This article is part of The Water Cooler, a recurring column for technology executives to digest, discuss and debate. Next up: What are the top priorities in your 2022 budget?
The holiday season lies ahead, an opportunity for enterprises to take a breather following a particularly demanding 18 months. But can technology executives ever really step away?
Tech leaders have long led crucial components for their organizations, supporting the e-commerce platforms or communications systems that keep transactions running smoothly. Pressure on the IT backbone has only increased as more operations take place in the digital realm.
Looming cybersecurity risks can also prevent executives from feeling ease as they step away from their workstations for a break. Nearly nine in 10 security professionals are concerned about attacks during weekend and holiday periods, a survey from Cybereason found.
The FBI and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) have previously warned organizations to guard against ransomware attacks over extended holiday weekends.
Despite the risks, there are ways for executives to plan ahead and ensure they can disconnect from the daily pressures of the role. Failure to do so can lead to burnout, as well as reduced performance as pressures mount.
Here are how five executives ensure they can disconnect during the holiday break.
(The comments below have been lightly edited for length and clarity.)
Alastair Pooley, CIO of Snow Software
"One of the great things about diving is there's no phone reception if you're underwater. The phone stays on the shore and you do get some time to disconnect."
CIO of Snow Software
As we've been remote, we've created all sorts of ways to work asynchronously with people. Whether that's Slack or Teams, or document management systems or wikis where you could comment on things. And the great thing is it does let us work at different times, giving people flexibility.
The downside, though, is that you get notifications on your smartphone and before you know it, you're replying to it. What I tend to advocate for my staff, although I wouldn't say I'm amazing at it myself, is try not to reply if you know you're going to ping everybody and suddenly get them looking at their phone. You can sometimes schedule when a request is going to go out, or you can disable the notification.
One of the tactics that my wife has actually adopted in the past is that we've gone on holiday and she picked places with really bad cellular coverage, which kind of goes quite well with one of my own hobbies which is scuba diving.
One of the great things about diving is there's no phone reception if you're underwater. The phone stays on the shore and you do get some time to disconnect.
Christie Kim, COO at Persona
"Embrace that what works for you might be different than what works for someone else."
COO at Persona
My main rule: Be intentional about your plan to disconnect — make a plan to be offline and when you are offline, be offline. I tell my team when I will be with my family and won't be checking Slack and email. I find this helps me execute on my plan because I know my team knows and can plan accordingly.
Disconnecting looks different for each person. You should find what works for you. Maybe it's turning off notifications after work hours, or maybe it's taking an actual vacation. Embrace that what works for you might be different than what works for someone else.
If you have trouble disconnecting from work, which I do, remind yourself that disconnecting can help provide even more energy when you dive back in.
John Abel, CIO at Extreme Networks
"We watch holiday movies – "Love Actually" is a favourite – and play games, like Risk."
CIO at Extreme Networks
I find that I'm unable to relax completely if I ignore my work emails, especially during the end of a busy quarter. I can't help but wonder if anything has gone wrong for my team, so having my phone nearby to make sure there isn't any unusual activity helps me de-stress. No news is good news during the holidays!
I also enjoy celebrating holiday traditions with my family. We celebrate on Christmas Eve by having cioppino with several other families and still carry on the tradition of unwrapping a gift the night before Christmas, even though my sons are grown.
We watch holiday movies — "Love Actually" is a favorite — and play games, like Risk. I live near the coast, so we often take family walks on the beach. After Christmas, my twins have their birthday, so we usually celebrate by going on skiing or golfing trips.
Enjoying time with family while making sure my teams can also relax is the best way I can keep my mind (mostly) off work.
Jerome Ternynck, CEO at SmartRecruiters
"As CEO, it's my responsibility to ensure my employees take time off, for their mental health, and also come to work feeling fresh and motivated."
CEO at SmartRecruiters
I have always been an advocate for disconnecting. It's absolutely critical to unplug, relax and recharge once in a while — for your mental health and in order to do your best work. And disconnecting is especially important today given the events in the last two years.
But it's not easy for everyone, especially those of us in high-growth industries like tech. As CEO, it's my responsibility to ensure my employees take time off, for their mental health, and also come to work feeling fresh and motivated.
Now, how you disconnect is highly personal. I myself love to ski.
Tom Conklin, CISO at Fivetran:
"Wherever possible, I make sure responsibilities are assigned to teams rather than to individuals, and responsibility is delegated down all levels within the team."
CISO at Fivetran
There are two main things that ensure the business continues to operate efficiently during the holiday season. Wherever possible, I make sure responsibilities are assigned to teams rather than to individuals, and responsibility is delegated down all levels within the team. This way there's redundancy: We don't Slack or email an individual but teams as a whole.
We also have an overlap of responsibility even beyond the core role of any one person or group. So if someone is out, there are others that are empowered to help. Only if this fails do issues escalate to me.
To disconnect, I go on longer runs and walks. They help clear my mind and offset some of the stress from work and holiday festivities.