What CEOs Say About Employee Burnout and Work-Life Balance

The Four Percent

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Chief executives are concerned that employees are burning out while working remotely.

At the WSJ Women In the Workplace Forum, Rachel Thomas, co-founder and CEO of LeanIn.Org, said, “This is not business as usual. Businesses are struggling. Their employee base is struggling. And they’re rewriting the playbook as they go, trying to figure all of this out.”

Here’s what leaders at the forum, held Sept. 30 online, said about creating more flexible work hours and options during the pandemic:


Stephen Voss for The Wall Street Journal

“For the first time, it’s OK for the 2-year or the 7-year-old to be in the Zoom screen…And for dads, too, by the way.”

Lisa W. Wardell, chairman and CEO, Adtalem Global Education


Angela Owens/The Wall Street Journal

“Being flexible right now is everything. Moms right now are trying to figure out how to do their calls and also take care of their kids on their Zoom classes all over the country. And so, hey, maybe from 9 to 2 is not the ultimate time to have meetings with these moms. Let them present times that work for you.”

Kendra Scott, founder, chief executive and chairman of Kendra Scott LLC


Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg News

“You compartmentalize your life, and what we’ve learned during Covid is that it’s all blending…It’s OK to say that I need help, because the truth of the matter is we are all needing a little bit of help during this time. You don’t have to have the ‘S’ on your chest—be ‘Superwoman.’ It could simply mean, ‘I’m spent.’ That level of honesty and vulnerability will go a long way in this environment, because men are also exhausted.”

Thasunda Brown Duckett, CEO, Chase Consumer Banking


Todd Parsons

“I’m actually having more career-development conversations now than I was having before the pandemic, because…they can be really short, productive and focused. That accessibility actually is greater now, so use that opportunity…There’s a win-win there: I’m very happy to talk a little bit about your career and your development and give you my perspective. I’m also gaining insight of what’s your experience like as an employee, what you think about business, what you’re working on.”

Alexander Hardy, CEO, Genentech


Paul Miller/Bloomberg News

“There’s a very fine line between working from home and sleeping at the office, and for many people, the lack of a boundary between home and office has become the issue. So really resetting the norms, the norms by which we work, in a world where commutes and cubicles have gone, and instead it’s constant interruption, the kids are in the room, and so on—how do you create a boundary?…Having active dialogue in business around what that looks like so that it’s acceptable and understood is vital. It’s not happening enough.”

Kevin Sneader, global managing partner, McKinsey & Co.


David Paul Morris/Bloomberg News

“This report is not telling individual women how to lean in. This report is telling companies how to lean in…‘Here’s what your company needs to do in order to fix the crisis that’s happened for working women right now.’ Women can’t do this. It has to be companies. Women are facing the burnout. Companies have to adjust if they want to keep your talent.”

Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer, Facebook, and co-founder, LeanIn.Org, on the 2020 Women in the Workplace report from McKinsey & Co. and LeanIn.Org


F. Carter Smith/Bloomberg News

“We had set up a caregiver marketplace which helps people with tutors, with errands. And it’s a bit of an enabling platform for employees to help one another…We’ve set up a program now to reimburse employees up to $2,000 for incremental expenses related to supervision of children at home…I think flexibility is the key. We’ve had some great innovation.”

Mike Wirth, chairman and CEO, Chevron


Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg News

“Companies need to rethink the norms around working. In one fell swoop, work life and home life got mashed together in a very disruptive way. Companies need to step back and say, ‘What should those new norms be?’ That may be setting certain times for meetings and certain times that are off-limits, setting norms around when you’re expected to answer email and when you’re not. And then really, explicitly communicating to employees that they can set their own boundaries, too.”

Rachel Thomas, co-founder and CEO, LeanIn.Org


Gabe Palacio for The Wall Street Journal

“A lot of it’s about that support that people have, and prioritizing work so that people can focus, especially those who have kids at home, on the most important things. That’s good for us in business overall…If they can get the most important things done, you have to be willing to say, ‘We’re going to let some things go as well during this time.’ ”

Michele Buck, president and CEO, the Hershey Company

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