82% of Senior Leaders Experiencing Burnout: Survey

A new survey by Deloitte Canada and LifeWorks has found that during the pandemic 82 percent of senior leaders have experienced exhaustion indicative of burnout.

The survey, which polled more than 1,100 senior leaders in Canada, the U.S., and Europe, found that found nearly all (96 percent) of those who reported exhaustion also said that their mental health has declined.

The top four stressors for respondents were:

  • An increase in work volume compared with pre-pandemic levels (68 percent).
  • The desire to provide adequate support for the well-being of employees (62 percent).
  • Performance demands (41 percent).
  • Implementing restructurings, layoffs and cost-cutting measures (3 percent).

As a result of these stressors, 51 percent of senior leaders said that they have seriously considered leaving their roles. Of this group:

  • 23 percent considered resigning.
  • 16 percent considered moving to a less demanding role.
  • 16 percent considered retirement.
  • 13 percent considered taking a leave of absence.
  • 6 percent considered working part time.

The most common reasons that respondents wanted to leave or downshift their role include:

  • 38 percent cited increased mental health strain.
  • 22 percent cited feeling underappreciated.
  • 8 percent cited finding a better career opportunity.
  • 5 percent cited caregiving responsibilities.
  • 5 percent cited increased mental stress/strain at home.

More than three-quarters (70 percent) of respondents said that they are working longer hours now vs. before the pandemic, and 82 percent said that they typically finish work feeling physically and mentally exhausted. In addition:

  • 59 percent said that they are unable to relax after work.
  • 49 percent said that they have trouble sleeping.
  • 43 percent said that they feel more irritable.
  • 38 percent said that they felt reduced energy or emotional changes.

As for the quality and impact of their professional relationships:

  • 59 percent said that their peers are helpful supporting their resilience.
  • 32 percent said that relationships with their peers have worsened during the pandemic.
  • 65 percent said that these worsened peer relationships have adversely impacted their mental health.

With respect to the stigma surrounding mental health in the workplace: 41 percent said they would find it difficult to acknowledge or accept if they had a mental-health issue, and 55 percent said that they would be concerned their career opportunities would be limited if their employer was aware they had a mental-health issue.

The survey report prepared by Deloitte Canada and LifeWorks highlighted four key actions that organizations should explore to support their senior leaders:

  • Reduce stigma regarding mental health:  Reducing stigma, taking tangible steps toward a psychologically safe environment, and encouraging leaders to show up authentically all help create an inclusive and healthier workplace culture.
  • Strengthen peer relationships: Strained peer-to-peer relationships increase tension by fueling a competitive environment focused solely on personal achievements, which may be at the expense of others and organizational performance.
  • Enhance mental health and wellbeing support: Inadequate access to, or use of, wellbeing support increases the risk of burnout and resentment toward work, and lowered efficacy.
  • Rethink work:  Organizations should rethink their approach to work, addressing expanding workloads and work complexity, and implementing better prioritization.

Commented Paula Allen, global leader and senior vice president, research and total wellbeing at LifeWorks: “Senior leaders carry an immense weight on their shoulders when it comes to workplace changes and stressors. Not only are they experiencing these challenges themselves, but they also need to provide support for their direct reports. While it has been encouraging to see a larger emphasis placed on employee wellbeing since the pandemic emerged, senior leaders are often left out of the conversation. Organizations will see their business outcomes suffer if this continues.”

Commented Zabeen Hirji, executive advisor, future of work and lead CHRO20 at Deloitte Canada: “Supporting the mental health and wellbeing of senior leaders is being recognized as paramount to organizational performance and resiliency. So, it’s not surprising to see CEOs and executive teams personally leading these efforts and even some Boards playing a role. Organizations need to build a culture where leaders are encouraged and supported to fit their own oxygen masks first, as leaders cannot support the workforce without the right foundation for their own wellbeing.”

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