A new report from Deloitte found that 70% of C-Suite leaders plan to leave their jobs for a job that better supports their well-being. 70%! Burnout is a significant issue within the C-Suite; as reported in vineyard managers, KellyOCG’s 2022 Global Workforce Report, which surveyed 1,000 decision makers, found that two-thirds (63%) say their workload is unmanageable, while only a third of respondents (34 %) believe they receive fair compensation for their efforts.
I’ve spoken to a number of HR managers recently and while they don’t report (at least not to me) burnout-induced dissatisfaction at this level, all have reported some level of concern about the management team, of which of course they are members in most cases. HR managers were very open about the enormous pressures placed on them over the past two years and the effect it had on them, but despite this, all felt it was their responsibility to intervene and support anyone who seems to be in difficulty. An additional burden.
Another recent Management Today article describes burnout as a silent epidemic that stalks the upper echelons of management, so it’s clearly a trending topic. But what to do about it? I wonder if there is a mass of crossing fingers hoping that everything will be fine and everyone on vacation will sort it out. It might, but given the stress of wondering if your flight will be canceled or the hours of queuing at the airport with the kids in tow…. I’ve also seen people come back from family vacations with the in-laws and the grandmother looking decidedly haggard!
Is this the best way to start the next trimester? Everything that is an external cause of stress does not seem to go away. How do you know if a burnout problem is serious? According to Mental Health UK, here’s what you should look for:
- Feeling tired or exhausted most of the time
- Feeling helpless, trapped and/or defeated
- Feeling detached/alone in the world
- Having a cynical/negative outlook
- Procrastinating and taking more time to get things done
- Feeling overwhelmed.
When do you need to do something about it?
- When performance affects the business, for example, delayed decision making
- When you know someone is affected by factors outside of work that make things worse, for example, family issues
- When someone tries to cope with it by working longer hours and potentially making the situation worse
- When you can see someone’s clearly not making it
- When someone resorts to drinking too much or taking drugs to cope.
Many people, affected by all the pressures of the pandemic and the business pressures that come with it, have been hanging on with their fingertips, hoping it will take away the stress and fatigue they have been feeling. A vacation will certainly help, but it may not be the complete answer. Why this?
It is very easy to attribute our stress to very obvious external factors such as economic conditions, the war in Ukraine, climate change… What if there was more to it? Something about our own psychology and history?
Here’s an example of how it works: A participant in one of our retreats told how, at the age of fifteen, she was told at school not to expect good results at GCSE because she was not up to it. She was not ready to accept this verdict and went home and started getting up at 5am every morning to study and she got the results she wanted. The problem was that decades later, after having had a successful career and with a family to support, she was still up at 5 a.m. to work hard, but more importantly, to prove herself. Even if the cost was burnout.
We often attach so many hopes and expectations to these holidays. So why wouldn’t vacations be the complete answer to stress management? Simply – because you take your psychology and your story with you. We are not two completely different people depending on whether we are at work or outside of work.
Psychologist Taibi Kahler has identified five personality drivers, habitual patterns of behavior that motivate us at every stage of our lives: desires to be perfect; to be strong; Hurry up; please people; and try hard. Our drivers can guide us to successful life and work, but they can also be a source of stress when they get out of control.
These drivers can also be the things that sabotage the perfect vacation. For example, it may not be everyone’s expectation of the perfect vacation, which guarantees disappointment and also the failure of another workout – to please people! In other words, what causes us to stumble at work is just as likely to cause us to stumble in our personal relationships and in all aspects of our lives.
So, all of this is to say that a vacation by itself will not address the stress and tension caused by the interplay between your psychology and your history and the external causes of stress. They will simply sit in the suitcase and be brought back with you.
A lot of that has been labeled a mental health issue, but that’s too limited. There are three aspects of stress:
- An environmental event or cause of stress
- How someone reacts to it, emotional and defensive processes, including mental tension
- The physical reaction of the body, for example, the effect of stress hormones such as cortisol on brain cells resulting in premature aging.
For this reason, any stress management approach must be holistic, covering physical well-being, mental and emotional health.
Management teams must be sustainable. Not all causes of stress go away and could get worse. I’ve spoken to some HR directors who are aware of this issue and the common factor was an HR director and a CEO who together were committed to wellness and had an organizational culture that prioritized welfare. Having a leadership team that is openly committed to their own well-being will pay dividends in developing and sustaining a culture where everyone feels supported.
To end where we started, this is what will allow us to retain valuable seniors. This is what will provide confidence for the months and perhaps years of hardship ahead of us.