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The truth about why I take Fridays off as a CEO

While some CEOs get up at 4am to meet their daily obligations at the expense of health and relationships, CEO Rohan Widdison has figured out a smarter solution after seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

CEO Days Off

Picture this: waking up on a typical day, you’re lucky to scoff a muesli bar before rushing out the door to jump on your daily commute to work. You say hurried goodbyes to your family members as everyone goes their separate ways, perhaps realising you may have to wait until the weekend before you’re able to slow down enough to properly catch up with them.

As a CEO managing a demanding business, work–life balance may be an unexpected addition to my lexicon, but it has saved my health and sanity. The kicker is my work hasn’t suffered either.

“I caught myself wondering if this cult of overwork was worth it.”

How is it possible, I hear you ask? While my CEO counterparts are getting up at 4am and experimenting with micro-dosing, my mandated day off has staved off the ever-present spectre of burnout and given me a bounce in my step – and I’m far from the only one.

Research shows that taking time off results in lower stress, more success at work and greater happiness at home and at work. Working longer hours on the other hand is laden with diminishing returns.

Cost of today’s working world

In modern work times, life is relentlessly fast-paced and while there are no easy solutions, in the name of work–life balance I’m taking a stand to say enough is enough. The Great Resignation is upon us as millions of workers from all sectors leave their jobs in droves. It’s time to hunker down and reassess where we want to go from here.

The tipping point for me occurred as I was catching up with a high-level executive mentor. I caught myself wondering if this cult of overwork was worth it. I got my work ethic from my mum and working hard was the one thing you never questioned.

The COVID-19 pandemic has led us to rethink our priorities – as mobile work becomes more entrenched, a better way to live and work is within our grasp. Our culture of workaholism comes at a cost to our relationships, health and mental wellbeing. Work stress causes employees to feel edgy, anxious and overwhelmed, and costs Australian businesses an estimated US$7.3 million (A$10 billion) a year in lost productivity. Chronic stress is linked to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, autoimmune dysfunction and mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety.

Death of the old ways

Based on those facts, workers are right to question old assumptions about how we should divvy up our time to work and play. Putting in late nights at the office is no longer the badge of honour it once was. I say it’s time to relegate outdated work practices to the dustbins of history and embrace more balance and efficiency, whether we’re at the office or working from home. As a company owner, I believe work should have long-term value and should not come at such a high cost to our mental and physical health.

The emerging post-pandemic model has proven that alternative work arrangements do work. To attract and retain the right people, it’s worth opening up on how different work arrangements would better suit them. After all, no business is operating as usual yet, and we may never go back to the normal nine-to-five again.

In one survey conducted by company review site Glassdoor, 57 per cent of respondents said company perks and benefits are a major factor in deciding whether to accept a job. At New Laboratories, we put the emphasis on building a work community based on mutual support and common values instead of making it just a place to work. Making the right hiring choices leaves you with trusted staff to keep things ticking along, whittles your workload to essential tasks only and frees up more time to live life.

What matters most to workers

Finally, we must all learn to better prioritise the things that matter to us. I want to make my time at work count, and that means focusing on high-value customers and projects instead of getting caught up with daily issues that my skilled team are there to take care of.

Micromanaging every step does not achieve better outcomes for clients, but rather it can demoralise your team who question what their role is. You can still work hard but you don’t have to put in long hours to get the same results; at the same time, I have empowered my team. In the short time I have made this transition, I have seen some of my team shine and grow.

Many of us love our work or want to love it, but the unsustainable pace has left us feeling burnt out and unmotivated. Taking one day off a week has restored the shine back in the projects I’m working on, and has started the journey to building a stronger team – the addictive thrill of running a business like a startup is so invigorating that I’m happy to keep doing it forever. I feel like I have a new lease on life.

Read next: Knowing the difference between stress and burnout will save your career

Rohan Widdison, CEO of New Laboratories, has 34 years of experience in the sector with a demonstrated history of working in the cosmetics manufacturing, formulation and distribution industry.

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