Over the years, the literature on work-related stress has focused mainly on employees however very little on executive leaders. Despite little research in this area, work-related stress and burnout are increasing in the top management of many organisations.
Stress is increasing in organisations' upper echelons. It is becoming a threat that jeopardises not only the employees' health, but also that of the executive leadership. Currently, in the UK one in six employees states that their stress levels are “much higher” than only a year ago.
High levels of stress in the corporate world can create an extremely demanding environment which may in turn cause mental exhaustion and health issues.
Because of the nature of their roles and responsibilities, executives play a key role in the company's performance and provide leadership and organisational structure which in turn impact greatly on the destiny of their organisations. It is absolutely critical to pay more attention to work-related stress and its negative consequences in these positions of top management.
After working internationally with top executives in major industries helping them to increase focus, performance, resilience and well-being, I am sharing three specific factors that make these work roles highly exposed to stress:
1. Dysfunctional organisational structure
The climate of the organisation where these people work impacts greatly on the likelihood of increasing their emotional exhaustion. A conflict of roles is a common example that results in a dysfunctional environment. Also, a board of directors narrow-minded and non-supportive focus on short-term goals, inappropriate organisational restructuring and consequently reduced resources to meet those demands from investors all contribute significantly to the stress at the C-suit level.
2. Personal characteristics of the top executive
There are also personal characteristics that contribute to job burnout such as the age and the enterprising personality of the manager. Frequently the older executives are less stressed out than the younger ones. They can also prevent stress when they are free to make their own decisions to solve problems or achieve the goals. Loss of control has been associated with higher levels of personal and emotional stress, work-related stress and burnout.
3. Pressure from the outside environment
The external environment that companies face has a fundamental impact on their performance. Untrammelled competition, high demands from stakeholders, uncertainty in the global economy, and perceived environmental hostility all contribute to the stress level of executives. As the environmental hostility perceived by the executive increases, his/her level of individual stress will also increase which in turn works its way through the organisation.
In my opinion, to reverse the effects of stress throughout an organisation, the practice of mindfulness might be useful to neutralise the fatigue and anxiety of employees and improve work performance. The frenetic pace to which people are subject to in top management can be daunting to start with certain Mindfulness techniques due to the shortage of time. That is why there are short customised programs for executive directors that are very effective and that are being adopted more widely. The leadership role the executive leader plays has a direct impact on effecting change in any organisation and the introduction of Mindfulness techniques for stress reduction is no exception.