When you board a flight, the safety instructions from the cabin crew always emphasize the importance of securing your own oxygen mask before assisting others.
This principle extends beyond air travel and holds true in the workplace as well. Just as individuals are reminded to prioritize their own well-being before aiding others in an emergency, top executives must also ensure their own mental and emotional health is taken care of before they can effectively support their teams.
Unfortunately, a significant number of top executives find themselves experiencing stress or mental health challenges due to the intense pressures they face.
According to a study by Deloitte and Workplace Intelligence conducted in 2022, which surveyed 1,050 C-level executives across the US, Europe, and Asia/Pacific, even those in the C-suite find it challenging to give precedence to their own well-being. Despite notable figures – with 41% reporting stress, 40% feeling overwhelmed, 36% experiencing exhaustion, 30% dealing with loneliness, and 26% grappling with depression – prioritizing self-care remains a struggle.
”It seems that opening up about mental health remains particularly challenging for C-suite leaders.“
A study featured in the Harvard Business Review discovered that around half of senior executives encounter noteworthy levels of stress, and one in five executives faces stress levels classified as high or extreme. However, a survey by the National Alliance on Mental Illness disclosed that executives frequently refrain from seeking assistance, fearing stigma and potential adverse effects on their careers.
Finding the way…
It seems that opening up about mental health remains particularly challenging for C-suite leaders. The pressure to project strength and competence, coupled with the fear of being perceived as weak or vulnerable, can create significant barriers to seeking support. In many organizational cultures, there exists an unspoken expectation that leaders should maintain an image of strength and invulnerability, which can make it challenging for them to admit to experiencing difficulties.
Recognizing the need to address mental health issues is the first step for leaders, but finding ways to open up about these challenges can be daunting, especially given the expectations of strength and competence placed upon them. However, there are strategies and resources available to help leaders navigate this process.
Executive training program
According to the Deloitte survey mentioned above, 48% of respondents (C-suite) express interest in an executive training program focused on health-related topics. Such an initiative would provide leaders with the opportunity to enhance their knowledge and skills in health-related areas, which could contribute to better management of their mental and physical well-being. By offering a targeted training program, companies would not only meet the needs and interests of their leaders but also promote a culture that values and prioritizes health and well-being in the workplace.
Assistance from Health Professionals
Moreover, 40% of respondents express a desire for increased assistance from health professionals within their organization, including the potential implementation of a Chief Health Officer (CHO). Externally, seeking support from a coach, therapist, business psychologist, or an in-house Chief Health Officer can furnish top executives with a secure and confidential environment to navigate their thoughts and emotions. These professionals are equipped to offer valuable insights, guidance, and tailored coping strategies, addressing the distinctive challenges encountered by leaders.
Furthermore, participating in executive forums can create opportunities for leaders to connect with others facing similar struggles and share experiences in a supportive environment. The Deloitte survey results indicate that 44% of respondents (C-suite) believe they would benefit from observing other executives prioritize their health. This underscores the importance of peer support and role modeling in promoting well-being within the leadership ranks. By witnessing their peers prioritize health, leaders may feel encouraged to adopt similar practices and prioritize their own mental and physical well-being.
Additionally, executive forums provide a platform for exchanging strategies and best practices for managing stress, fostering resilience, and achieving work-life balance, ultimately contributing to a healthier and more productive leadership cohort.
Baby steps is the key
Ultimately, taking "baby steps" toward openness and seeking support can lead to significant improvements in mental health and overall well-being among C-suite leaders. By addressing the stigma associated with mental health challenges and promoting a culture that values transparency and support, organizations can create healthier and more productive leadership cohorts, ultimately benefiting both individuals and the broader workplace community.
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Artist: Inger Tanderup Klixbull
Fryer, R. (2023, March 20). The C-Suite’s New Approach to Mental Illness in the Workplace. Impactful-search. https://impactfulsearch.com/news/c-suite-approach-mental-illness/
Hatfield, S., Fisher, J., & Silverglate, P. H. (2022, June 22). The C-suite’s role in well-being. Deloitte Insights. https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/topics/leadership/employee-wellness-in-the-corporate-workplace.html
Klinghoffer, D. (2023, May 23). More than 50% of managers feel burned out. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2023/05/more-than-50-of-managers-feel-burned-out
Sokoler, S. (2023, June 16). Breaking the Stigma: Addressing Mental Health in the C-Suite. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesbusinesscouncil/2023/06/16/breaking-the-stigma-addressing-mental-health-in-the-c-suite/