Jun Haraguchi, president and CEO of Konica Minolta’s Business Solutions U.S.A. unit, Ramsey, N.J., doesn’t worry about undermining his image as a business leader or his authority with employees when he appears on stage with famous musicians like Winona Judd or the Marshall Tucker Band at company events. He joins right in with the performers, playing his guitar, ukulele or harmonica. It’s for his own enjoyment, he says, and a way to show employees that he’s “approachable.”
The 51-year-old Mr. Haraguchi also believes he can tell jokes at meetings and still have a serious-minded staff. “Music refreshes my humanity—and I couldn’t survive without humor,” says Haraguchi.
He is working 12-hour days as he faces the tough challenge of expanding his company’s color document and printing businesses in the U.S., where it competes against bigger rivals such as Xerox and Hewlett-Packard. “The business is big, but the pie is limited—and we need people who are willing to work harder than ever,” he says. “But to create an environment where people are willing to work hard, work has to be fun.”
Work and more work has been a mantra for executives in recent years as they compete fiercely for global customers. More than one-fifth of U.S. managers and professionals work more than 60 hours a week and are on call around the clock for clients across the globe, according to a recent survey by Sylvia Ann Hewlett, president of the Center for Work-Life Policy in New York.
As executives carry ever more extreme workloads, they are going further to ensure that they and their employees balance work with other interests and activities.
Some companies concerned about the health and other risks of burnout—high blood pressure, sleep disorders and marital problems, to name a few—are reducing the number of required meetings, allowing employees to do more work from home and urging them to use all their vacation time. IBM now has meeting-free Friday afternoons, for example, and Ernst & Young and Citigroup offer flexible scheduling.
But a more effective burnout remedy, others say, is to do something every day that is pleasurable and unrelated to work. For Diane Schumaker-Krieg, managing director and global head of research at Wachovia Securities, that is yoga. She works at least 12 hours a day, oversees a staff of 200 and commutes between offices in New York and Charlotte, N.C.
“Yoga is my little vacation each day. It makes me happy, which gives me energy—and I can do it anywhere, even in a hotel on a bathmat,” she says. Some days she can’t attend an hour-long yoga class and only has time to stand on her head for 15 minutes. “But it’s amazing the clarity that gives me—and the chance to connect to the nonmathematical side of my brain,” she adds. A devotee for the past 20 years, she teaches yoga to disabled children.
Other executives counter work stress with volunteer activities that reconnect them to something they loved doing as teenagers. Arthur Groom, who runs a luxury wholesale and retail jewelry business based in Ridgewood, N.J., founded a wrestling school for teens two years ago. In addition to teaching wrestling—a sport Groom played in high school—the school takes teams to Poland and Russia, where they play against foreign students.
He pays his coaches, but doesn’t profit himself from the school. The school doesn’t charge students who can’t afford to pay. “For me, it’s a lot more fun than playing golf and is a way to relax” from the pressures of work, says Groom. He has to travel frequently to hotspots such as Afghanistan in search of precious gems. And even back home, a small miscalculation about how to cut an emerald or diamond can destroy the stone.
How can executives who don’t have a special interest or hobby find one? “Start by sitting very still and listening to yourself,” advises Nancy Azara, a New York artist who runs creativity workshops. “You’ll start remembering things you used to like or have always wanted to try—like drawing or playing an instrument.”
Even time spent doodling at work while talking on the phone can reduce stress, she says, and urges managers not to turn activities that might give them pleasure into pressured assignments.
Haraguchi, who wanted to be a professional musician when he was a teenager, keeps his guitar and other instruments in his office so he can sometimes find time to play. He wants to encourage other employees to find their own forms of relaxation.
To foster a sense of community at work, his business unit has raised relief funds for a creative-arts public school in New Orleans. He has adopted personally the school’s motto: “Work hard. Be nice.” He repeats that motto to himself when he arrives home after a long day at the office or after one of his frequent business trips. He sits for a few minutes in his car and reminds himself to “be nice” to his wife and two teenage children, and not to think about work when he’s with them—at least not until he has to check email from Japan before going to bed.
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