With 76% of employees experiencing burnout at some time and poor mental health in the workplace costing employers up to £45 billion each year, wellbeing at work has never been more crucial to business strategy. Furthermore, recent studies indicating that these rates are rising amidst current challenges and there is no sign of change on the horizon.
As we address this “epidemic” of employee burnout it is essential that we don’t forget that leaders are in fact at more risk than any other employee with 96% of leaders experience burnout at some point in their career. The knock-on effects of such a crisis in leaders are pervasive rippling through organisations, families and society as a whole.
In order to redress this balance in the research, and our knowledge on the subject, I have spent the last year speaking to CEOs who have experienced a crisis of wellbeing, asking them for their advice for their peers and future leaders. Here are their top tips;
- “You are not a superhero, and you don’t need to be a superhero”
In a time when ‘servant leadership’ (Greenleaf, 1970) has gained much attention, many leaders believe that they need to prioritise looking after others to the detriment of their own wellbeing. 100% of participants in this study spoke about the same pressure, feeling the need to be “superhuman”, and, they all identified this as the fast-track to burnout. Instead, these CEOs suggest “allowing space for being vulnerable” as a key tool in preventing a crisis of wellbeing when the pressure is on.
“you may have a partner, you may have kids, you may have a board, you may have employees, but you need to be on the list, as an equal”
As we break the stigma of mental health at work, many organisations proudly promote to their staff that ‘it’s ok to not be ok’, that includes you. If you want to inspire, lead your teams effectively and truly build an inclusive workplace culture, accepting your vulnerability is the first step.
- “if there isn’t a button off, then, you’re going to get problems”
In a remote workplace everyone is finding it harder and harder to “switch off”. This is no different for CEOs, and perhaps even harder in this role as you manage diverse stakeholders across multiple locations and functions. However, it is also fundamental to cognitive function and effective working. As one participant aptly said, it you don’t learn to switch off “then the job of CEO is not going to get done well.”
There is never a ‘one-size-fits-all’ when it comes to wellbeing so you need to find the “off button” that suits you. These CEOs suggest any hobby, sport or activity that removes you from the temptation of your digital devices. Not only do these offer a moment of essential neurological recovery, these moments were also highlighted as being moments that often bring great “clarity” enhancing one’s capacity to lead effectively.
“I run to basically not have my phone near me. I cycle to not have my phone near me… it just the moments of clarity”
- You are not alone
“So now you’ve got to the top of the mountain, but there’s no one to, sort of, share that with…. There’s no one, well, there is of course, but a mindset that you can find yourself in is, there is nobody else, it’s very lonely.”
While CEOs might appear to be the most well-connected individual in an organisation, this study highlights that the reality may feel quite the opposite. All interviewees spoke about the challenge of finding someone who they felt comfortable to speak with about their challenges, without judgement. In alignment with this, they all emphasised that finding such as person is fundamental to maintaining a sense of perspective, optimising your mindset and sustaining wellbeing. McKinsey’s recent article, The CEO moment, supported this finding, urging CEOs to “harness the real power of peer networks”. So, whether it is a coach, a mentor or a peer, find someone to speak with and support your journey through the months ahead.
“having someone who, you know, isn’t going to judge me. Really. It’s just basically just someone you can talk to”
As we move into the final months of the year and continue to look out on a future which is uncertain, one thing is certain, the workplace will never what it was before.
As leaders strive to support their teams through the uncertainty that lies ahead, it is time for them to step up and take ownership of their own wellbeing. Doing so not only demonstrates the fundamental nature of doing so, it offers employees role models and ensures leaders maintain their mental fitness so they can perform at their best.
As one CEO said, “commitment is vital”, if you don’t prioritise your wellbeing “something will break”. So, leaders, managers, now is your chance, what are you going to now to lead your teams / to ensure you are fit to lead.
Charlotte Wiseman is a wellbeing and leadership consultant and coach known for her pioneering work in the field of mental fitness. It was her own personal journey overcoming chronic stress, anxiety and depression that first led her to exploring applied positive psychology practices in 2009. The changes she experienced were so inspiring that she subsequently left her long standing career to pursue an MSc in Applied Positive Psychology and Coaching Psychology and Mental Health First Aid Trainer qualifications.
Charlotte now works with clients to enable individuals and organisations to optimise their potential through mental fitness, sustainable leadership and positive work cultures. She is a member of the British Psychological Society, International Positive Psychology Association and has been featured in the Journal of Public Mental Health. Visit her website here.