Association CEOs Are Exhausted

By Donna Oser posted 30 days ago

The Hermitage at Gilchrist
CEOs of Michigan associations are exhausted and worried about workload and capacity, according to MSAE's 2021 Member Survey. These sentiments came through loud and clear in the instrument's open-ended and narrative questions. They reinforce what we have been hearing conversationally for months.

I shared these findings in a conversation with a fellow CEO yesterday, and his response was telling, "Things have gone well for my association - we're doing okay financially, the members are happy, and the staff has done great. But, you know, I'm exhausted. It's like we spend all our time taking care of our families, the members, the association, our staff members, and our boards, but no one is taking care of us."

As the President and CEO of the society that serves association executives, I take these messages seriously and commit to being more attentive to the 'whole executive,' not just the professional side. Candidly, I have my own demons when it comes to self-care, but here are a few things that I have found to be helpful to me in times of overwork:

  • Plan time off - right now. Don't put it off or make excuses. If you're not able to or comfortable with traveling, plan an epic staycation. Over the years, some of my favorite staycations have included fitness (I did a different fitness class every day), deep cleaning my house (It was long overdue!), and five days at a hermitage where I didn't see or speak to anyone (I really should do this every other year!).

  • Be intentional about spending at least 30 minutes outside every day. It doesn't matter what you do - walk, play with your dog, or do yard work. (Sometimes, I just stare at the river and breathe!) Brain research has found that daily time spent outdoors improves mental health as well as or better than prescription anti-depressants.

  • Master the power of your calendar. Limit the amount of time that you're booked in meetings - they can be draining and often push your other work to after hours. And block time for high-value activities like thinking and working on transformative projects. Too often, we're so busy taking care of everyone and everything that the (other) high-value activities we need to do get allocated to early mornings and late evenings, all of which take a toll on us physically and mentally.

  • Pick up the phone and call a colleague or a member. Pre-COVID, you may have dreaded phone calls because other communication mediums were more efficient - I know I did. But after a year of quarantine, I've learned to pick up the phone and call people. It's clear they genuinely enjoy hearing from a colleague or friend, and the connection lifts my spirits and helps keep me grounded in what's important
You've said it to others a thousand times: You can't pour from an empty cup. To save others, you have to put your oxygen mask on first. But I am saying that to you now. Thank you for your herculean efforts throughout this crisis. Please take care of you! You are needed and appreciated. 

And we are here to help.