“There were times when I didn’t leave the factory for three or four days — days when I didn’t go outside. This has really come at the expense of seeing my kids. And seeing friends.”
This brutally vulnerable admission by entrepreneurial magnate Elon Musk during an interview with The New York Times is indicative of a life that is under tremendous pressure to perform at a superhuman level.
Although I have never gone to this extreme and I am not running a multi-billion dollar company, I have found myself working at my desk until I was falling asleep at the keyboard or sitting through back to back conference calls for 10 hours straight at various times in my career. This happened most recently two years ago while I was leading a team driving tremendous change in our sales organization. While the work was challenging and rewarding at the same time, I realized that it wasn’t working for me.
“I am not a machine”
“People are not machines. For machines – whether of the first or fourth industrial revolution variety – downtime is a bug; for humans, downtime is a feature. The science is clear…there’s simply no way you can make good decisions and achieve your world-changing ambitions while running on empty.”
The result of trying to run like a machine was the impact it had on my relationships. I was testy and frustrated with my five girls. I definitely didn’t have time to get on the same page as my husband, let alone talk to him. My extended family and friends who are so important to me were in the way of me getting work done. Did I mention we were in the middle of a renovation of our house that had us moving two times to different rentals because of construction delays? I tried very hard to keep a good relationship with our general contractor, but I know I failed many times.
This is where the revelation comes in. I started to resent everyone around me having fun – whether it was my kids, husband or friends. Why did they get to have all the fun while I had to dig in and work so hard? One day, the lightbulb went off. I didn’t have to work so hard; I was choosing to without realizing that it had become a habit. I was the one who went back to email after my kids went to bed instead of hanging out with my husband. My manager didn’t tell me to do that. I was the one taking calls back to back for 10 hours. No one told me I had to do that. I was the one who needed to set the boundaries and stick to them. It didn’t mean I wasn’t working as hard or hanging out on easy street. But it did mean that I was going to work toward the vision and say no when I needed to.
From Surviving to Thriving
I would like to say it was easy but honestly, it wasn’t. It took jumping into a new role to really start embracing this thinking. A woman I admire offered me a position working on well-being and further developing our partnership with Thrive Global. Interestingly enough during my stressful work period, I had seen Thrive Global launch in the news. Their mission to reduce stress and burnout in the workplace had me hooked and I wanted to learn more. Fast forward 18 months and I am getting to work closely with them to figure out how we can do that for companies! It was a dream come true.
Over the past year, our companies have come together to start interesting conversations on how we can lead employees to better self-awareness and companies to a place that supports that. The biggest fear is always that performance will suffer. The opposite is true. When companies give employees the space to be human with all that this means, employees show up ready to be their best and live their best life. Who doesn’t want to work for a company that gives their people that?
This is why we have launched the Human Revolution with Thrive Global. It is time for companies to put the people in their organizations at the heart of their decisions. Jen Morgan says it best: “Take care of the people and the numbers will follow!”
Today I have learned to value the quality of my work instead of the quantity. This has given me the space to enjoy the life I have created by working so hard over the years. I am excited about the work we are doing and it has made me a better wife, mom, sister, daughter and friend.
Welcome to the Human Revolution. We are here to proclaim that the old ways of working no longer work for HR. SAP SuccessFactors helps you bring your organization’s purpose to life and more meaning to people’s work. You can instill intelligence across your HR functions to develop engaged, motivated teams. Together, we’ll create an inspired workforce that improves both performance and profit. To learn more, check out the recent Human Capital Institute Nine-to-Thrive HR Podcast, “Why Companies Need to Put Employee Well-Being at the Top of Their Priority List.”
Kristi Sanders is global vice president of Well-Being at Work for SAP SuccessFactors.