The death of Bed Bath & Beyond Chief Financial Officer Gustavo Arnal hits home for those that understand the pressure that comes with working in the C-suite.
Arnal, who took his own life last Friday, had told others he was stressed at work amid the demands of his job and the retailer’s current economic struggles, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday. Add in a shareholder lawsuit that accused the executive of taking part in a pump-and-dump scheme, and it’s easy to understand how Arnal might have felt overwhelmed. All the warning signs were there.
At Compliance Week’s National Conference in May, leadership expert Caren Kenney delivered what felt then to be a timely keynote on managing stress at work. Many attendees were at an in-person event for the first time since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, the demands of their jobs only increasing in that time away. Kenney, the former executive director of premier executive leadership at the Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute, stressed to a room of more than 400 compliance practitioners and business leaders the importance of taking care of themselves as much as looking after their companies.
“Your roles are more critical than ever,” she said. “… You have all this work to do—what often happens is when we get asked to do more and take on more, we neglect ourselves in the process of it. We push our wellbeing aside. We push our personal lives aside. But there’s no time more important than focusing on yourselves as human beings. If you’re going to be taking on these additional challenges, you have to start with yourself. That’s what we tend to neglect.”
That message feels more critical now. Kenney continued to speak in her keynote of the importance of resilience in staving off the effects of burnout. Below is an edited transcript of the advice she gave:
What do you do when you get asked to do more? We’re always asked to do more, nobody sets the number lower next year. It doesn’t happen.
Stress is always there. Stress is a reaction; it’s a response. There is everyday stress you can juggle. There is chronic stress, maybe if you’re caring for an elderly parent or you have a child with a disability. There is acute stress, which is unexpected. And then there is straining stress—intentional stress—where we push ourselves out of our comfort zones. Stress, we actually see, is a catalyst for growth, as long as you push into it and recover.
So many of us are aware of our cell phone battery … but what about our own battery? Our human battery. How many of us know when that is running low and needs to be recharged? How many of us are actually getting ahead of it? The key is … creating awareness about our energy and our capacity. Intention: What are we going to do about it? And then training: What can we put into place for ourselves?
Recovery is what’s so important. Nothing is going to be easier in terms of our workload, but we can build capacity. We do this through recovery, and that is intentional. Again, I highlight that because it has to be intentional and planned—release of stress and renewal of energy.
When we stress and push ourselves in the emotional and mental dimension, push ourselves out of the comfort zone, we’re breaking down muscle. But then when we recover, we’re building it up. That’s why you can handle the next thing that comes your way. You are all used to dealing with really challenging situations; you’re basically responsible now or involved in everything within an organization, and it’s going to continue. So how do you keep stressing, flexing your muscle, but then building in recovery so you can continue to take on more without sacrificing yourself in the process?
This concept of stress and recovery: I like to think of it as you also want to match your stressor with your recovery. So, if I’m going to go for a four-mile run, I might stretch afterwards and take a day off. That’s my recovery. If I’m going to run a marathon. I might take a week off. I might get a massage or do some PT. Try to match your stressor with your recovery.
Our body is not designed to go nonstop. We have to create this oscillation.