Mental health & wellbeing

How CEOs can look after the health of their employees

Women's Agenda /

employee wellbeing

Stephanie Reuss and Victoria Stuart, Beam co-founders. Source: Women's Agenda.

By Stephanie Reuss.

I’m pretty sure that if not on the day, over the past year we’ve all been affected by serious health scares – ourselves, our families, our colleagues, our friends. What has this got to do with business leaders? Well – it depends who you talk to.

CEOs are a key cause of healthcare issues in the US, according to the Stanford Graduate School of Business. They argue work is the greatest source of stress, stress causes chronic disease, and chronic disease is the biggest component of escalating healthcare costs. Perhaps it’s not such a long bow to stretch.

While in Australia we are privileged with accessible healthcare and our workplace conditions and awards grant greater access to leave than in the US, anxiety and depression brought on by a lack of work-life balance is still the NUMBER 1 reason women aged 30 to 40 visit their GP, and number two for men. Scary.

Is history repeating itself? The 40-hour work week was implemented to solve a health crisis – to great effect. People were working 16-hour days which was causing illness and death. Henry Ford innovated with the 40-hour work week: 8 hours for work, 8 for play and 8 for rest. Phew.

But it feels like we’re back there again. Digital access means we’re always on, checking our messages from the moment we wake up to lights out. 16-hour days are commonplace. Could this be what’s driving the health epidemic?

For CEOs, the reality is we have quarterly numbers to report to shareholders, short-term decisions we need to report to the Board or to VC investors. The one more sale which will hit our growth targets.

Let’s take a look at the dynamics at play. Most CEOs want to:

  • Produce better business results
  • Optimise productivity
  • Reduce attrition and the huge costs associated
  • Increase discretionary effort
  • And perhaps most significantly, leave a legacy

The magic is that CEOs can achieve all of these goals and… it’s not that hard.

We are at an important juncture in the way we think about work. At Beam we are reinventing work structures and workforce planning. Part-time offers an opportunity to scale human resources – workforces – in the same way that processes have been leaned out and technology development uses agile.

This World Health Day is an opportunity for CEOs to decide to be the driver of the healthcare rescue. It’s important we all prioritise our mental health, our physical health, and that of those around us.

So you’re a CEO and want to take action. What do you do now?

  • Increase diversity in your leadership team. Gender, Culture and Age. An equal mix of men and women has been found to outperform male-dominated teams in profits and sales. Performance peaks when a teams had about 55% women.
  • Re-think optimal working weeks for your people: research shows productivity is greatest at 25 hours per week and that on average, senior executives in the US waste 1 day a week in unproductive meetings. That’s $37Bn in lost productivity. Ugh!
  • Acknowledge your people’s lives – what gives them energy outside work and how can you allow them the space to nurture that so they don’t burn out? People who believe they have good work-life balance exert 21% higher discretionary effort – leading to better end customer satisfaction and higher performance.
  • Increase the number of managers working part-time. The factor most correlated to higher ratios of women in top roles is the percentage of managers who are on part-time programs. Yet the number of managers working part-time in Australia has not shifted from 6% in 4 years.
  • Reduce attrition: Australians have long prioritised work/life balance as they seek out new job opportunities; but for the first time in 2017, CEB/Gartner found it is also the number one reason they will leave an organisation.

Finally, leave a legacy.

We haven’t worked all our lives to deliver the next quarter’s results. What if you could use your influence to improve people’s lives? To improve tens, or hundreds, or thousands, of people’s lives? What if you could reduce stress and anxiety and reduce the resulting illnesses? That is something worthy of smiling back at the last 30 years and saying, look what I did.

Stephanie Reuss is the co-founder of Beam, pictured above with business partner Victoria Stuart. Beam helps organisations transition to part-time models that work, while connecting them to incredible talent that can step into the roles.

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