The Danger of America’s “Power-On” Corporate Culture

The Danger of America’s “Power-On” Corporate Culture

I have a unique lens through which I see the world. I am beginning my 20th year as a Wealth Management Advisor on Wall Street, specializing in working with Senior Corporate Executives, Entrepreneurs and change-makers. I am a Senior Advisor in my firm, and I spend every workday serving men and women in Senior Leadership positions. All top of their game. Many at the pinnacle of their career.

I have known for years that in my corporate culture and in the other corporate cultures I have witnessed, the more senior you are, the more demanding and all-encompassing the work becomes, and the more people expect you to be “on” at all times. I know Senior Executives that take calls and read emails into the late night. Many schedule back-to-back calls during their commutes, to maximize their work time. My ex-husband, who is still a Senior Executive at a large tech company, used to come home from work nightly and put his laptop on his placemat, ready for more. For many of these men and women, taking a mid-day break is not a reward, it is weakness. A sit-down lunch, unless it is with a client, is considered indulgent, not deserved.

It has become a Senior Corporate badge of honor, a masculine-energy strategy and a super-woman strategy to “Power-On” regardless. It’s not a woman thing or a man thing, really. It’s unsustainable. It’s the opposite of well-being. It’s a mistake.

I used to be that “Power-On” person, eating lunch at my desk (if you consider a Diet Coke lunch), and smugly feeling that I was being so productive. I wasn’t. I was running my body into the ground. Many of you know I learned the hard way with my health challenges: the high blood pressure, the two auto-immune diseases, the early-stage cancer. They are all gone, thanks to me revamping my life. I remember about six years ago, I was having a Vedic Astrology reading, and I asked, “Am I destined to have ongoing health issues?,” and to my shock, he answered, “You are destined to understand the consequences of running a racecar too many times around the track without a pit-stop.” Amen.

The other day, I was working from my home office, and well-being aficionado that I am, I decided to treat myself to a nice lunch (by myself, gasp!) at the Veggie Grill. I had worked so hard that morning, and I was craving their Bombay Bowl. Even though I was outfitted in business casual grey slacks, heels, and a dry-cleaned hoodie, I wanted to hide when I saw one of my work colleagues, Mike, walk in with his sharp suit, tie, cufflinks, and a smile. I suddenly slipped back into my corporate-culture-power-person role. I yanked the iPhone headsets out of my ears, swiped away the funny video I was watching, and started telling him how much work I had gotten done that morning. This year so far too. Why did I feel I needed to prove myself to him? Or anyone? What’s wrong with having lunch? Wasn’t I, a wellness advocate, above that? I was disappointed in myself.

The next day, I got a text from a friend, a successful woman executive, who wrote, “I’m in line at a café. I’m about to collapse from hunger.” She was getting something to go, to eat in the car. Why do we not feel like we can take care of ourselves? Why do we put ourselves last to the point of collapse?

Let me tell you something. You need that break. That 30 minutes in the sun. That walk around the block. Chatting on the phone with your sister. Listening to your favorite music. Maybe you need an hour. Will you come back refueled? More creative? More centered and grounded? More powerful? Better able to serve your clients to your highest ability? More capable of leading your team, who is looking to you for brilliance? I bet.

When you “Power-On” like that racecar, pedal to the floor day after day, you create even deeper grooves on the route that leads to stress as a constant state of being, to adrenaline overload, to exhaustion, and to health issues. None of these are optimal states of being, or one’s highest potential, right?

