Are you one of the 40% of leaders who report that their workdays always or often feel like a race against the clock?
This question in the Global Leadership Wellbeing Survey is consistently endorsed as one of the biggest threats to leaders’ wellbeing.
The good news is that it also presents the biggest opportunities for change and improvement.
What’s driving the race?
I think this is a great example of where the combatting forces of demands and resourcesshould be explored in terms of how they relate to wellbeing and optimal performance.
In essence, what do you have coming at you to deal with in the work day (demands) and what resources do you have ready to meet and deliver on these demands?
Many leaders might say the ‘race’ happens because of excessive demands on them in the form of workload, deadlines, new tasks and responsibilities, meetings, travel, managing up, managing down and so on. There is always more to squeeze in, another priority added, another deadline set.
They might also add that their race against the clock is because of the demands being placed on them from their non-work responsibilities and commitments – picking up from child care or school, getting home in time to see the kids, eating a meal together, visiting ageing parents. They have a deadline to exit the work environment in order to deliver on these other demands.
But what about from the other perspective – what about the resources available to you to meet the demands?
By resources we mean your social, emotional, psychological and physical assets:
- Your energy levels,
- The sleep you had (or didn’t),
- Your resilience and emotional state,
- Your mindset,
- Your ability to plan, prepare and prioritise,
- And so on.
So – does the ‘work-day race’ begin because of too many demands, or because of too few resources… or both?
How can leaders best try and achieve an equilibrium between demands and resources – and ‘balance’ these to achieve optimal wellbeing and performance?
Before addressing these questions, a brief diversion into research….
Work intensity = reduced wellbeing AND poor career outcomes
This summary comes from recently reported research which examined the connection between work intensity and unfavourable outcomes. The key findings were that people who exhibit greater work intensity (effort expended in getting things done in as short a time possible) also experience reduced wellbeing.
Nothing too startling about that – all those leaders racing the clock every day could tell us this.
What might be more surprising to them however, is that greater work intensity is also associated with inferior career-related outcomes.
In other words, all those hard-working professionals who accept lower wellbeing now anticipating future career progression as their reward may be misguided. They may be sacrificing relationships, physical health and wellbeing, and trading many other opportunities for the hope of climbing the ladder more quickly, to no avail.
Interestingly, the intensity of effort resulted in poorer outcomes than the length of worktime. Cramming more into the day is even worse for your wellbeing and career than putting in the overtime (they both have negative impacts, it’s just by degree they differ).
With these thoughts in mind, what tips can we recommend?
Slowing the race
Getting yourself off the running track is all about attacking the issue from both sides: the demands placed on us, and the resources we have to meet them.
Our tips for reducing or reshaping your demands:
1. Ask yourself: are you really spending your time on the right things? Do you have a clear sense of your priorities in your role, for the quarter, the week, for today? If not, it’s time to think this through. Seek input from your leader as required.
2. Make the time to establish a rolling priority list for each week and break this down for each day. What are the key four or five things you must get done or must attend today?
3. Are you a slave to your inbox? Do you get distracted by new emails coming in, and does this ‘nag’ at you all day long? Rethink how you respond to and use your emails to prevent them from sapping the life from you and getting in the way of your key priorities. One easy step is to turn off notifications on your phone and computer and only process emails at set times in the day – perhaps once in the morning, once in the middle of the day and once towards the end of the day. A good reference to help here is “Get your inbox down to zero” by Graham Allcott. It’s a small 40-page booklet with practical steps to take charge!
4. Review your meeting load and ask yourself these questions:
- What am I getting out of this meeting?
- What happens if I don’t attend? If I was sick and missed it, what would happen?
- Can someone else in my team attend in my place?
- Is there a better way of being involved in or across the topic?
- Can I alternate and attend every second meeting?
- Is it time to have a conversation about my ongoing attendance at the meeting?
5. If you have a team, how effectively are you delegating? When you go on leave, who covers your work and what does this tell you about opportunities for more delegation? Review your calendar and priorities list for this week – who else could fulfil these requirements, say, if you come down with flu? Consider the development opportunities you could be providing with greater delegation to your team.
6. And, the big one – he or she who says yes to more tasks and deadlines will get… more tasks and deadlines (and maybe not more career advancement, according to the findings above). Are you creating a self-fulfilling prophecy by accepting more load?
Our tips for boosting or changing your resources:
1. Who is making it a race? Does a busy day have to be approached in this way, or can a mindset of acceptance and calmness change your perception and experience? How might your mindset change if you did a five-minute breathing exercise or meditation in the morning before work?
2. Are you in charge of your calendar or is it in charge of you? Yes, in some organisations, there is a culture of booking over existing commitments, resulting in leaders being double or even triple booked for segments of their day. And I can’t pretend it’s easy to protect your time when senior leaders want you in attendance. However, I sometimes sense ‘Learned Helplessness’ (def: when people become conditioned to believe that a situation is unchangeable or inescapable) in relation to calendar management. What can you control and what can you change?
3. What space are you making in the work day to recharge yourself? Or are you too busy, too committed to the race to stop for food, water, a stretch, a mental break or change of scene?
4. Do you physically ‘race’ around your workplace? If you catch yourself almost running from one thing to the next, then I’d suggest there is a problem with your scheduling or time keeping – are you always over-running meetings, being late for the next appointment and giving yourself no chance of a break?
5. If you have to leave work at a fixed time to meet another commitment, then leave a 30-minute buffer at the end of the day. Don’t book anything into this and you can use this to review progress for the day and set the priorities for tomorrow. It might enable you to calmly walk out of the door on time!
Good luck with slowing down – and remember, it might be good for your promotion prospects!
From Eek and Sense, glwswellbeing.com
Avgoustaki, A. and Frankort, H. (2018) Implications of work effort and discretion for employee well-being and career- related outcomes: An integrative assessment. Industrial and Labor Relations Review. July 2018
Graham Allcott: Get your Inbox down to zero (2015)