and co-founder of Shields Meneley Partners, a career-transition and leadership-coaching firm for senior executives. “With more leadership roles to fill and fewer leaders to fill the spots, it becomes a numbers game that forces Boards of Directors to find those C-Suite diamonds in the rough executives who are expected to be able to do everything.”
This, in turn is exposing leaders to workaholism and its associated health risks.
“Workaholism” was coined in 1971 by Wayne E. Oates, a psychologist who defined it as “an uncontrollable need to work incessantly.” Traits of a workaholic typically include a compulsion to work very hard, non-stop thinking about work when not actually on the clock and even having a sense of guilt when not grinding it out at his or her jobs.
Workaholism can have deleterious psychological and physical results for today’s leadership, including insomnia, anxiety and heart disease. This does not even address the likely alienation from meaningful and sustaining relationships with family and friends. “Stress levels in workaholics are…often chronic, which leads to ongoing wear and tear on the body,” writes Prof. Like ten Brummelhuis for Harvard Business Review.
To combat the ill effects of workaholism, leaders today should consider taking a handful of proactive steps. First, and perhaps most important, is to recognize when the one’s relationship with work is unhealthy. When work undermines outside relationships it is time to take the necessary steps to right-side the situation.
Turning it Off
One way to regain control of work is to set clear start and stop times for every day. This can help someone to accept when work has ended for the day. Have trouble relaxing enough to focus on something else, even during your off hours? At the very least, try to stick to a schedule that allows for a no-work policy of between two hours and three hours before bedtime.
Maintain a Sense of Balance
Leaders today need to understand and accept that while important, work is but a single part of what makes everyone human. “What’s key to keep in mind is that work is just a part of life,” says research psychologist Peggy Drexler. “Sometimes it’s best – for everyone – to know when to shut it down and go on home.” This includes taking the time to nourish and foster relationships with family and friends to maintain a sense of work-life balance. This will go a long way to relaxing and recharging internal batteries.
Avoid Extreme Goal-Setting
If a leader feels as though he or she is supposed to be an expert in all fields, it makes sense targets and expectations would be sky high. While objectives should be ambitious, leaders today would be better served to include a sense of realism. If leaders set unfair goals form themselves that are not reached, a harmful paradigm may be created when a sense of failure persists. “For many, it’s how they develop feelings of self-worth,” says Dr. Drexler. “This can be both empowering and dangerous.”
Whether you are a full-blown workaholic or are moving along the slippery slope toward this very real health issue, it is advisable to seek help – perhaps with a leadership coach or other type of expert.
“Leaders today are under significant and different pressures than previous generations,” explains Shields. “It is important for contemporary managers to get a handle on the situation sooner rather than later because that will ultimately lead to better business outcomes and improved personal health.”