During the 2021 Summer Olympic games, there was a lot of discussion about mental health and the importance of taking time for oneself. For too long we have judged leaders and employees according to “face time” and the hours they were in the office, assuming that the longer times that they were physically in the office the more productive they must be. Similarly, people have often bragged about how little sleep they have gotten due to working so hard with the assumption that those who slept only a few hours a night and worked long hours were more dedicated or better at their jobs.
Well, we certainly now know that this is not the case. Research shows us how important sleep is to being productive and our best selves. We also learned over this past year, that in some jobs people could effectively work from home or other locations. They didn’t have to be in the office all day and until late to prove they were working. They also didn’t have to brag about never sleeping to let others know they were always working.
We also learned that leaders must take care of their employees and also themselves. Being an effective leader means role modeling by getting enough sleep, exercising, eating right, and taking care of your spiritual self. As Simone Biles, the Olympian gymnast, noted, “I need to put myself first to make sure I am taking care of myself. Only then will I be an effective team player.”
I recently interviewed a woman CEO who pointed out that she let her employees know she was leaving during the day to watch her children play soccer. She said that her employees thanked her for telling them and said they really appreciated having a role model that enabled them to know it was okay to have family time; that they didn’t have to just focus on work 24/7.
So, it’s not only important for a leader to take care of themselves, but also to let others know that it’s okay and in fact, it is important to do this. It’s really hard for employees to take time for themselves if their boss never does. Another CEO I knew said he was frustrated that his employees stayed so late in the office, and yet he never left at a decent time himself. He finally realized that his behavior was not demonstrating role modeling of what he wanted his employees to do. Once he realized this, he changed his behavior which gave his employees permission to leave work at a normal time in order to see their families and friends. He found that their focus while at work was much better and they seemed happier and more productive. Reed Hastings in his book about Netflix “No Rules Rules” talks about how the leaders encourage employees to take “big vacations” in order to come back to the office more refreshed and creative, and it seems to be working.
The past nineteen months during the pandemic has blurred the lines between work and home even more than ever before. As a result, it’s become even harder for individuals to find time to carve out for themselves. They’ve put self-care on the back burner. And frankly many leaders have told me that just the stress of dealing with the pandemic has caused them to feel somewhat paralyzed with addressing their own self-care. That despite everyone saying that we’ve saved so much commuting time, they really do not feel that they’ve had all of this extra time. Instead, they express that the emotional toll that the pandemic has taken has led to a sense of feeling stuck which has led to procrastination even among those who are not known to procrastinate.
Well, it’s time to remember self-care. It’s time to focus on caring for oneself mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically as Loehr and Schwartz say in their book, “The Power of Full Engagement”. This may mean starting with one small step today, whether that’s going for a walk outside, writing a paragraph in your journal, listening to music, or reading a good book. As everyone knows, the first step is the hardest and yet the most important. For any of us to be effective in our jobs and lives, we can’t forget to take care of ourselves. And for leaders this is especially important not only in order to renew themselves, but also if they want to create a culture of healthy employees.