Why Every CEO Should Regret Not Attending the Psychologically Healthy Workplaces Conference

I recently attended and spoke at the APA’s Psychologically Healthy Workplace Conference.  The goal of the conference as outlined by the APA’s visionary Assistant Executive Director, Dr. David Ballard (who also happens to have an MBA) was to celebrate and learn from,

"Employers who understand the link between employee well-being and organizational performance strive to maintain a work environment characterized by openness, fairness, trust and respect, even when difficult actions were required.  These employers are positioned for success in the economic recovery and will have a distinct competitive advantage in their ability to attract and retain the very best employees."

The conference was organized around the core elements of the Psychologically Healthy Workplace Model:




Over the past few days, other speakers and attendees have shared their insightful overviews of the conference in the following posts:

My main takeaway from the two days was simply that…every CEO should regret not attending, both professionally and personally. 

Had they participated, they would have learned about strategies to resolve many of their organization’s most vexing bottom line challenges—employee stress, lack of employee engagement, high cost of health care, truly leveraging diversity, etc—issues that directly impact growth and profitability.   

CEOs would have heard the former U.S. Secretary of Labor, Alexis M. Herman, in her introduction of the winners of the Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award point out the three main challenges facing companies as we move into a "do more with less" era:

  1. More role ambiguity as everyone takes on more roles and responsibilities which increases the level of job stress.
  2. Increased inter-generational worker tension as Boomers work longer, but graduates can’t find work.
  3. Increased worker polarization and isolation as workers who lose jobs can’t find work at the same level of income or status.     

But perhaps most importantly, CEOs would have seen how they benefit personally from strategies that create a psychologically healthier workplace.  They would realize that they’re not alone in the isolation of overwhelming work+life challenges and stress which are outcomes of a work+life fit model that no longer suits even for those at senior levels.

A recent CNN.com article, "Why Being a CEO Should Come with a Health Warning," highlights the research conducted by Steve Tappin for his book, The Secrets of CEOs.  From his interviews with 150 CEOs, Tappin learned that:

  • "The major emotions a CEO has are frustration, disappointment, irritation and overwhelm."
  • "There should be a health warning.  If you have those emotions for 80% of the day, they lead to stress and cortisol in the body, which leads to accelerated ageing, heart attacks, and cancer."
  • "In many cases people were burned out and stressed.  The end game is that they’ve got very low energy.  People assume CEOs are superhuman but they’re grappling with a really hard job."
  • " Being a CEO has always been tough, but the global nature of modern business means running a company has become increasingly complex, with decisions needing to be made around the clock." 
  • "About 90% struggle with work-life balance, when they talk off the record…Jobs are exhausting and emotional."
  • An unnamed CEO who has been married twice is quoted in the book as saying, "I can’t remember my boys growing up.  I can’t remember them when they were young.  People ask whether you have to make a choice between your family and your career.  You definitely do.  You can’t have both."

Sound familiar?  CEOs are not immune to the unsustainable pressures created by old ways of operating that haven’t adapted and undermine success, organizationally or personally, in a 24/7, global economy driven by constant change.  From the compelling research and case studies presented at the conference, CEOs would know how to take the lead to create a new more profitable business model for their organizations and a healthier way of managing the fit between work and the rest of life. 

Since most CEOs didn’t attend the PHWP event, where do they begin to build a psychologically healthier workplace that’s a win-win for the business and the individuals who work there (including themselves)?  Take some tips from Labor Secretary Herman’s closing remarks, which centered on the fact that we need to strengthen relationships and reset the "balance" between work and the other parts of our lives:

  • Engage in straight talk.  Be clear and honest with everyone across the organization.
  • Focus hard on how to improve employee engagement.  What can we do?  (a presentation at the conference by Dr. Benjamin Schneider of Valtera Consultants presented compelling research that showed a strong link between engagement, customer service and profits)
  • Form different strategic alliances and partnerships to create new types of work, and
  • Expand options on the table that support many forms of spirituality in the workplace as a source of resilience. 

In the CNN.com article, author Tappin shares the story of Philip Green, CEO of the British company, United Utilities, "He is a Christian, and he has a "’five f’ formula: faith, family, fitness, fun and firm.  Notice he didn’t say firm first.  Those are the core to him being able to succeed."  Philip Green is a living example of the factors that lead to a psychologically healthy life and workplace. 

Whether prompted by the compelling business case for change, or by personal crisis, hopefully more CEOs will seek out and advocate for the strategies that lead to a healthier and ultimately more profitable way of operating…and living. 

CEOs may regret missing this year’s conference, but they (as well as the rest of us) can follow the ongoing feed of helpful research, case studies and information from Dr. David Ballard and the APA’s Psychologically Healthy Workplace team: 

And there’s always next year’s conference!   

Join me!  I will appear live on Friday, March 19th at 4:00 pm ET/ 1:00 pm PST on Maggie Mistal's radio show on the Martha Stewart Radio Network Sirius 112/ XM 157.  Topic:  How to Manage Your Work+Life Fit Heading Back to Work After a Layoff.  Click here to sign up for a free 7 day trial of Sirius/XM and listen. 

