Friday, September 25, 2020

C-Suite Advisory

How Can Executives Manage Stress and Avoid Burnout? Three Tech CEOs Discuss the Answer


In May of this year, the World Health Organization classified workplace burnout as a condition in its latest revision of the International Classification of Diseases. Workplace burnout is defined as a state of extreme exhaustion caused by stress in one’s job and a lack of a good work-life balance.

In corporate America, 66 percent of people believe that they aren’t succeeding at having a proper work-life balance, and nearly 50 percent of people forfeit their vacation time yearly due to a fear of falling behind on their work – when they do take vacation time, 61 percent still work on their time off.

Executives, particularly CEOs, often encounter the highest levels of stress. They sign up for these increased pressures and the responsibilities—and to carry the success of the company on their shoulders. But mental health is still very important. How can they help to manage stress and avoid burnout—while fostering a culture that encourages work-life balance in their companies?

Below are unique viewpoints from three CEOs in the technology sector, one of the fastest growing industries worldwide, on how they manage it all.

Craig Hinkley, CEO of WhiteHat Security: “My path over the last 22 years since coming to the United States has been rewarding and fulfilling. It’s given me a wide variety of experiences that have allowed me to grow and develop into the person I am today. As you would expect, my ambitions and goals evolved over the years and led to wanting to be a CEO. While I have had the CEO title for the last four years it is only recently that I believe I have become a CEO. Today, I’m close to taking a company through a liquidity event which will be a huge professional milestone for me.

But after these successes in my career, my ambitions these days are more self-reflective. They’re about becoming a better leader, finding new ways to build strong teams and seeking different approaches to inspire the people I lead. To achieve these I am working on being more self-aware and self-critical. Not in a negative way, but in a way that’s constructive and helps me and the people around me grow and evolve. This approach helps me to tackle each task and obstacle that work throws at me.

Just as important to growth and development is your mental and emotional health and wellbeing. I believe in ‘taking care of yourself’ so you can truly be there for others – your colleagues, friends and your family. Life’s experiences have taught me that the only person I can change is me. Today, and every day I strive to be a better version of me through trying to be more self-aware, authentic, having gratitude for the good things in my life and seeking serenity. I strive for progress, not perfection and when I made mistakes being vulnerable enough to admit it.

Looking at my work-life balance, this is an area that I think is immensely important for my own mental health–and every CEO’s. Being candid and self-aware, it’s fair to say I have work to do in this part of my life. If I look back at my last four years at WhiteHat, I’d say I could have spent more time with my wife and family. Being more present and mindful will ensure that I can be a better leader, husband and father. I’ve implemented one foolproof way to clear my head regularly that I highly recommend: I go hiking every weekend with my wife, and we leave our phones behind. It’s a great way to get off the grid, get back to nature and spend quality time together. Just remember: work is important, but so is embracing life outside of the conference room, your phone and your computer. Clearing your headspace will not only refresh you and make you more effective at your job, it will help you become a stronger leader.”

Alex Fielding, interim CEO and founder of Ripcord: “I’d point out that a major stress businesses face today is knowing that they have endless amounts of data on their industry, their clients and their own business history; while also knowing they can’t easily access much of it.

We’re accustomed getting instantaneous results to any question we have. Years of access to technology has changed our data analysis expectations and it causes great frustration and stress when a company wants to look into its history, but is told that it will take a week, a month or a quarter to compose that research project. We expect it to take an hour or a day. MAX. This gap between the expectations and reality of how available our data is causes massive amounts of stress on companies.

Until recently there haven’t been comprehensive solutions to serious logistical issues that arise when trying to digitize data. Now, in the age of machine learning, artificial intelligence and robotics, it is financially and strategically feasible to digitize records and unlock all the data stored in warehouses.

This mental health awareness month, we encourage taking a close look at how difficult certain processes are for employees. How much time could you put back in their workdays if their search and filing processes were digital and streamlined? How many micro-stress moments could be eliminated if you could answer every query about your business almost immediately?”

George Mulhern, CEO of Cradlepoint: “In my role as CEO, I am often asked if I struggle with work-life balance.  People are somewhat surprised when I say no. I do strongly believe that people perform their best when they aren’t solely consumed by work and make time for themselves. But striking the ideal balance will be the result of the choices the individual makes regarding their professional and personal goals.

Over the course of a career, we are all faced with a myriad of decisions regarding our professional and personal lives. Every choice comes with a set of consequences – hopefully more positive than negative, of course.  When you choose to move higher in an organization, you are choosing to shift the balance point between your job and your life outside of work–in favor of your career. That’s why I personally don’t struggle with work life balance.  I chose to become CEO, knowing full well that it was going to be a very demanding job. My wife and I discussed it, before I took the job, and I highly recommend anyone considering an executive position to do the same with those that matter most in their lives.

The work-life balance for myself or a vice president, for example, in our company is going to be different than that of an individual contributor.  It’s not good or bad, it’s just a fact of life.

Taking higher level roles means there are people counting on you to choose the right direction, make the right decision, or just be there to provide advice or mentoring. As a result, it is likely going to demand more work time to ensure you are delivering what your team needs to be successful.  Where the balance point lies must be decided by the individual. The choice will depend upon the individual’s personal goals for both their career and life outside of work. It is worth spending a little time thinking about this, especially before blindly jumping at a promotion.

I want all of our employees to do great work, but I also want their jobs to work for their lives, families and hobbies.  As I said, I do believe that people perform at their best when they find their own ideal balance. Every job in our company is important, and because we are not a large company and work in the fast-moving world of technology, every job must be done, or we risk not being around for the long term.  That said, we can and do, provide flexibility in terms of how, where and when employees get their work done. None of us want to miss a son’s graduation from kindergarten, or a daughter’s high school state tennis tournament. It’s essential to have the ability to set aside time for important milestones.

And for the times in between, my #1 piece of advice for employees at all levels is to find activities outside of work that exercise your mind and body in a different way than your job. I was accepted into college on a tennis scholarship and have pursued the game since. I also (badly) play guitar and hold a black belt in Taekwondo. Finding these passions and sticking with them, even if it’s just three times a week for 30 minutes, will give you the mental break you need to be more effective the next time you log on. And that’s a win for you and your company alike.”

As CEOs, it is important to find ways to disconnect on occasion; it keeps you from burning out and sets a great example for your employees to do the same. And always remember: being able to bring your best self to your company will only benefit your bottom-line.

Have you read?

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Mindy Wright

Mindy Wright

Deputy Commissioning Editor
Mindy Wright is CEOWORLD magazine's Deputy Commissioning Editor, and leads global newsroom coverage and management. She oversees and coordinates coverage of the news and ideas in partnership with writers across the continent. She has reported from more than 15 countries across Asia, Europe, Africa and the Americas. She has advised CEOs, investors, boards, and high-profile industry leaders on a wide range of issues impacting the global business landscape. She can be reached on email You can follow her on Twitter at @ceoworld.