It’s no secret that CEOs are under greater pressure than ever. Navigating the complexity of sustainability, progressing diversity, equity and inclusion and combating an atmosphere of economic uncertainty while meeting the expectations of stakeholder, investors and staff can be, well…exhausting.

As we head into a year that will no doubt present even more challenges than 2022, there is one item on the agenda that no leader can afford to forget – rest. While it can be tempting to push through, setting up processes and priorities for the new year, even the strongest CEOs need to take time out.

With the festive season approaching, it is the one – and often only – time of the year when we give ourselves permission to take a break (and a second, or third, serving of pudding).

Boundaries matter

Taking a break means more than simply not coming into the office, as those who work in a hybrid work environment can attest to. With a multitude of collaboration platforms now utilised daily, we are more connected than ever – which isn’t always a good thing.

It is well-known that checking and sending digital communications serve the brain with a powerful, and addictive, dopamine hit, creating a feeling of reward and pleasure. This, when combined with the increasingly blurry lines between work and home and heavy workloads, can result in leaders ‘multitasking’ outside of work hours.

Sending slack messages while cooking dinner and reading emails while laying in bed may feel efficient, however failing to create a boundary between your professional and personal life can lead to the detriment of both.

The significance of shut eye

Aside from the potential effects on home life, being unable to psychologically detach from work while at home can impact the ability to get a good night’s rest. While Margaret Thatcher may have been famous for needing only four hours’ sleep, but this is not something many leaders can manage – nor should they.

Since the Iron Lady’s reign, the importance of sleep has been widely studied, and the evidence is clear: sleep is essential to performance. Poor sleep results in cognitive impairment, slowing down thinking and reaction time. When experienced over the long term, sleep deprivation is linked to cognitive decline, including the development of dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Conversely, adequate (approximately 8 hours) quality sleep improves attention and concentration, supporting problem-solving, creativity, judgement and emotional processing.

When today’s most celebrated CEOs are those who are able to lead through ambiguity with agility, a clear, fast and focused mind is a necessity for all leaders going into 2023.

Get some perspective

Ensuring you take a break over the holidays not only facilitates rest, but provides the opportunity to reflect and reset, the value of which cannot be overstated.

Before approaching a new year, smart leaders give themselves time to switch off and tune out from the business, and this mental quiet can pay dividends. After obtaining some distance from the push-and-pull of competing business priorities and team management, CEOs are granted with a perspective not otherwise possible.

With this perspective, leaders have the opportunity to review the successes and challenges of the year that has passed, and be prepared to apply these learnings with clarity of mind.

Role-modelling rest

The effects of R&R for leaders are not limited to themselves – they ripple across the entire organisation. Not only will the business have the benefit of a focused and rejuvenated CEO, but employees are provided with a powerful example of the positive effects – and necessity – of having a holiday.

Recent data shows that 75 per cent of Australians are not using their annual leave, with 23 per cent accumulating more than 20 days of leave and 13 per cent having more than two months’ worth1. While excessive leave entitlements are a liability to employers, the potential for staff burnout is a greater concern.

Just as CEOs require the time to rest and refresh, so to do their employees – and this must be role modelled at the top. By exemplifying leave taking, as well as supporting staff to prioritise time out and rearrange their workloads, leaders will set their organisation, and themselves, for success in 2023.

Anita Wingrove is managing director at Russell Reynolds Associates.