Survey says: Charlotte is burned out. 10 local leaders share what helps them

Survey says: Charlotte is burned out. 10 local leaders share what helps them

Photo: Axios file photo

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Charlotte is burned out.

Why it matters: Over half of readers responded to our recent work-life balance survey saying they work too much.

By the numbers: 46% say they work more now than before the pandemic.

  • Most Charlotte readers report taking 10 or fewer days of paid time off in 2021.

Here are tips from 10 local leaders to avoid burnout.

(1) Vi Lyles, Charlotte mayor

Just this past week, Lyles announced she would run for re-election in 2022 and joined Vice President Kamala Harris during her visit to Charlotte. That’s not even the half of what it’s like leading a city with a population over 874,000, according to the 2020 Decennial Census.


To avoid burn out, Lyles recommends focusing on what brings you peace and happiness. For her, that’s time with her family.

  • “When I am with my grandchildren, I am not the mayor, I’m just mimi,” she told Axios via email. “It washes my stress away and helps to recharge my batteries for another 50+ hour week.”

When she can find a few hours to herself, she likes “to dive into a good book,” she said.

  • “It is so critical to step away from work and allow yourself to have fun and relax, in a way that suits you the most,” she said. 

Go deeper: Charlotte’s pledge to raise $250 million for racial justice

Vi Lyles 704 Shop smiling in 704 shop hoodie

Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles smiling in the 704 Shop hoodie. Photo: Michael Graff/Axios


Editor’s note: The following leaders are listed in alphabetical order.

(2) Alli Celebron-Brown, McColl Center president & CEO

Celebron-Brown’s day usually starts around 5:30am with meditation before dropping her youngest off at school. Then it’s to the office for what may be a 12-hour day, because arts events tend to happen at night.

  • She does her best to have dinner with her family, even if it’s late.
  • “That’s our time to connect and check in with one another,” she told Axios via email.

Her calendar is her tool for fighting burn out.

  • “I tell people all the time, ‘If it’s not on my calendar, it’s not happening,'” she said. “That mantra helps me create boundaries and balance.”

Go deeper: Exclusive: McColl Center receives $3.5 million endowment grant for its signature artist residency program

 Alli Celebron-Brown. Photo: courtesy McColl Center

Alli Celebron-Brown. Photo: courtesy McColl Center

(3) Tom Gabbard, Blumenthal Performing Arts CEO

Gabbard told Axios he is sympathetic to those feeling burned out because he feels it, too. But in his nearly 20 years leading Blumenthal and helping bring countless Tony Award-winning productions to Charlotte, he’s found all you do in life professionally is a marathon, not a sprint.

  • “You have to watch your energy,” Gabbard said.

He also shared his secret weapon — his work is his hobby, and his hobby is his work.

  • “I can be consumed with it, and fortunately, it’s a great business to be consumed by, but I’ve always found there’s a continuum of my personal life, my professional life — and to weave those things together, and to not compartmentalize it.”

Gabbard’s children, who are now 37 and 34, have been to theaters all over the world.

  • While he worked nights and weekends, he was responsible for taking care of his son in the morning, attending Shabbat with him every Friday morning during his son’s preschool days at a Jewish center.
  • “Finding a way to integrate the two and weave them together for me has been the right thing,” said Gabbard, who has been in the industry for 43 years.

Go deeper: The economic impact of Broadway’s return to Charlotte

tom gabbard

Tom Gabbard sits outside Spirit Square. Photo: Symphony Webber/Axios

(4) Gibbie Harris, Mecklenburg County public health director

Harris came out of retirement to serve as Mecklenburg County’s public health director in 2017, having finished her tenure with Buncombe County’s health department in 2015.

Fast forward to 2020 and a global pandemic. If you didn’t know who she was at the start of the year, you certainly did by late spring 2020.

She told Axios via email she learned in her nearly 40 years in public health, work-life balance is a moving target. She said there are times when work demands more, with a nod to the pandemic, but also times when her personal life does, with a child’s wedding, birth of a grandchild or a family member being sick.

