11/09/2014 10:55 BST | Updated 11/11/2014 05:59 GMT

New BBC Boss Rona Fairhead Would Be A More Effective Leader If She Worked Less

Rona Fairhead is the first woman to head the BBC Trust, and if you can ignore the murmurings of tokenism long enough to accept that this is a very good thing indeed for women, it's undoubtedly a landmark achievement.

However, as with Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer who abolished flexible working within five minutes of her appointment in 2012, there is also the crashing disappointment that Fairhead's approach to some aspects of her work isn't that of a forward-thinking, visionary leader.

In context of talking about how she'd work for the BBC and still maintain roles at HSBC and Pepsi, she said: "I have a large capacity [for work] ... my working week can go very happily to seven days ... I get up early and I work late ... It's been the life I have led for many years, I just get used to sleeping on planes."

Fairhead may have been talking about herself, but by revealing herself to be a person that has no time off, who works to the very limits of a 24-clock, she also reveals that she doesn't know how to be a long term, sustainable leader.

And such an ethos only trickles down, meaning that rather than taking the time to sleep, recharge and be better at doing their jobs, her employees are going to be dancing to a tune that is relentless and difficult.

Arianna Huffington, who spearheaded the Third Metric ethos around money and power, has time and time again said that in big business, this kind of ideology just does not work.

In fact - take a look at Marissa Mayer. Recently the CEO came under fire for turning up to an important meeting late.

Her reason? She overslept.

While we commend her for her honesty, we bet she wouldn't have had such a problem if she prioritised her sleep in the first place.

A common response to this is: well, these women run major companies, this is how it is.


These women may run major companies, but their bodies don't know that. In fact, none of ours do. It is a machine that works in the same way that every other human's does, give or take a few things.

Subject them to lack of sleep, too much stress and they will respond in exactly the same way: breakdown.

Let us not forget that stress is the biggest cause of illness and sick leave in the UK - around 70 million working days are lost as a result.

While there is an undeniable expectation or a status quo that when you get a promotion or a top job, you must work longer hours, and have less of a personal life, I truly believe that this is about choice.

You can choose to get up at the crack of dawn, but you won't be able to manage working late for a sustainable period of time. You can choose to check your phone when you finally grab some time with loved ones, but they'll know you're mentally absent.

Increasingly, employers are recognising this importance of switching off, from Daimler's instant email deletion while an employee is on holiday to Google and HuffPost's nap pods. Wellbeing is also slowly but surely becoming an important issue for politicians, recognising that people are stressed-out, fed up and anxious.

Imagine if Fairhead had come in and said: 'I can do this job, but I also respect my own self development, my need for sleep and renewal, and time away from work'.

I don't think anyone would have thought any less of her.