Dark Friday

Steven Cesare, Ph.D.

An insightful and reflective business owner from Colorado called me the other day to talk about his leadership style, management team, and organizational culture.  Blessed with talented employees and mature business systems in place, the owner forthrightly admitted his inability to delegate sufficient responsibilities to his team that could lighten his own workload; while at the same time making frequent references to his inexorable work ethic that unconsciously keeps him working 55-60 hours per week.

The 45-year-old owner has a family, which includes his lovely wife and three daughters ages 7-14. Oh, by the way, his parents are aging quickly and require more medical attention from several health care providers and increased time and support from their inexhaustibly responsible son (i.e., the business owner). 

During our robust and deeply provocative meeting, the owner acknowledged his company’s unequivocal sustained success, though intimated it had come with a significant cost.  Years of hard work, incremental challenges, and ubiquitous personal demands had created excessive stress in the owner’s life to the point of physical ailment (e.g., bodily pain, inadequate sleep patterns, dermatitis).  

Clinically speaking, the business owner was not yet at the point of “burn out,” though we discussed it as a possible outcome.  Stress management, relaxation, and replacement activities were shared to pivot this cycle from “working more” to “living more.”  Make no mistake, any owner who has worked that many hours for that many years, has a highly-structured, deeply-capitalistic, hard-wired approach to work, life, and self.  

Do you know anyone like this?

While there is no quick fix or magic formula, change must begin sooner rather than later, especially given the business owner’s admission of physical deterioration (and the fact that his daughters are growing quickly before his adoring eyes every day).  

The first step I recommended to him was to take off from work one Friday each month for the next three months, and then two Fridays a month for the next three months, and so on.  Those Fridays must be completely “dark”:  no voice-mail, no e-mail, no computer work, no employee, and no customer contact. 


In fact, due in large part to his stubborn nature (Oops, I mean his strong work ethic, of course), I required the business owner to send a photo of him doing something non-work related to me each Friday he was off from work.  

I explained to the business owner that this approach will definitively convince him that his company can survive without him, and that his management team will become stronger due to the de-facto empowerment foisted upon them to make sound decisions in his absence.  Moreover, this detachment from work will consequentially enable him to reconnect with his spouse, children, family, and home life.  Remember those things?  Spouse, children, family, and home life?  

Because he is so hard-wired (Oops, I mean because he has a strong work ethic, of course), I admonished him to take the process slowly and offered several non-business activities:  take naps on a couple of Fridays, go for walk, take his daughters to/from school, take his wife to lunch, go fishing or for a massage, plan a long weekend for the family, binge watch anything that will make him laugh, go to the gym, pray, read, listen to music, sit in the backyard, and so on.

You and I both know the business will still be there when he returns to work from his Dark Friday.

Like I told him:  Remember those things:  Spouse, children, family, and home life?  They remember him too!

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Steve Cesare Ph.D.

has more than 25 years of Human Resources experience. Prior to joining The Harvest Group, Steve worked with Bemus Landscape, Jack in the Box, the County of San Diego, Citicorp, and NASA. Steve earned his Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from Old Dominion University, and has authored 68 human resources journal articles. As a member of The Harvest Group, Steve’s areas of expertise include: staffing, legal compliance, wage and hour issues, training, and employee safety.  Read Steve's full bio.