Why I now take Fridays off as a CEO

CEO time off

Rohan Widdison. Source: supplied.

Picture this: waking up on a typical day, you’re lucky to scarf a muesli bar before rushing out the door to jump on your daily commute to work. You say hurried goodbyes to your family members as everyone goes their separate ways, perhaps realising you may have to wait until the weekend before you’re able to get time off and slow down enough to properly catch up with them.

As a CEO managing a demanding business, “work-life balance” may be an unexpected addition to my lexicon, but it has saved my health and sanity. The kicker is my work hasn’t suffered either.

How is it possible I hear you ask? While some of my CEO counterparts are getting up at 4am and experimenting with micro-dosing, a mandated day off each week has staved off the ever-present spectre of burnout and given me a bounce in my step — and I’m far from the only one. Research shows that taking time off results in lower stress, more success at work and more happiness at home and at work. On the other hand, working longer hours is laden with diminishing returns.

In 2021, life is relentlessly fast-paced and while there are no easy solutions, in the name of work-life balance I’m taking a stand to say enough is enough. The Great Resignation is looming, as millions of workers from all sectors leave their jobs in the US in a trend some believe will catch on here too. It’s time to hunker down and reassess where we want to go from here.

The tipping point for me occurred as I was catching up with a high-level executive mentor and I caught myself wondering if this cult of overwork was worth it. I got my work ethic from my mum and working hard was the one thing you never questioned.

But COVID-19 has led us to rethink our priorities; as mobile work becomes more entrenched, a better way to live and work is within our grasp. Our culture of workaholism comes at a cost to our relationships, health and mental wellbeing. Work stress causes employees to feel edgy, anxious and overwhelmed and costs Australian businesses an estimated $10 billion a year in lost productivity. Chronic stress is linked to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, autoimmune dysfunction and mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety.

On those facts, Aussie workers are right to question old assumptions about how we should divvy up our time to work and play. Putting in late nights at the office is no longer the badge of honour it once was.

I say it’s time to relegate outdated work practices to the dustbins of history and embrace more balance and efficiency, whether we’re at the office or working from home. As a company owner, I believe work should have long-term value and should not come at such a high cost to our mental and physical health.

The emerging post-pandemic model has proven that alternative work arrangements do work. To attract and retain the right people, it’s worth opening up on how different work arrangements would better suit them. After all, no business is operating “as usual” yet, and we may never go back to the normal 9-5 again. In one survey conducted by company review site Glassdoor, 57% of respondents said company perks and benefits are a major factor in deciding whether or not to accept a job.

As a leader, making the right hiring choices leaves you with trusted staff to keep things ticking along, whittles your workload to essential tasks only, and frees up more time to live life.

Lastly, we must all learn to better prioritise the things that matter to us. I want to make my time at work count, and that means focusing on high-value customers and projects instead of getting caught up with daily issues that my skilled team are there to take care of. Micro-managing every step does not achieve better outcomes for clients, but it can demoralise your team who question what their role is. I’ve realised you can still work hard without putting in long hours to get the same results, and at the same time I have empowered my team. In the short time I have made this transition I have seen some of my team shine and grow.

Many of us love our work or want to love it, but the unsustainable pace has left us feeling burnt out and unmotivated. Taking one day off a week has restored the shine back in the projects I’m working on, and has stated the journey to building a stronger team — the addictive thrill of running a business like a startup is so invigorating that I’m happy to keep doing it forever. I feel like I have a new lease on life.

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