Our thoughts are with our members and their organisations impacted by Cyclone Gabrielle. Boards have a key role to play in the wake of any crisis. See guidance for chairs and directors

Our thoughts are with our members and their organisations impacted by Cyclone Gabrielle. Boards have a key role to play in the wake of any crisis. See guidance for chairs and directors

IMHO: Time leadership

The role of the board in productivity, people wellbeing, and burnout prevention.

By Julie Hood CMInstD
22 Aug 2022
read time
3 min to read
clock hands


Being too busy is endemic in organisations and burnout is now on the World Health Organisation’s official diseases list. COVID has placed wellbeing under the microscope.

Staying focused in an always-on-internet-connected world has our concentration at a slither. We hardly pause, running between meetings and our propensity to say yes to please or prove ourselves has us chronically overloaded.

Very few of us have been taught how to work sustainably – prioritising, sizing, and planning work with a focus on the few things that will make the most difference to progressing strategy.

Time leadership as a concept is the relentless focus across an organisation to balance conflicting demands and make timely choices and decisions, that are seen and experienced as purpose driven, values based, strategically focused, achievable and equitable.

Talent loves this.

Relentless busyness

Not paying attention to how people work is bad for people and business.

Recent research by Auckland University of Technology confirms:

  • 35 percent of respondents had severe burnout but only 4 percent knew.
  • too many businesses respond to resignations by doubling the workload from departing staff onto the now smaller team.
  • burnt out workers are five times more likely to be considering resigning.

An increase in moral injury experienced as a trauma response to workplace behaviours and inequities during COVID needs swift action as the pact between employers and employees changes.

On cue, The Great Resignation with borders opening and the opportunity for people to move away from what is not right in organisations,  towards what is.

The good news

We can work sustainably and effectively.

Recognising there will always be more to do than time available and through a coordinated focus on leading change in systems, cultures, and ways of working that perpetuate the relentless pursuit of more, individuals and organisations will thrive. 

At a time when talent is a scarce and discerning, there is no better time to act than now.

The role of the board

‘People’s tolerance of organisational nonsense has reached its limits, and a deeper desire for meaning and belonging has swelled’
- HBR, February 2022 Carucci and Praslova.

Boards have a moral, legal, and ethical obligation to keep people safe, productive, and well. This includes workloads that are realistic and incentives to support positive, lasting change.

A board holding itself and management accountable for this is an antidote to inefficiency, ineffectiveness, unrealistic expectations, and organisational burnout. Strategies depend on it.


Boards have full time accountability for sustainable organisational performance in a part time capacity. They also have effective levers to achieve this:

  • Being clear why their organisation exists, the impact it wishes to make, and how it will know it has achieved it: outcome focused measurable statement of strategic intent.
  • Saying how it wishes things to be done by itself and others, in advance – policy, work plan, meetings.
  • Providing sufficient time, money and resources including people to deliver impact: planning, budgeting, resource allocation, key performance indicators.
  • Regularly monitoring, evaluating, and reporting on strategic progress; annual report, strategic risk assessment, stakeholder engagement.


Board members have more demands on their time than time available. They can do anything with their time but not everything. Effective board members:

  • Make time for their role – realistic governance portfolio, reliable meeting attendance, prepared.
  • Balance their board– diverse and inclusive, contemporary skills, regularly refreshed.
  • Set realistic workloads – annual plan, agendas, meeting rhythms.
  • Judiciously delegate  –  resources (people and money), management priorities.


Once delegated to the CEO, it is now the board’s role to oversee organisational culture, with its eyes and ears open:

  • Notice – deadlines under pressure, recurring mistakes, signs of stress.
  • Address – busy as a badge of honour, unfettered delegation.
  • Leverage – technology, free up decision making.
  • Measure – outcomes not activity, monitor burnout, turnover.
  • Change – four-day week, ‘stay’ interviews, paid sabbaticals, technology free holidays, back-fill roles.

Questions for boards

  • Do we do what we say we will do when we say we will do it?
  • What are we pretending not to know or see?
  • What do we need to learn?
  • How do we know what’s important?
  • How high is trust in our organisation?
  • What policies do we need?
  • Do we say no so we can say yes to priorities?
  • How do we know if our people are ok?
  • How do we know we are ok?
  • Does the board speak with one voice on this?

A governance efficiency and effectiveness model can be found in the full article 


About the author

Julie Hood CMInstD brings over thirty-years of leadership experience in a range of sectors to the gnarly human problem of busyness. With a focus on the interface between board and management she helps unravel and reform ways of working that lift performance and protect wellbeing in a sustainable way.

Julie’s underlying ethos ‘put your oxygen mask on first before helping others’ is based on evidence that transforming one transforms many.