  • “The key has been to recognize those ebbs and flows and spend my energy where it is most needed at the time,” said Harris, who will retire at the end of 2021. “That’s the balance — recognizing your priorities and adjusting to those shifting demands. Of course, through all of life, self-care and having a strong support system are critically important.”

Mecklenburg County Public Health Director Gibbie Harris. Photo: courtesy Mecklenburg County Public Information Department

(5) Mike Hill, Charlotte 49ers director of athletics

Hill oversees 18 sports with a budget of over $30 million at UNC Charlotte, a school with more than 30,000 students.

Hill told Axios via email his tip is to be intentional about scheduling time away time and protect it fiercely.

  • “Model good work-life balance behavior for your staff,” Hill said. “It’s important that they know that taking care of yourself and your family makes you a more productive and happier person.” 
UNC Charlotte Chancellor Sharon Gaber and Director of Athletics Mike Hill. Photo courtesy Charlotte 49ers athletics

UNC Charlotte Chancellor Sharon Gaber and Director of Athletics Mike Hill. Photo courtesy Charlotte 49ers athletics

(6) Nick Kelly, Charlotte FC president

It’s been nearly a year since the Major League Soccer expansion franchise named Kelly their inaugural president.

  • From hiring a coaching staff, signing players, ticket sales and launching the team’s inaugural kit, also known as a uniform, on Dec. 9, Kelly’s schedule is only going to get busier as their inaugural match at D.C. United on Feb. 26 approaches.

Openness and honesty when your work-life balance is off are Kelly’s keys. 

  •  “It’s OK to not be OK, and that includes at work when your job becomes overwhelming,” Kelly told Axios via email. “Burnout is something that is real. We’re not blind to the nature of the sports industry — there will be late nights, weekends, and holidays when our employees will be at an event or in the stadium.”
  • He said they’ve told everyone in their office “to do this the right way, it’s going to be a tremendous amount of work. That can place a strain on your work-life balance and it’s something we proactively try and combat throughout our organization.”
  • Kelly said they allow staff an additional week of discretionary time off throughout the year, and employees have free access to mental health professionals through their Employee Assistance Program.

Go deeper: Save the date: Charlotte FC’s inaugural home match is March 5

Charlotte FC President Nick Kelly. Photo: courtesy Charlotte FC

Charlotte FC President Nick Kelly. Photo: courtesy Charlotte FC

(7) Laura Vinroot Poole, president at Capitol, Capitol Brentwood and Poole Shop

Poole describes December, for those working in retail, as a month-long Super Bowl. Every day she shows up ready for fashion battle, assisting clients in-person, virtually, and sometimes dropping items off at their homes. 

The high-fashion connoisseur and entrepreneur runs or cross-trains every day and sleeps with an Oura ring, a sleep and activity tracker, which she told Axios via email has changed her life.

  • She sees an acupuncturist and fits a Thai massage into her schedule whenever possible.
  • Alcohol is a rarity for her during the week, because it slows her down the next day.

Her secret isn’t what you’d expect.

  • “This sounds crazy, but I quit caffeine almost 15 years ago and my energy levels are so much higher and more level without coffee,” Poole said.

In order to unwind, her favorite thing to do is watch, “the cheesiest, lowest-rated Christmas movies at night,” she said.

  • “The storyline is typically big shot New York advertising exec spends the weekend at a small town Christmas lodge and falls in love with the guy who owns the Christmas tree farm nearby. … My husband and I yell at the television about the improbability of it all and laugh ourselves to tears. I highly recommend it,” she told Axios with a smile.

Go deeper: Entrepreneurship with a view: Laura Vinroot Poole

Laura Vinroot Poole. Photo: Chris Edwards

Capitol, Capitol Brentwood and Poole Shop President Laura Vinroot Poole. Photo: Chris Edwards

(8) Munro Richardson, Read Charlotte executive director 

Working remotely became Richardson’s normal in March 2020. From his kitchen table, he leads Read Charlotte, a community initiative striving to improve children’s literacy from birth to third grade.

