The businesswoman's statement caught me by surprise, but clearly she meant it. "We are all working so hard and for such long hours that we don't get a chance to get to know each other," she said. "It just seems there's no fun in the business world anymore."
I was surprised by the sentiments only because she is so young, vital and full of enthusiasm for her profession. But she isn't alone. I've talked to others both in and out of healthcare who tell me they are so overworked at their jobs that they have very little time for anything else, including their families.
All of us need time to recover, to reflect, to spend time with loved ones. It's what humanizes us. My friend's comment reveals much about business and our society as a whole. Yes, business is business, and you have to give as much as you can to your job to stay competitive, but there is a limit. And that limit really is about having enough of a life outside the job so that you can bring perspective, a positive outlook and energy to your work.
Not long after I heard that comment, I met with a top executive, who sighed and said, "Here it is another summer and I've missed most of it. I can't believe it." How many of us have said that time and again? We promise ourselves every year to take a summer vacation, but before we know it, summer is virtually over. Most of us take great pride in doing things efficiently and better, but sometimes that involves sacrifice of the worst order, such as missing out on playing catch with your son or seeing your daughter learn how to swim. Think of all the missed school plays and concerts and Little League games, and pretty soon it adds up and takes a toll.
Most of us look forward to enjoying whatever our loved ones are involved in because it makes us feel both fulfilled and joyous. But that's not the story I hear every day as I travel around the country and visit with healthcare executives. The evidence sticks out like a sore thumb. More and more chief executives are leaving the one thing they have striven for all their lives, retiring in their early or mid-50s because they are just plain tired out. They don't want to take the hit any longer. They just don't want to work 24/7 at the expense of their health and their families.
Not too long ago I spent time with two extremely gifted former healthcare vendor executives, dynamic people whom I've known for years. The first told me, "The travel got me. I couldn't stand it any longer. I spent too much time alone and I spent too much time wondering what I was doing to my wife and children. No matter how much they pay you, the travel gets old fast. We only have so many years on this earth and I don't want to spend most of them on an airplane or in a hotel room doing someone else's bidding. The joy is gone."
The same story came through with the other fellow I spoke with. He had had enough. Enough of living out of a suitcase in strange hotels in strange locations, being treated roughly by clients and bosses, be they a CEO or the board chair. It gets to the point that the wear and tear on one's being gets to be too much to endure and it seems to be happening more frequently than ever before.
For instance, did you know that according to the most recent statistics from the American College of Healthcare Executives, the average age of hospital CEOs is 51.8 with an average tenure of only four years? Given that I know of many top hospital officials who have been on the job for decades, an average of four years is an amazing statistic. Some people clearly are being recycled a lot faster than four years.
Where is the continuity of values and leadership? Where is the substance of long-term strategic planning? Think of the uncertainty, the insecurity that must exist in healthcare institutions if management changes every few years.
Too many executives don't enjoy their jobs enough to stay on, preferring early retirement to the challenges of our field. I believe there is a lack of leadership in healthcare and other industries and a lack of recognition as to what is really going on in the workplace. If I can judge by the many e-mails, letters and other communications I get from readers of my column, there is a need for governance boards and top management to recognize what is going on in their institutions. The workplace should not only be a place where there is the emphasis on excellence and hard work, but also an environment that is conducive to joy and plain, old-fashioned fun. Too many companies have forgotten that people are the most important resource when it comes to success.
Managers and all other employees need more than a paycheck and a healthcare plan. Everyone needs love and recognition, a smile and reassurance that no matter what position they hold, they make a difference.
Reward more than bottom-line results. Enthusiasm, a sense of humor, a positive attitude and a well-rounded life should be cultivated.
It's called psychic income, and it pays bigger dividends than a few extra bucks toward the bottom line.
We all want to believe,