- Author: Paul Taylor
- Posted: November 22, 2021
How CFOs & Finance Leaders can Avoid Burnout as we go Back to the Office
As many of us gear up for a return to the office, there are lots of logistical considerations, but there are also some serious health considerations for finance leaders, as levels of workplace burnout and its clinical manifestation, Exhaustion Disorder (ED), are on the rise.
Recently released data from Australia Institute’s Centre for Future Work showing that the average Australian is working 1.5 hours more unpaid overtime each week since the start of the Covid pandemic which will only serve to exacerbate things.
So, what can finance leaders do to minimise their risk of Burnout/ED for both themselves and their people as they return to the office?
- Accept that life can throw up stressful curve-balls from time to time – and some of those curve-balls can induce stress & suffering. This acceptance is a common them found in Stoicism, Buddhism, Acceptance-Commitment Therapy (ACT) and Japanese Psychology – but it’s not a passive acceptance. It’s best summed up by the Japanese term ‘Arugamama’ – which translates as ‘with things as they are, what needs to be done?’
- Realise that your attention is your most powerful asset, but it’s prone to being hijacked by negative situations and distractions. A very helpful exercise is to create two characters for the most negative and positive versions of you – I call these your Inner Gremlin and Inner Sage. When you find yourself engaging with negative self-talk, anger, regret, anxiety etc., realise that your Gremlin is in charge of your attention and this is a choice point, where you can either go with your Gremlin or down a different path. Then ask yourself ‘What would my Inner Sage do right now?’ and take positive action, despite how you’re feeling.
- Think of yourself as an ‘Executive Athlete’. Athletes are only able to sustain high levels of performance over time because they recover effectively. If you’re going through a period of prolonged stress, this is when you must be meticulous around your hydration, nutrition, sleep hygiene practices and alcohol minimisation. Using breathing to control over-arousal is also a critical high-performance ritual. 1-2 minutes of deep breathing (4 secs in, 6 secs out) impacts on your vagus and phrenic nerves to reduce arousal (stress), so do this frequently throughout the day.
- Boost your brain with regular exercise – especially when you don’t have time for it! Exercise boosts cognitive function and mood and has a significant effect on gene expression, making our bodies and brains function at a higher level. Even 5-10 minutes of high-intensity exercise can positively impact your gene expression, so you don’t need much time.
- Use the ‘Tap Code’ – US prisoners of war in the Vietnam conflict who were kept in prolonged solitude created a ‘Tap Code’, where they could communicate by tapping on the walls and pipes. Lee Ellis, who spend more than 5 years in the notorious ‘Hanoi Hilton’ told me that it saved their lives. Talking to people about your feelings isn’t weak – research shows it’s one of the most important things that soldiers can do to prevent PTSD – and it’s useful for all of us.
To help your people minimise their risk of Burnout, try the following;
- Clear, consistent communication – clarity of expectation is one of the biggest drivers of engagement, so make sure your people know what you expect from them. Communication is also key in times of uncertainty, as uncertainty amplifies stressors. Try to remove ambiguity and reduce uncertainty where you can – even telling your people ‘We don’t know what this restructure will look like, but here is the date of the next announcement’ will reduce their stress levels.
- Give them autonomy (with accountability) – autonomy has been identified by Professor Richard Ryan as one of 3 basic needs. Giving clear expectations along with the ability to have a say in how they do their job is a great way to minimise stress.
- Foster social connectedness in your team – see point 5 above and be the enabler.
About the Author
Paul Taylor, Director of The Mind-Body-Brain Performance Institute, is an Exercise Physiologist, Nutritionist Neuroscientist and PhD Scholar in Psychology. He is a former British Royal Navy Aircrew Officer, and specialises in helping senior leaders and their teams to optimise their resilience, performance and well-being, whilst reducing the risk of burnout.
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