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  • Cali Williams Yost

    Jeanne, Your analysis is, unfortunately, correct. So how do we reach the Board of Directors and shareholders? There are the Aspen Principles I mentioned in a previous post http://bit.ly/d9jtZ. But what else?

  • Jeanne Male

    Cali, excellent synopsis of a vital but complex issue.

    In my experience, most C-level executives don't embrace healthy performance management initiatives because:

    1 - they don't have the perspective to value or the bandwidth to deal.
    2 - they consider it "soft stuff": they don't know the data or don't consider it a compelling business driver.
    3 - it's too risky/unproven: if they enact and fall short of revenue projections for two quarters, their jobs/reputations are at risk. We need to show them how they can ramp-up initiatives without falling short.

    Surely educated or empowered CEOs will take up the mantle but I believe that they will be outliers. It is my opinion that sweeping change must address (educate/advance)the issues from the Board of Directors level all the way down to stockholders to provide needed C-level support.

  • Cali Williams Yost

    Ron, Yup! So how do we get most of today's CEOs off of the slippery slope? What part of the system applies the most pressure and sustains the myopic and dangerous quarterly growth focus? These are the questions I am currently studying. Until we address the systemic changes that discourage a "bifocal" approach, CEOs will not invest the time, people and money necessary to develop and implement all of the people-based strategies that could benefit them personally and the bottom line of their business. Look forward to continuing this conversation!

  • Ron Carucci

    That's a fabulous question and insightful observation Cali. Indeed the fixation on quarterly EPS leads to amazingly unproductive behaviors - we see it all the time. Everybody talks about the importance of long term, strategic sustainability, yet at the end of the day, remains enslaved to eeking out a few more cents on share. It takes courage and discipline to disappoint people - or at least to manage expectations - in the short term for the sake of the future. Too many Boards of Directors put pressures on management teams that lead them to actually mortgage the future. We work hard with CEOs and their teams to help them remain "bi focal" and to have the ambidexterity to work in two time horizons at once - today and tomorrow. Ironically, stocks that perform well over the long haul always have periods of investment, set back and re-invention. The addiction to quarter-to-quarter double digit growth, for most who pursue it, becomes a dangerous slippery slope that eventually backfires.

    Ron Carucci

  • Cali Williams Yost

    Ron, So right on point...here's my question: how much does the unrelenting focus on quarterly results undermine the development and implementation of strategies you mentioned? They all take time, mutual trust and patience. Qualities that seem to have been wrung out of our current system. I would love to hear what you think.

  • Ron Carucci

    The hazards of the CEO role are unquestionably perilous. The CEOs we spend our days with navigating profound change bear out the truths of CNN's article. Surrounding themselves with competent executive teams and healthy, functional Board directors will also go a long way to ensuring the CEO role isn't fatal. Public Company boards underestimate the force for good the CEO role can be for the organization's future, and squander the asset by under developing him/her and not establishing mutual accountability early in a CEO's tenure. In our experience, the CEOs psychological and emotional health has direct impact on the broader organization's vitality and performance - which of course directly impacts EPS. It behooves those surrounding the CEO to work hard to ensure s/he is enabled, not isolated, engaged, and employing effective self-care practices. It's hardly trivial, and we applaud Tappin for bringing this to the public's attention. I am especially glad to see the attention to emotional and spiritual resilience. While we may wish the CEOs role didn't have disproportionate levels of influence on the broader organizational community, the fact is it does. And the sooner we start paying attention to the implications of that, and raise the stakes on the care and feeding of those in these jobs, the sooner we'll all benefit.
    Ron Carucci

  • Micah Solomon

    I loved your article--this stuff is important!--and that quote was curious; Who knows, by next year it may be the new "impacted." Thanks, Cali!

  • Cali Williams Yost

    @Micah Solomon You made me laugh because I thought the same thing...but that's the quote.

  • Micah Solomon

    Cool article but leaving me with more CEO-stress from thinking I'm falling behind: While I was multitasking here did"overwhelm" become a noun?

    From his interviews with 150 CEOs, Tappin learned that:

    * “The major emotions a CEO has are frustration, disappointment, irritation and overwhelm.”

  • Cali Williams Yost

    @Kathie Lingle -- you should be very proud of World at Work's win. It's the reason you are able to continue to make the world a better place.

    @Steve M -- Unofficially, from my personal vantage point, I met a few C-suite execs mostly from small or medium-sized companies. But they represented a tiny minority of the thousands of CEOs who could have benefited themselves and their businesses.

  • Kathie Lingle

    I'm proud to report that WorldatWork (Alliance for Work-Life Progress' parent organization) was the sole winner of this particular APA Award in 2009 in the non-profit category. All of us who work here know that a huge factor in the wide variety of awards we win for workplace quality is the healthy, respectful philosophy, behavior and leadership of our President.

  • Cali Williams Yost

    Yup, sounds like he is definitely in the minority with his CEO cohorts thinking his work+life fit reality is fine.

  • Celia Harquail

    Maybe next year you can invite Jack Welch, and he can rethink his now infamous comments about being a CEO means not being a good mom.