  • His workday starts by 6:30am.
  • Like many people, he’s found himself in too many back-to-back Zoom meetings this year.
  • “I’m working on spacing these out a bit better,” Richardson told Axios via email. 

Richardson told Axios he tries to live by the distinction Foundation for the Carolinas President and CEO Michael Marsicano made about, “working at home versus living at work.”

  • “I try to keep this in mind, but confess that I’ve done a lot of living at work this year,” Richardson said. “I never realized how important it was to have physical distance between work and home.”
  • He’ll work in different parts of the house to mix it up, and tries to call it a day by 6pm.
  • “I’ve gotten a lot better at this than a year ago,” he said.

 Teresa Hu, Richardson’s wife, convinced him of the importance of “dead head” time — “when I’m not reading news or doing any brain work,” Richardson said.

  • “Down time is important for re-charging — mentally, spiritually, and physically,” he told Axios.
  • His “dead head” time is dedicated to re-watching the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies in order, and he’s halfway through the first Guardians of the Galaxy.

Walks are another way he clears his head, which he admits he was better at during the first half of the year.

  • “I am working on adding these walks back into my schedule this month,” Richardson said.

Go deeper: Read Charlotte has a game plan to reach the city’s kids (and parents)

Read Charlotte Executive Director Munro Richardson. Photo: Axios file photo

Read Charlotte Executive Director Munro Richardson. Photo: Axios file photo

(9) Marcellus “MT” Turner, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library CEO/chief librarian

Turner took over during a period of transition, as the library as the main branch prepares for demolition in early 2022.

  • Completion is expected in late 2025, with some of the library staff calling the Hal Marshall building home for now.

He told Axios to never plan to have a work-life balance if you live in a city you don’t like, because you will spend the entire time working to avoid the city. 

Turner also lives by a tip from a friend about how to balance times when you have to work at night or on the weekends.

  • “Do one hour of work for work, one hour of your personal work and then take an hour off so that you can relax between,” Turner said. “The tip is to have some break between work. If you have to work a whole day just try to build natural breaks in the course of the day for other things.”
Charlotte Mecklenburg Library CEO/Chief Librarian Marcellus "MT" Turner. Photo: courtesy Charlotte Mecklenburg Library

Charlotte Mecklenburg Library CEO/Chief Librarian Marcellus “MT” Turner. Photo: courtesy Charlotte Mecklenburg Library

(10) James Yoder, co-founder and co-owner of Not Just Coffee and Night Swim Coffee

Yoder’s day begins as you’d expect, making coffee at 5am. He tries not to look at his phone for the first hour, before working out at 6-6:30am, which can be difficult with six Not Just Coffee locations, two Night Swim locations and two more opening in the coming months, plus a roastery they expect to have operational this month.
  • It’s a packed day between taking turns with his wife, Miracle Yoder, getting their youngest son to school, visiting cafes, meetings and taking turns making dinner with Miracle making dinner.
  • If he’s on his game, he’s prepped lunch for the day, but if not it’s a trip to CAVA or somewhere similar.
  • After unwinding with Netflix and checking emails, he’s always the first to crawl into bed around 9-9:30 pm.
Yoder told Axios via email he is, “by default a fairly high stress person, usually only the ones who know me best realize that,” and he’s worked a lot on managing that, particularly through exercise and setting boundaries.
  • “I used to never have boundaries with days off and kind of prided myself with always working which is dumb,” Yoder said. “Fastest way to burn out. Taking days off to do nothing sometimes is important. Travel, getting out of town, even if it’s a day trip to the mountains! Good beer from Free Range or Fonta Flora also helps.”

Go deeper: Big coffee news: Not Just Coffee, Undercurrent teaming up for roastery and 4 cafés

Not Just Coffee and Night Swim Coffee co-owner and co-founder James Yoder. Photo: courtesy James Yoder

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