Let’s talk about Executive Burnout
Executive burnout is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion that can occur as a result of prolonged and intense stress in the workplace. According to a recent Harvard Business Review study, 96% of senior leaders report feeling burnt out to some degree, with one-third reporting high levels of burnout.
Why should we talk about it?
Executive burnout can not only impact the wellbeing of executives, but also performance in the workplace and the organisations they lead. This then creates a vicious cycle, where we can start to feel incredibly stuck in a never-ending pattern of exhaustion and feelings of inadequacy.
A study by Deloitte found that 77% of executives reported experiencing burnout at some point in their career, with 87% of senior executives stating that they are experiencing higher levels of stress than five years ago. Given the current climate post pandemic, these rising levels are not surprising, but we need to catch up in terms of raising awareness and taking proactive measures.
What contributes to executive burnout?
Executive burnout can result from a variety of factors, at an organizational, occupational, and individual level. Some contributing factors include:
- Heavy Workloads: Executives often have demanding jobs that require them to work long hours, manage multiple responsibilities, and make important decisions. The pressure of meeting deadlines and achieving targets can lead to burnout.
- Work-Life Imbalance: Executives often have to prioritize their work over their personal lives, leading to a lack of balance and fulfilment. This can lead to feelings of stress and exhaustion, as well as isolation and disconnectedness.
- High Expectations: Executives are expected to perform at a high level and achieve results for their organizations. These expectations can create pressure that leads to burnout.
- Lack of Support: Executives may feel isolated and unsupported in their roles, leading to feelings of overwhelm.
- Individual and Personality Factors: People in executive roles are typically used to high achieving and implement a number of strategies to maintain this standard. They may also have perfectionistic traits and difficulty saying no/taking on too much.
How do I know if I am experiencing burnout?
The symptoms of burnout can manifest in physical, emotional, and psychological ways. These symptoms may include:
- Physical Exhaustion: Fatigue, low energy, and a decrease in physical performance.
- Emotional Exhaustion: Feeling overwhelmed, cynical, and detached from your work and colleagues.
- Mental Exhaustion: You may notice a decline in cognitive abilities, including memory and concentration.
- Increased Absenteeism: Burnout can lead to an increase in sick days and a decrease in productivity.
- Decreased Motivation: Burnout can lead to a lack of enthusiasm and interest in work, which can impact job performance.
Ok so this sounds familiar, what can I do about it?
If you are noticing some of the above signs of burnout, you might want to think about implementing some strategies to manage stress and regain a healthy work-life balance. Here are some initial strategies that can help prevent burnout:
- Prioritize Self-Care: We often think about ‘self-care’ as a luxury or indulgence but actually it is equally as important to our wellbeing as all the other things we do. Optimal wellbeing and performance require a balance of work, home, social activities and personal care. This may include sleep hygiene, eating a balanced diet, exercise to kick start endorphins, or taking time at least once a week initially to do something pleasurable.
- Establish Boundaries: Executives should establish boundaries to maintain a healthy work-life balance. This may involve setting limits on work hours, saying no to interruptions, and taking breaks during the workday. Prioritize and delegate tasks where appropriate – you are human and can’t do everything!
- Build a Support Network: Connect with colleagues, friends, and family members who can offer support and guidance; but also more of a space to talk and connect on non-work related
- Stress Management Techniques: Learning to be more mindful is a key way of managing stress. Our blog on mindfulness gives some starting pointers on this and you can read more here (Mindlessness vs Mindfulness (sage-clinics.com).
- Evaluate your Options: What aspects of your situation are truly fixed, and which can you change? Discuss specific concerns with your supervisor if possible. Maybe you can work together to change expectations or reach compromises or solutions
- Seek Professional Support: If you are noticing the signs of burnout and would like some help in managing this, we recommend speaking to a therapist. In therapy you can work together to identify key aspects of the problem and learn strategies to make change and improve wellbeing.
To conclude, executive burnout can have significant impacts on the performance and well-being of executives and on a company’s productivity, morale, and overall performance. Addressing burnout is an individual and organizational responsibility, and the more proactive we can be about spotting the signs and getting help the better.
If you would like to speak to a professional about managing stress and burnout, then you can get in touch with us at Sage.
Written by: Dr Gurveen Ranger
Clinical Psychologist at Sage Clinics