by Meridith Levinson

Out of Touch CEOs: How to Demotivate Your Employees

Aug 02, 20113 mins
IT Leadership

When a CEO tells his employees that he's taking a year off to fulfill a longtime sailing dream, does he honestly expect employees to be happy for him?

I recently received an e-mail that a CEO had sent to all of the employees in his company, informing them that he would be taking a year-long sabbatical at the end of the calendar year. The email came from one of the CEO’s employees. 

The CEO does not need to step away from his duties due to ill health or to attend to a grave family matter. In the e-mail, the CEO disclosed that he purchased a boat and is taking this sabbatical to fulfill a lifelong dream of casting about the Caribbean.

How nice for him.


The CEO went on to express how fortunate he feels to be able to take this time off. In a nod to his employees, he noted how he would not be able to go on this sabbatical if he didn’t have confidence in his management team and employees’ ability to execute.


Could this CEO be doing himself a disservice by being so honest about his plans? In telling them that he is taking a year off to become a beach bum, he risks looking completely out of touch with the financial challenges that his largely middle-class employees face. Forgive me for being presumptuous, but I would venture to bet that most of his employees couldn’t afford one week in the Caribbean, and he’s spending a year there.

The CEO also risks completely demotivating his staff and rubbing salt in their wounds after he signed off on raises that I am told did not even meet cost of living increases.

Would this CEO have been better off if he had given a more generic reason for taking a sabbatical? Maybe he should have simply said that he was taking a year off to recharge his batteries after many years with the company?

The risk with being vague, of course, is that rumors are likely to spread—about the CEO’s health, his commitment to the company, or the company’s financial strength. Such rumors always undermine productivity and morale.

Another risk with being vague is that employees might find out about the CEO’s real plans through the grapevine. That, too, would undermine morale. It would also lead them to mistrust the CEO.

So what’s a CEO to do in this situation? Maybe, since it’s clear he is not needed to run his company if he can spend a year fulfilling a Gilligan’s Island fantasy, he should simply retire. What do you think?