Ruchi Kasliwal recently attended an invitation-only happy hour and four-course dinner with CFOs and other professionals.
During the F Suite networking and professional development event in San Francisco, “everyone went around and shared what they’ve been going through,” recalled Kasliwal, the head of finance and operations for Novo Insurance, a Telenav company, a provider of connected car and location-based services based in Santa Clara, Calif.
One hot issue? Burnout.
“The conversation was lively,” said Dean Quiambao, a partner with event sponsor Armanino LLP, one of the nation’s largest independent accounting and consulting firms that advises CFOs. “A lot of CFOs are starting to address burnout.”
CFOs certainly aren’t alone in this issue. Indeed, “it's hot now to talk about employee fatigue. We see quiet quitting over the past year mentioned in the news,” Quiambao said. But, when it comes to CFOs, “they need to be there for their organizations for the long haul."
Indeed CFO Dive’s Stressors series last year examined pressures intensified by the slowing economy that challenge even the most battle-tested CFOs — and new conversations around the importance of C-suite mental health care followed the suicide of Bed Bath & Beyond CFO Gustavo Arnal in September.
As finance chiefs settle into the new year, here are ways CFOs can stay engaged and keep burnout at bay so they can remain the steady stewards their companies need:
1. Know your limits: An immediate solution is to set boundaries. Kasilwal said she tries to stop working at around 6 p.m., particularly on days when she works remotely. Part of achieving balance involves asking about deadlines that may not be as urgent as they first appear.
“Everyone is in a panic mode saying, ‘We need to do this right now’,” she said. “You have to be there for the team and stand up and say ‘Hey, it’s 8 p.m. at night, do we really need it right now?”
2. Get a tribe: As with any role, building up and leaning on a support system — both internally and externally, is key. Lean on your family and friends, take your vacation, exercise and dedicate time to a hobby. “Being a CFO can be alienating,” Quiambao said. “Find your people, find your community. It can make it a lot better.”
Some CFOs even find connections and information they need over so-called dark social, the invisible shares and conversations taking place in Slack channels, WhatsApp groups or texts before, during and after work.
3. Meet your colleagues: Focus on building the all-important internal network, which will help make the role more successful and effective. “I believe lasting opportunity is created during the crucible of challenging times like the one we are experiencing now. Having strong connections with other leaders within their organization can also help CFOs see around corners, as they will hear about challenges and opportunities at earlier stages when there are more options available for action,” said Michael Pickrum, CFO of ExecOnline, a pioneer of online leadership development for enterprises that partners with business schools to offer courses.
4. Be professionally active: It is also worthwhile to bolster the external network. Russell Reynolds regularly hosts CFO dinners and networking sessions across industries and regions, said Linda Barham, leader of the financial officers practice in the Americas for Russell Reynolds, an executive search firm. The goal is “connecting CFOs with their peer group and facilitating an environment to share critical insights,” she said.
Kasilwal has been a member of F Suite for about a year. “I can be very open about what I’m facing,” she said. “No one’s judging you.”
5. Keep growing: For the longer-term, strengthening weaker areas, such as leadership, resilience and organizational management, can also be helpful. (Companies will often cover the cost of this training.) “CFOs should see leadership development as an investment that will lead to stability and strength,” Pickrum said. “Prepared leaders can help spot the opportunities hiding within the challenges we’re facing, and build the teams and operational systems that can create a competitive advantage for their organizations.”
Columbia University, for example, offers an in-depth CFO program that includes an 18-week core program and a success coach. ExecOnline offers online learning experiences that focus on navigating economic volatility, identifying business growth opportunities, collaborating effectively with data teams, communicating persuasively to build organizational alignment and trust — and building resilience and preventing burnout. These leadership courses were developed in partnership with the world’s top business schools, including Yale, Stanford, Duke, Ivey, IMD and MIT.