Sustainability concerns many factors of our existence, including the need for sustainable food supply, water, and energy.
But when I ask people about the need for sustainable high-performance at work, I frequently get quizzical looks.
To produce sustainable high-performance without the risk of burnout, it’s vital to know what drives you towards achieving that goal and the obstacles that can get in your way.
When Helen presented as a new patient at my practice, she was at her wits end, believing she was failing at work and deeply concerned she was about to lose her job.
The real issues were a combination of factors:
- She was on the verge of complete physical and mental collapse.
- She was doing the work of two people and had been doing so for many months.
- She had not taken any leave in the 18 months since joining the company.
- She believed that her boss would think her weak or incompetent if she was to ask for time off and a reduction in her workload.
Helen is a perfectionist, a people pleaser, high achiever and takes great pride in her work.
She is also addicted to her work, placing it as her one and only priority.
She is dedicated, driven to succeed and passionately believes in what she does.
When 18 months ago she had been offered what she considered her dream job she jumped in feet first to deliver her very best.
She quickly realised that her boss had quite unrealistic achievements about what she could do on her own. The more she delivered, the more was added to her workload.
Not wishing to disappoint her boss, she kept abreast of everything by taking work home in the evenings and working every weekend.
Her biggest fear being the possibility of losing her job and finding herself unemployed.
Her family and friends expressed concern about her workaholism which she dismissed saying this would be stepping stone for her to greater things.
Over time her social life disintegrated. She never accepted an invitation to go out, to have a meal or to spend time relaxing, so the invitations dried up.
As fatigue took a firmer grip, she buckled down to keep going, fighting her exhaustion, refusing to give in to the signals her body was sending her, that it was all too much.
But the biggest issue was that her boss, who she thought the world of was oblivious to what was obvious to everyone else.
Because their mindset was that to be successful, you have to drive harder, faster and for longer than everyone else.
They believe that hard work was the only sure way to achieve recognition and commercial success.
They don’t believe in the need for holidays or away days and hold the opinion that those with mental illness clearly don’t have the chops to do what is required of them.
Against this backdrop coupled with her own personality, Helen was fast-tracking to burnout and or mental health issues.
Having a great job feels great.
But a great job also includes time for rest, reflection, and restoration of energy.
Workplace wellbeing has become a top priority for many workplaces, which is fabulous, but it can only be effective when led from the top.
Leaders who recognise what they need to sustain their own health and wellbeing are those who create greater organisational health.
The benefits come from:
- Having the awareness of how their health and wellbeing impacts everyone in the organisation
- Being willing to commit to developing an effective and enduring workplace health and wellbeing program that is integrated into the workplace culture and a top business priority.
- Modelling the desired outcomes through their own observable behaviours.
- Reviewing progress regularly, actively listening to concerns and taking action to rectify or introduce better processes and resources.
Sustainable high-performance is perfectly possible when a human-centered approach is adopted, acknowledging individual differences, celebrating diversity of knowledge and strengths, reinforcing positive interpersonal relationships, actively encouraging upskilling, personal and professional growth and instilling a genuine care for the physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing of every person at work.
Helen came to realise she was in an unsustainable position. Her boss was unlikely to change, and her health was declining rapidly.
She took the option of leaving her “dream job” and after taking a couple of months off, secured a new position where her new boss checked in regularly to ensure she had everything she needed to deliver her best work, and took her scheduled leave when due.
Developing sustainable high-performance includes seeing this as a constant work in progress.
Helen now checks in with herself every three months to reflect on how she is, starting with:
“How well am I doing in each area of my wellbeing giving myself a score out of ten, with ten being the optimal?”
“How is this way I am working, affecting me as a human being?”
“How would things be different if I was to improve my level of wellbeing in each area by 5% over the next 3 months?”
If sustainable high-performance is on your radar, how do you plan to achieve that?
I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Jenny is a Board-Certified Lifestyle Medicine Physician, author, coach, and workplace wellbeing specialist. Her latest book Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life (Wiley) is available online and at all good bookstores.
If you’re looking for someone to speak at your event or assist your business, department or team develop a high level of health and wellbeing, let’s set up a time to talk.