According to the National Institutes of Health, “people who feel more in control at their jobs tend to feel less stressed out.”
While executives and senior leaders have more control of their work, they manage people who feel like they have less control, which makes them stressed out.
Employees in general are feeling more anxious and stressed. They’re worried about lay-offs, wage freezes, and reduction in benefits. If they are in an organization where there has already been a reduction in the workforce, they want to know what will happen in the future plus they may have “survival guilt.”
This can be particularly true for executives in the hospitality industry, which has been hit hard by the economic downturn. Hospitality leaders have to manage their own stress and concern about lower sales numbers, while being conscious of not passing their stress onto their employees. At the same time they also have to find creative ways to take care of their guests, and patrons who are stressed out and are hoping to be able to relax when they stay in hotels, eat in restaurants and travel on cruises.
As an executive, you have to know how to manage your own stress plus lead your employees who may be having a hard time focusing on their work.
As a leader you may feel responsible for your employees and your organization to the detriment of your own health. At the same time you need to be able to look confident and calm so you don’t pass your stress onto everyone else.
I recently spoke to Niki Leondakis, chief operating officer of Kimpton Hotels and Restaurant Group. I asked her how she managed her stress and managed to have life/work balance during this stressful time in the hospitality industry. She told me that she takes time to meditate, walk and practice yoga. Her “me time,” is written in her appointment book. Her assistant is aware of this and will not book any appointments during that time.
Too many people in the hospitality industry take the “24 hours on call,” to the maximum limit and are afraid that if they take time for themselves their businesses will fall apart. The reality is that if you follow the example of Niki Leondakis and schedule “me time,” for yourself you will improve your performance, make better decisions and solve problems more creatively.
Elka Gilmore is a world famous chef. For years she worked at very high-end restaurants and at one time had a restaurant named after her. She told me that she used to deal with stress by creating more stress. “I’d be so stressed about work, but then I would work harder and longer to get more done, and ultimately be even more stressed.” The stress of her work began to impact her health and sense of well being. “I was no longer feeling fulfilled by my work. I decided I wanted to feed people who really were hungry.”
She stopped working in upscale restaurants and changed her focus. “I needed to start taking care of myself and doing what I really valued.” Elka learned how to meditate which helps her free her mind and feel like she is part of something greater than herself. She also gets massages on a regular basis and spends quality time with her partner that she wasn’t able to do before when she was working all of the time. For the last several years Elka has been designing food banks for non-profit organizations. “I’ve also been working on a re-entry program to train women coming out of state prison in culinary skills. I love the idea of using food to do good.”
Listening to her and seeing how relaxed she is now, it was hard to envision her being that stressed out individual that she once was.
Executive stress can become a never-ending cycle if you let it. As you can see from the above examples you can make some changes.
Here are some actions that you can take as an executive to reduce stress, stay focused stay present.
- Learn how to use self-talk to keep you focused and prevent or stop negative thinking. Either bring in an outside consultant to teach your employees or use internal resources if available.
- Learn and practice basic stress management exercises that involve breathing in order to relax during the day and recharge your mental, physical and emotional energy. If you appear relaxed it will help your employees.
- Talk to other senior leaders to vent and share solutions.
- Use humor as a stress reliever for yourself and your employees.
- Remind yourself that you can’t control everyone or everything.
You can be a good listener, empower your employees to be able to offer outstanding customer service, but there will be some people that will be impossible to please because of their own external circumstances, even if you gave them a free vacation that includes meals, taxes and tips.
Having worked with executives for over twenty years and in hospitality and other industries, I can tell you that executive stress is real, and you are not alone. Being a stressed out executive is not a reflection on your leadership abilities but not doing anything about it can negatively impact your focus, productivity and profit. Who can afford that?