My obsession with well-being has been fueled for another reason. At the beginning of July this year, a business partner and close friend, whom I will call Robert, had an unexpected and absolutely massive heart attack. He is, like me, in his mid-40s, but he was, for the ten years I worked with him, at least 70 pounds overweight, and was one of the most intense, committed workers I have ever known. Even with more than 20 people working for him (which is a big team by our industry standards), he worked nights, weekends, and was almost always reachable on one of his two cell phone numbers. In meetings, he would sweat with the intensity of his concentration. I had spoken to my boss eight years ago about my concerns for his well-being. I spoke to him personally. In the ICU, they quickly induced a coma, which he stayed in for the whole summer. After he came out of it, I went to visit him at the hospital’s Acute Rehab, and the nurses informed me that just the day before, two and a half months from his attack, he had finally gone home. Since they could not disclose any updated info, I just stood there in front of them. Determined to make my long drive count for something, I started blabbering about how brilliant he was, how when he spoke, his words were perfection. How there was no advisor ever that understood the niche he specialized in as well as he did. The nurses just stared at me and then shot glances at each other…obviously not the Robert they had experienced! In my opinion, his mind, in all its outstanding capacity, was irreplaceable. Interesting, that is what hasn’t come back to him, even after all these weeks.

There is hope for this “Power-On” culture that swirls around the Senior Leadership in this country. Change is afoot. Arianna Huffington, in her new venture, Thrive Global, is seeking to promote employee wellness and a decent night’s sleep. I have personally heard Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, Mark Bertolini, CEO of Atena, and John Donahoe, former CEO of Ebay, publicly speak about their daily meditation practices. SO encouraging.

It is my passion to change the way we see work and well-being in corporate America, how we can re-envision what it means for us executives, entrepreneurs and visionaries to operate with optimal Body, Mind and Spirit Well-being, to perform at our truly highest potential. I believe we need to start at the top, change the influencers, who in turn will transform their company’s cultures. I am willing to speak out in my public engagements, in my writing, and at the very least, to enjoy my Bombay Bowl at the Veggie Grill. It takes a movement. Join me.

10 Comments

  1. Well said! You are looking fabulous and projecting power with your words. Thanks for the good advice.

    Becca

    Reply
  2. Thank you for this article! This even applies to non-corporate America, especially all professionals. I feel like my clients expect me to be available constantly and I have decided that my health or kids cannot sustain that level of work!

    Reply
  3. Excellent blog, Megan! You are speaking of the essence of life-in-balance: doing your work/your passion in the world BUT never forgetting to daily fulfill the needs of your mind, body and spirit. In 20 years working for a food company, I only ate at my desk about 4 times — no matter how filling the lunch, I would always be exhausted by mid afternoon. Consequently, I never brought in my lunch so that I would be forced to leave the building for at least 20 minutes to get lunch. Your body is your beloved life partner — if you don’t work in harmony with each other, there will always be consequences to your health and well being. Thanks for offering this great blog!!

    Reply
  4. Megan is right on. She has lived and learned and is now sharing her experience and wisdom. We type-As are not conditioned to taking stock and slowing down. But that is no perscription for long term success. Heed Megan’s advice, I have. Rather than decline, my productivity has actually improved. And my quality of life is higher. Take a few minutes, people, to stop and smell the roses

    Reply
  5. Megan! I so agree that life needs to be balanced. Corporate America has some growing to do, and it will happen… eventually. The Europeans figured it out!

    I just love that you are putting yourself out there, sharing your story, sharing your insights that might not all be so well received. People need to hear it! People deserve to hear it! kudos to you and keep it coming. I look forward to seeing more.
    Hugs!

    Reply
  6. Megan,
    That was wonderfully written! So encouraging to stop and be good to ourselves! Bravo!

    Reply
  7. Megan,

    Thank you for this enlightening article.

    I was that “power on” person for most of my career. It lead to “burn out”and early retirement.

    Bravo for reminding us that balance is the key to joy and passion in work and life!

    Reply
  8. Thank you for your insights. You are a wise, warrior woman!

    Reply
  9. AMEN!

    You hit the nail on the head, Goddess. Thank you for speaking the truth for all those unable to do so.

    You amaze me!

    Reply
  10. Megan,
    I very much appreciate your article – for telling he truth about how corporate culture is unhealthy. I had neck pain, shoulder pain, headaches, hip pain, and shooting foot cramps up my feet and legs – all from the long term effects of adrenaline.
    Great article that raises awareness and toward a shift in more important values!
    Abby

    Reply

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