As a medical professional, Dr. Geeta Nayyar is well aware that overworking can lead to physical and mental stress. But as the chief medical officer at Salesforce, she's also busier than ever overseeing healthy and safety guidance for the tech company's 77,000 employees, plus its global clients, in the middle of a pandemic.
"Health care is the issue of the decade for every CEO," Nayyar tells CNBC Make It. With that, executives are having to consider how taking time off and learning to de-stress are all a priority within the health-care conversation.
It's something she's still learning to do herself: Taking time off is "not something I was ever really good at, to be frank," Nayyar, 44, says. "I went to medical school and did my residency and fellowship, then I earned my MBA — I was in school non-stop until my 30s."
Salesforce offers unlimited PTO for the majority of employees. Here, Nayyar shares her top PTO advice, including how to set boundaries around work emergencies.
How her medical background made it harder to take breaks: Medicine is very churn and burn. There's a feeling of selflessness, and it's all about the patient. I'm a rheumatologist, and there are not a lot of us. So there's this feeling that you have to work that extra hour or take that extra shift.
I've been re-learning through the pandemic that when you're well-rested, you're more productive than when you're working 24-7. My approach has evolved in my career, and also as a mom to a 10-year-old daughter. I try really hard to model for my daughter, as well as my team, how to unplug from devices and take breaks.
Her out-of-office message: I'll include my return date and write that "if this is an emergency (i.e. someone is bleeding or has chest pains) please call me on my mobile."
That out-of-office is meant to be tongue-in-cheek. And if it's not a true medical emergency, it's a nice way to say, "If you can call someone else on the team, I invite you to do that."
On setting boundaries with her team — and vice versa: Early in the pandemic I felt I had to be on everything all the time. I'd respond to things while I was out, and my team would tell me, "It's not an emergency. We've got it." That helped me.
Then likewise, I've been called for something while away and have been able to say, "I think you've got it. You don't need me. I'll talk to you next week." There's a way to do it gently.
Why she plans collective PTO with her team every year: The annual Dreamforce conference is a good example: Everyone works so hard on it, there's an understanding to not talk to anyone the week afterward. Everyone is decompressing, including taking time off. Planning with your team around big projects and having time off collectively is nice.
What she'd tell her 25-year-old self about taking time off: Taking time off every day is critical. If you're waiting to go on vacation three months from now, oh my gosh, that's a long time.
Time off does not have to be a big fancy expensive vacation. It can be turning off your devices after hours. Time off could be between lunch and your next meeting. Time off can be your dinner time with your family. Small exercises throughout the day can go a long way, whether it's a two-minute meditation or time spent stretching. Take that time for yourself.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.