Top executives and business owners put in long hours at work and face unremitting pressures—meeting client deadlines, achieving the company’s mission, and guiding their colleagues. Their company, employees, and family count heavily on their competence and ability to deliver results.
Sometimes, the business faces insurmountable difficulties—and if there is an added dimension of family conflict, personal health issues, or children’s problems, these can leave the executive exhausted and unable to handle the complexities of running the business.
Some tell-tale words that indicate that executives are not coping well and may be suffering from burnout:
“I don’t know how much longer I can last in this job.”
“I don’t know if we’re going to make it.”
How should executives deal with these feelings when the business depends on their performance? Firstly, it’s essential to understand what burnout is and why it occurs.
Many executives are in denial about the degree of burnout they experience, and this is dangerous.
What causes burnout?
The World Health Organization defines burnout as a situation of chronic stress resulting in exhaustion, energy depletion, reduced work efficacy, and low motivation to work.
Workplace burnout can be a result of both workplace dynamics as well as personal issues. Some of the most common reasons are:
- Prolonged work hours can leave you exhausted and depleted of energy. You may start experiencing back pain and neck pain with the inability to focus on your work life.
- You feel success eludes you despite having high competency levels and putting in immense hard work.
- Unclear work expectations from both your superiors and juniors can leave you disillusioned at your workplace. You may feel confused about how to go about your tasks.
- You have no control over your work schedules, assignments, or the type of work you do. You try to fit in to please others.
- Unresolved conflicts and negative situations persist despite your best efforts.
- Lack of support from your colleagues can make you feel lonely at the workplace. You dread going to the job every day and absorbing the negative energy.
- You feel guilty about unavoidable negative situations such as having to trim jobs or demote subordinates. You may feel angry, helpless, or trapped.
- You do not have a healthy work-life balance as you end up spending endless hours at work. In this case, you often have strained relationships with your family members.
Who is most susceptible to burnout?
An employee at any stage of their work cycle is susceptible to burnout. A study by FlexJobs and Mental Health America (MHA) revealed that 37% of executives are putting in more work hours than the pre-pandemic era, and more than 75% also experience work-related physical and mental health concerns.
Burnout is now included in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11), and is classified as an occupational phenomenon. The World Health Organization (WHO) also does not classify burnout as a medical condition but more as feeling a certain way at work: worn out, under-challenged, overloaded, frenetic and neglected.
The following types of personalities are more prone to burnout:
- People who work harder than most others: Workaholics prioritize their professional life more than their personal life. They can continue to work endless hours at a stretch. They often neglect taking care of their health or emotional needs. Usually, their work philosophy is based on a performance-oriented system. If they fail to perform, it can even lead to nervous breakdowns.
- People who always agree with others: These are people pleasers who don’t know how to say ‘No’ to anyone. No matter how hard the workload, they will take it up. They do not believe in displeasing their peers or the boss. In doing so, they overwork themselves and then feel neglected. Also, this attitude makes them hesitant to ask for help.
- People who strive for perfection: Perfectionists tend to set high benchmarks for themselves. Even when they have done reasonably well, they are not happy with the outcome. Instead, they get caught in a cycle of critical evaluations, leading to low self-esteem and eventually burnout.
What are the symptoms of workplace burnout?
More often than not, executives on the path to burnout don’t see it coming. Herbert J. Freudenberger, a New York psychologist, observed that burn-out is characterized by symptoms like frequent headaches, quick temper, anxiety, and suspicion about others.
Some of the common symptoms of burnout are:
- A constant fear of going to work
- Feeling anxious and tired despite having the required amount of sleep
- Physical symptoms like headache and tiredness
- Being easily provoked and quick to get angry
- A significant change in moods or personality.
Burnout in C-level executives influences the entire organizational culture and affects executives’ physical and mental health.
As an organization, you can encourage your top executives and business leaders to reduce stress and recognize the early signs of burnout. Provide adequate support to them to deal with heavy workloads, negative situations and help them deal with family-level conflicts or illnesses. Create a positive workplace atmosphere, build trust and openness and encourage employees and leaders to share problems, concerns and feelings before they become an overwhelming burden.
Expecting executives to prevent, identify, or solve their own stress and burnout issues will only add to their burden. Appoint wellness advisors to help executives identify burnout symptoms and support them in managing work and life stressors.
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