I recently spoke with investors who were worried about their investment since the CEO of the company hasn’t taken any leave for a few years. They asked me if I can coach the CEO. Coaching is a great tool. It can do wonders when people are aware they need to develop specific skills and are willing to make an effort and get out of their comfort zone by developing different managerial styles and habits. It doesn’t work when they believe there is no problem to fix. So, here I would like to explain why when the CEO and the executive team do not take leave, it is a sign of a real problem. 

Why the lack of taking a holiday is a red flag? 

Going on leave (holiday) has many advantages for the individual and the organisation. Leading a company is fascinating, yet can be exhausting due to long hours, the complexity of work, stress, and uncertainty. It is also lonely at the top. 

Executives often feel like an empty ATM- work draws energy from them, and no one comes to recharge the machine. Leading in times of uncertainty is even more draining. 

Taking leave is time to recharge. Well-rested people are more creative, productive and achieve higher results. 

When employees take leave, it not only reduces the financial liability on the balance sheet but also enables the company to gain a sharper, more creative, revitalised and productive team. Making sure that your team takes leave also shows a duty of care. 

However, when the CEO (or anyone else in the executive team) never, or hardly, takes leave- they send the opposite message to their team. Even if there is a leave policy in place, the message is more vital! 

Investors and boards then ask themselves: why is it that the CEO cannot go on a holiday? Is there a managerial problem? Lack of delegation and trust? Work barriers they are not aware of? Lack of cover?  

What are the (personal and hence managerial) consequences of not taking leave? Research indicates the following effects: stress, anxiety, low performance under pressure, long term burnout of the CEO and the team, future employee turnover, reduction of team’s resilience etc.  

Now, these days most people work from home. However, this does not mean that they don’t need to go on leave. The pandemic has added stress to everyone, and although in many cases, productivity is on the rise, employees are showing signs of burnout and overwork. They are missing the face to face interaction and the commute time between work and home, that allows some quiet time for reflection and recharge. 

Set the example and take leave! 

Yes, rather than having a leave policy, CEOs and executives need to set the example, delegate their work and take leave. Taking leave is a positive message that does not conflict the message of hard work. Employees work hard and long hours, but they also need to play hard and recharge to have the energy to work even harder to meet deadlines and cope with times of crisis. 

By setting the example and framework in place, you build a resilient team that will be there with you throughout these marathons and sprint of recovering from the pandemic.