Hanspeter Ackermann, CEO of Bank Coop, believes that managers need to very consciously plan time for rest and recuperation so they can remain well balanced. In an interview, he outlines his approach and explains how – despite being aware of the importance of rest – he encounters difficulties in implementing his plan. He also seeks to ensure that his employees take time off from work and thus remain happy and productive.
Claudia Kraaz: Mr Ackermann, CEOs work very long hours. At the same time, they are faced with immense pressure from different sides. What exact steps do you take to remain healthy and retain your ability to perform well despite the considerable stress you are under?
Hanspeter Ackermann: It is effectively a bit like trying to square the circle. It is virtually impossible to accomplish everything, and it requires understanding and compromises on the part of everyone involved. It is also important to have principles that should be adhered to with the greatest possible discipline. Unfortunately, I don’t always manage to achieve that – but it is an incentive to do better and not give up. My principles are:
- My family has top priority and I consciously set aside family time in my calendar.
- As a CEO, I try to set the right priorities and to delegate tasks.
- I do sports at least twice a week.
- I try to do something that is good for me personally – and enhances my sense of wellbeing – from time to time.
In 2016, I carried out a survey of 41 CEOs of leading companies on the topic of health. A large majority of the participants stated that sport is the most important contributor to their health. Is that also the case with you?
My family is the most important factor that helps me to retain a sense of balance in my life. I consider sport important, and I think it should help to achieve a balance and should be done regularly. However, I make a conscious decision that ambition – which is, by definition, a CEO trait – has no place in my sporting activities. My aim is that exercise should do me and my body good and not be a source of stress. That is why I pay attention to my heart rate. I don’t need confirmation of my performance when I am out jogging.
What are the greatest personal challenges you face in terms of stress and balance?
You can never please everyone. Making compromises is sometimes painful and it is often the personal side of things – i.e. allowing time for myself – that is sacrificed.
You have been a top manager for many years. Do you think the pressure on managers and employees has increased in recent times? If so, in what respect?
Yes, I think the amount of pressure has increased. As a result of new forms of communication, people can be contacted at any time and in any place. The flood of information is growing day by day. In the past, the rate at which we work was determined by the telephone and the physical in-trays in our offices. Today, e-mails have become the scourge of every manager. And everything seems to be urgent and important. I try to have periods when I can’t be contacted – but that requires courage and discipline.
What measures does Bank Coop take to prevent its employees from being under too much pressure, so that they remain healthy and productive?
It all begins with the corporate culture. My motto is: happy people work better. I believe that and I see it as my job to do everything I can to ensure that this does not simply become a meaningless slogan. We have various types of working models that can be adapted individually to the needs of employees and of the bank. I also expect overtime to be the exception rather than the rule for my people. And I consider it important that employees take their holidays. We all know how quickly our mobile phone batteries become flat if they are not recharged regularly. That is precisely how I see the situation in terms of employees and holidays. After all, I want our employees to have enough energy in the coming years to help drive the success of our bank.