By, Ryan Wong, Co-Founder & CEO of Visier
Employees and workforces have gone to extraordinary lengths to keep businesses moving over the past two years.
It has been an unprecedented period of disruption, be it uprooting from workplaces into remote environments or having to deal with staffing shortages due to illness and isolation protocols.
It is therefore no surprise that burnout has become a common occupational phenomenon. Such is the scale and seriousness of burnout that in 2019 the World Health Organisation (WHO) recognised it as a chronic medical condition.
During the peak of the pandemic, much attention has rightly been paid to the learning and development support we give to junior teams. That, in addition to the support needed to manage the impact of over-working on management teams. However, what is less talked about is burnout within the C-Suite.
According to our recent survey of organisations in the UK, nearly three quarters (70%) of C-Suite executives are currently experiencing feelings of burnout. This is markedly higher than mid-level (55%) and first-level (45%) management personnel.
Moreover, when looking at burnout frequency, 40% of C-Suite executives said they ‘always’ felt burnt out, compared to 28% of mid-level and 15% of first-level management staff.
A leadership crisis in waiting
This could lead to some serious problems. While those at the very top of organisations are there to lead by example, being overworked can trigger a multitude of issues that can trickle down into other parts of the business.
For example, our survey found that more than one in three C-Suite executives (37%) felt that burnout was impacting their relationships with colleagues, with 60% stating that burnout has prompted them to actively seek out a new job.
There are, of course, many studies and statistics which show a significant proportion of the workforce are on the lookout for new opportunities. However, what is striking about these findings is that the proportion of C-Level employees actively job searching is 20 points higher than their colleagues in middle management. This is a tell-tale sign of the burnout burden they are carrying during these tumultuous times.
What can organisations do to counter C-Suite burnout?
Whether it’s souring employee relations or an exodus of skills from the top, the problem of C-Suite burnout needs to be recognised and discussed far more openly than it is currently.
There is however no silver bullet solution. C-Level leaders have risen through the ranks due to a combination of factors; from inspirational leadership and high motivation levels, to visionary qualities and enormous amounts of hard work, which can be to the detriment of their own personal lives.
However, there are some warning signs we can look out for beyond the impact on working relationships that can help identify possible cases of burnout.
Chronic fatigue, abnormal levels of self-criticism, and behaviour that is contrary to personal leadership ideals are some of the ways burnout can manifest itself in a C-Suite executive. High alcohol intake, sleep deprivation, poor diet or loss of appetite, these are also signs of burnout and high levels of stress.
Bearing these warning signs in mind, organisations can take steps to help prevent C-Suite burnout.
Heavy workloads combined with over-ambitious deadlines and targets are major contributors to burnout issues – here, it is essential that C-Level leaders are able to recruit a team they have confidence in to reduce the burden on themselves. Delegation is, without doubt, an underappreciated and underutilised leadership tool.
Mindfulness and meditation exercises can also help to regulate emotions, and can lead to a range of health benefits such as reductions in anxiety and blood pressure.
Another option is to consider hiring executive coaches and mentors. These are specialist advisors who can help burned out C-Suite leaders to navigate through difficult periods and build up their resilience.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, all corporate wellbeing strategies must be inclusive of every person in the organisation – that includes the CEO and the executive leadership team.
By taking some of these steps and simply putting C-Suite burnout onto the organisational agenda, companies can avoid some of the detrimental effects and, ultimately, prevent an exodus of top-level talent that could take years to recover from.