When things get tough is when underlying quandaries seem to make their way to the surface. The COVID-19 pandemic didn’t create the battle with mental health and burnout in America, but it certainly fanned the flames.
Personable communication has been stifled, taking place mostly on digital platforms—with many interactions losing the meaning and satisfaction of a face-to-face conversation. The line between work and home is undeniably blurred now as well—with more than 40% of the respondents to an MIT SMR survey confirming that they do not draw a hard line between when they are working and time reserved for leisure and renewal.
This has had significant mental health repercussions. During the pandemic, around four in ten adults in the U.S. reported symptoms of anxiety or depression, up from one in ten adults who reported these symptoms from January to June 2019. As such, it is clear that pursuits towards mental sustainability are more important than ever. More focus needs to be put on what we can do to build enduring resilience as things return to a semblance of normalcy.
Business leaders especially feel this weight, as they are often looking out for not only themselves, but for the livelihood of their entire team. There is added pressure on executives to convey a sense that everything is going to be okay, even when they might not truly feel that way. Sometimes it proves difficult for leaders to acknowledge we are all human with the same shared vulnerabilities.
Let’s explore five essential steps to help stimulate happiness individually and for your colleagues (by proxy).
Five steps to realistically pursue happiness as a business leader
- Take the time to figure out what truly makes you feel satisfied, and then organize your work life around that.
Every CEO knows the value of KPIs in business, but what about your personal KPIs? Even with the restriction of obligated work hours and day-to-day priorities, you need to make the time for at least a couple of things weekly that fill you up. Various studies show, if you do, you will be more productive overall.
A study by Christian Krekel, George Ward, and Jan-Emmanuel De Neve showed that increases in wellbeing were strongly associated with increases in productivity—up to 12% in an incentivized effort task.
It is also important to work in some enjoyment while at the office. A study by BrightHR found that employees who have fun at work are less likely to take sick days and more likely to report feeling creative and committed to their organization. This applies to staff and leaders alike.
As a business leader, you lead by example. Take the initiative to take the time you need for renewal, setting the tone for your entire organization.
- Have the confidence to take a break.
Similarly, CEOs often feel obligated to be working all the time for both their organization and employees. This looming obligation to always be “on” can take a big hit on your wellbeing. According to a knowledge worker experiment by Harvard Business School’s Leslie Perlow and Jessica Porter, “Evidence shows that predictable, required time off (like nights and weekends) actually made teams of consultants more productive.” By letting go of the reins from time to time, you can also demonstrate your confidence in the organization and your trust in your employees. For you, coming back without a hiccup reinstills the faith you have in your workers and that you have set the business up for success. For employees, it gives a sense of pride for being able to have done well without executive-level guidance.
- Find something that you like outside of work, and create a prosocial group for that.
CEOs can, at times, be myopic in their outreach efforts and only engage with their direct reports—rarely engaging employees socially below the executive tier. Instead, create interest groups according to your own likes and hobbies, and then invite all your employees to join in accordingly. This creates the opportunity to find common threads of interest within your organization, no matter where the employee lies in the hierarchy. This also allows people to engage and join in where they see fit, giving better capacity for choice when it comes to the individual’s comfort level, instead of activities that feel coerced (e.g., mandatory happy hours).
Permitting your employees to self-select into interest groups manifests a genuine and authentic mix of people into any given group without segregating people into labels and departments. Whatever you’re into—whether that be an online book club or a hiking group—you can find ways to connect with people among your organization that are inclusive (and, in turn, encourage your employees to do the same).
- Take the time to examine and segment your work activities.
Allow yourself the capacity to examine any activity that you find enervating. By taking a closer look at agonizing tasks and examining them critically, you might find potential opportunities for improvement.
Alternatively, if you can’t find a way to improve the process after examination, you can potentially delegate it to somebody who might find it more appealing. One’s man’s pain is another’s pleasure—you never know who might find completing a certain task a pleasant break from their habitual routine. CEOs and business leaders have a lot of autonomy, and they have the ability to wield it, but often don’t out of a sense of obligation.
Do a self-evaluation of your daily activities, and take note of the ones you find especially draining. Then, analyze these tasks and see if you can’t find room for revamping, reframing, or possibly eliminating them.
- Finally, allow yourself to celebrate your own wins and the wins of colleagues in real-time.
We often don’t celebrate wins in the way we should. Step away from the expected and predictable end-of-year accolades, and instead integrate praise and rewards that happen in real-time. According to a study by Kaitlin Woolley and Ayelet Fishbach, “evidence is shown that immediate rewards increase intrinsic motivation by strengthening the activity-goal association.” BJ Fogg, the founder and director of the Behavior Design Lab at Stanford University, provides further evidence. Fogg has found one thing that really helps to encourage positive habits to stick: celebrating them! “When you celebrate you create a positive feeling inside yourself on demand. This good feeling wires the new habit into your brain. Celebration is both a specific technique for behavior change and a psychological frame shift,” said Fogg.
Celebration teaches us how to be kind to ourselves, a skill that pays out big. When we maximize the enjoyment of even modest wins, it is both energizing and motivates us more towards the next win.
A brighter future
The take-home message from these steps is that we must be deliberate about how we spend our time to feel true contentment and satisfaction in our work. Also, it is important to give yourself some slack within this process of discovery. Nothing in life is a perfect linear equation, so allow for a little bit of trial and error.
CEOs have been trained to know what is valuable from a fiscal standpoint, but there is quite a bit of value in the currency of mental wellbeing and energy awareness. The pandemic was an additional and unexpected stress we all had to endure, exacerbating other physical and mental stressors. It is time to take a step back and find ways to recover, in doing so both you and your organization will have the opportunity to thrive.
Written by Dr. Mike Rucker. Have you read?
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