It is a common misconception that executives possess unwavering composure and unflinching resolve at all times. In reality, every leader contends with a myriad of workplace stressors, and if not managed effectively, these pressures can all add up and invariably lead to eventual burnout.
Executive burnout is not only detrimental to the individual but can also impact an organisation’s bottom line and employee morale, as it often trickles down through the ranks. However, the good news is that burnout is a preventable affliction, contingent on the cultivation of sound work habits.
Understanding Executive Burnout
To effectively prevent executive burnout, it is imperative to comprehend the nuances of this condition and recognise how it manifests among leaders.
Burnout is not an abstract concept but a tangible consequence of overexertion. It is characterised by various symptoms, including:
- A decline in creativity.
- An upsurge in negativity.
- Emotional exhaustion.
- Impaired concentration.
- A sense of detachment from one’s work.
- Escalated stress levels and heightened frustration.
- Cynicism towards work or colleagues.
Remarkably, burnout is more prevalent than one might assume. In 2023, a staggering 70 percent of C-suite executives admitted to contemplating a job change to secure their well-being.
The Health Implications of Burnout
Burnout is not confined to the mental realm; it also poses significant physical risks. It has been linked to dietary disruptions, often manifesting as comfort eating, and may give rise to gastrointestinal issues. Most alarmingly, a 2020 study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology unveiled a correlation between burnout and Atrial fibrillation (AFib), which could culminate in blood clots, strokes, heart failure, and other cardiac complications.
Burnout is a progressive condition, and experts differ in their classification of its stages. Herbert Freudenberger and Gail North, renowned for introducing the concept of burnout, delineated 12 stages, whereas recent research condenses these stages to five. Regardless of the stage classification, experts concur that early detection renders burnout far more manageable.
Addressing Burnout – Prevention & Proactive Measures
As a leader, you shoulder substantial responsibilities – both towards your team and yourself. Personal responsibility is a fundamental aspect of burnout prevention, and it necessitates a multifaceted approach.
Self-Reflection and Vigilance
Being attuned to one’s physical and mental well-being is essential. Consider the following self-check questions:
- How do I feel today?
- Have I assumed an excessive workload?
- Does my work hold personal significance?
- Am I receiving adequate support at work?
- Am I experiencing irritability or chronic exhaustion?
- Do I encounter difficulties in maintaining focus?
- Have my eating or sleeping habits changed recently?
- What unmet needs require my attention?
- What measures should I take to address these needs?
This introspective process, akin to recognising thirst before dehydration sets in, aids in averting burnout.
While ‘self-care’ may sound like a contemporary buzzword, it is an indispensable component of burnout prevention. Self-care varies among individuals and leaders but entails setting aside time to attend to one’s physical and mental well-being.
For some, self-care encompasses rejuvenating walks to clear the mind, potentially incorporating walking meetings into the workday or indulging in the joy of dog walking.
Establishing self-care as a routine practice, whether through activities such as cold plunges, afternoon naps, or yoga sessions, ensures its incorporation into daily life.
Set and Maintain Boundaries
Boundaries, the demarcation between what is acceptable and unacceptable, are vital in forestalling executive burnout. Many leaders overextend themselves, often hesitating to delegate responsibilities due to a desire for control or a reluctance to burden others.
For leaders, the ability to establish and communicate boundaries is essential. It is crucial to recognise the importance of delegation, especially when tasks become overwhelming. An effective delegation process comprises context provision, setting clear expectations, offering support, allowing autonomy, and expressing gratitude.
Leaders must avoid succumbing to the belief that refusing assistance equates to strength. Delegating tasks not only lighten the individual load but also nurtures the professional growth of team members. Leaders who are apprehensive about seeking support must investigate the workplace culture and organisation dynamics, as a reluctance to delegate or request aid could indicate underlying issues with psychological safety.
Lead by Example
Leading through example is a powerful strategy for burnout prevention. Executives who model positive behaviours, such as respecting boundaries, foster a culture of well-being within their organisations.
For instance, leaders can set the precedent by refraining from scheduling Friday afternoon meetings to encourage winding down for the weekend. They can also harness wellness benefits to inspire their teams to follow suit. Transparency in personal well-being practices, such as planning holidays and mental breaks, prompts others to embrace similar self-care measures.
Modelling behaviours helps create a psychologically safe work environment. When leaders consistently demonstrate the importance of work-life balance and boundary maintenance, their employees are more likely to follow suit.
Cultivate Sustainable Habits
Effective burnout prevention necessitates the incorporation of steps one through four into one’s daily routine. Managing stress and burnout is an ongoing practice, and it is essential to integrate self-care, boundary setting, and self-reflection as routine components of life.
Addressing Burnout: Seeking Professional Help
Despite taking proactive measures, burnout can still occur. Seeking professional assistance is an appropriate response when burnout begins to negatively affect various aspects of one’s life. The earlier professional intervention is sought, the better the prognosis, as burnout is likely to worsen in the absence of intervention.
Treatment for burnout often entails a combination of individual and systemic changes. It is crucial to work on boundary maintenance, engagement with work, and self-care. However, environmental and scheduling adjustments may also be required.
In situations where professional assistance is warranted, resources such as Psychology Today can help individuals locate therapists in their vicinity. Consulting with therapists during complimentary consultations allows individuals to assess the therapist’s expertise and communication style before making a commitment.
It is vital to dispel the misconception that executives should perpetually maintain an unwavering facade of composure. Openness regarding one’s well-being and the willingness to seek help when needed are vital steps in averting the detrimental effects of burnout. Embracing transparency, both in peak times and during personal challenges, fosters authenticity in leadership and contributes to a psychologically safe workplace.
Executive burnout is a formidable adversary, but with the right strategies and a commitment to self-care, leaders can navigate their roles with resilience and well-being, setting the tone for their teams and organisations to follow suit.
How White River Manor Can Help
We offer our guests individualised programs and luxury individual care at White River Manor. In collaboration with the client, our team of highly qualified therapists, medical professionals, and dependency specialists work to design a program to restore balance and well-being in our guests’ lives.
If you’d like to talk to us about treatment options and how we can help you recover, please don’t hesitate to reach out to our intake team.