Have you ever seen a picture of a big-time CEO on vacation?
I ask, because after almost six months of corporate crisis, some CEOs are publicly worrying that their employees are going to burn out, and asking them to do what they say, not what they do. From a story last month on CNBC:
Tech companies are having to force employees to take time off, according to a CNBC piece yesterday. Online education firm Chegg, for instance, has banned calls on Fridays through August, hoping their people don’t burn out. “We have an unlimited vacation policy, but no one’s taking vacation,” said chief communications officer Heather Hatlo Porter. “The management team’s hope is that they’re actually disconnecting” during imposed no-call days, said she said. “I really push my team not to work.”
Like a lot of bosses who insist you take the afternoon off—”and don’t check your email, I mean it!”—Porter makes vacationing seem like one more goddamn thing to do.
I truly believe that many CEOs know they’re going to need an energized and semi-sane corporate staff to get through the various rings of hell we’re going to traverse this year.
But if we’ve learned anything this year, it’s how much the rugged individualists who supposedly people America require leadership-by-consistent-example, and how helpless we are without it.
Thus, CEOs who want their employees to take time off need to be seen taking time off themselves. (CCOs too, Heather Hatlo Porter!) And be seen in enough detail to convince employees that the leader is actually getting away, and not checking the phone all day long.
And yet the thing is awfully hard to imagine, isn’t it?
It’s not unprecedented, of course. In fact, I think one of the charms of the Kennedys was all those pictures of them sailing, golfing throwing the football, and looking totally relaxed and happy in the process. They told us that life should be fun, and that even the president—even in a much more formal time, even at the height of the Cold War—kicks back sometimes, just like you, because that’s one of the reasons we do all this work in the first place.
So in this much more casual and transparent age of vulnerability and authenticity where we see and celebrate corporate CEOs crying—why don’t chief execs have the confidence to be seen (or to talk about) doing what they’re demanding that their employees do?
Could be because the settings in which they vacation are embarrassingly lavish. So no pix inside the Learjet, don’t show the whole yacht!
I think we don’t see CEOs relaxing because, in between their spasmodic demands that people take time off, they create a culture where their people—and especially their most direct c-suite lieutenants, CCOs included—feel they have to respond instantly to every email at any hour of the day or night because the company is everything and everything is the company and what are we paying you a million dollars for anyway?
It’s kind of hard, in a culture like that, to turn around and tell people to hang up the Gone Fishin’ sign and take a couple weeks off.
And it appears it’s actually impossible for the CEO.
Alas, that’s the only way to convince employees, especially in this most insecure moment in everyone’s career, that having a life is not only allowed, but encouraged.