White sand stretch as far as the eye can see. Cool, Bahamian breezes gently sway your hammock back and forth, making your most difficult decision of the day how you will reach the bottle of sunscreen without upsetting the umbrella shaded margherita in your hand. No cellular coverage for miles. No internet connections to tether you to project timelines or vendor updates. Just you, the sun, the sand, a book and a loved one to enjoy a slice of paradise for a week.
Ahhhh…quite the ideal picture to recharge one’s batteries from the daily grind of the workplace, right? Unfortunately, between school schedules, work deadlines and the latest “priority” project, mergers and acquisitions, the kids’ orthodontist appointments and volleyball games, the opportunity to escape to a Caribbean retreat is not always realistic. It’s not going to happen this year, and possibly not even next, you’ve quietly admitted on your hour-long commute this morning. So, you put your head down, focus in on the latest twelve-page spreadsheet of sales projections, schedule the next departmental meeting, and resolve to make the best of the situation.
You’re not alone. Many of us have difficulty affording (often in time, more than money) such tropical relaxation. I could talk all day of the challenges of parenting two early teenage daughters, plugging away on a doctoral degree while my wife finishes up her own Ph.D., juggling middle school parent-teacher conferences and doggie daycare for our one year-old Golden Retriever, all the while consulting full-time for a Fortune 400 insurance company. But just thinking about that brings me to the edge of exhaustion!
The point is that despite the myriad demands heaped upon us by that evil thing called “life,” it’s possible to handle it all, if one makes the time each and every day to recuperate and regenerate ourselves. For some, that means daily exercise. For others, yoga and meditation help to calm the soul and reach that balance between the harmony and chaos. For me, it’s crouching in a small net on a frozen sheet of ice, allowing others to shoot hard pieces of rubber at my awkwardly padded body. There’s also the early morning habit of writing fiction to reflectively soothe my soul.
It’s one thing to establish your own routine for recharging. But how many of us as leaders actively encourage our employees to do the same? Oh, we say the right words, parrotting the HR language of health and wellness, passing along the announcements for health programs and speakers that flow weekly through the organization. But how many of us put our money where our mouths are?
An early mentor of mine was a genuine expert at promoting a continuously recharging environment. So, when I landed my first formal leadership role, I adopted his practice of requiring employees to “recharge” for an hour twice each week. It didn’t matter what that meant for each individual employee, but it had to be non-work related and it had to take place during the middle of the work day. Some used the time to head out on a mid-day walk or jog. Others read books. Still others gathered to talk about parenting issues affecting them.
The result? Employees morale and engagement skyrocketed in our small unit, and productivity noticeably increased. Now, not all employees adjusted to the “recharging” times as easily as others, mind you! Some really struggled with the notion that they could be at work, but “not working.” And it took nearly several months before the most resistant employees became confident that their scheduled relaxation wouldn’t bite them in the butt. But that’s okay! Any cultural shift takes time, and leaders should not expect immediate change. Reluctance, fear and apprehension may persist for months, sometimes for years. That’s normal. That’s acceptable. In fact, it’s inevitable. But don’t give up the fight! The results will be well worth it. Higher productivity. Increased morale and engagement. Enhanced credibility as a leader in touch with the physical and emotional well-being of your employees. It’s a sure win-win, and that’s what we as leaders are always seeking!