Stress Management at Work

Stress management and burnout prevention at executive level is a key theme in HR right now as staffing managers recognise that the mental and physical health of their employees has a direct impact on their performance.

And whilst HR teams are beginning to put in place measures to help tackle stress and burnout for their teams, such as employee recognition platforms, often, those working in the upper echelons of companies tend to be forgotten about when it comes to assessing who within an organisation could be susceptible to burnout.

In fact, our own research found that HR directors themselves are more likely to suffer from work-stress and eventual burnout than your local GP or hospital consultant.

Some reasons why stress and burnout can even accelerate at executive level include:

  • Accelerating pace of change
  • Tougher performance targets each year
  • Growing workloads resulting in tasks being taken home
  • People management
  • Shortening project deadlines despite growing organisational complexity during growth periods
  • Lack of acceptance of burnout and stress within the workplace, particularly with high achievers

But when should you sit back and consider whether you or a member of your firm’s senior management team are suffering from stress or burnout?

For some, stress within the workplace can be so ingrained that they fail to register that they are working at a dangerous level of stress which will eventually lead to burnout, one way or another.

Some of the more common signs that, if they occur in twos or threes, should really be listened to include:

  • Interpersonal problems
  • Emotional fatigue
  • Low productivity
  • Health problems
  • Obsessive thinking
  • Addictive coping mechanisms

How to reduce stress and burnout likelihood at executive level

So you know why stress and burnout at executive level occurs and the warning signs to look out for. But what can you do about it? How can you prevent burnout?

Here are five ways:

Recognise that you’re not invincible and burnout can/will happen

High achievers, ambitious over-achievers and those in top-level management positions may think they don’t have time to be ill, don’t need to take time out, see over-working as the secret to success so far and are perhaps immune to burnout.

But this isn’t the case. Prolonged exposure to stress will eventually cause executive burnout and addictive behaviours that go with them.

Recognise you’re not invincible. Even Richard Branson takes a break from time to time – he may even develop a cold once in a while too.

Seek peer support

Not everyone around you is going to fully understand the pressures you’re under so reaching out to your peer group for advice and support is a good way to go.

Your peers, especially those at a similar executive level or within the same market too, will know exactly the strains of juggling a demanding workload, responsibility and family life as well and will be able to offer advice and tips on managing stress and preventing burnout too.

Learn to say NO to more work

One of the primary personal traits of successful overachievers and those in executive positions is that they work hard and will often pick up other people’s slack within the organisation, whilst also taking on any new projects requested. This can be one of the fastest ways to induce work-overload stress and eventual burnout.

You need to be conscious of how much base-work you have on, what your core requirements are and what the most important projects are right now that you need to deliver. Attempting to take on any more projects in a bid to work your way up the corporate ladder or even through a lack of trust in other employees isn’t the best solution.

Create personal downtime

Another trait of overachievers is the want to make the full use of their time, including work and personal time, as well as work often overspilling into personal time. Stress can build-up over time which eventually leads to burnout, and it’s this personal downtime that helps alleviate both.

How we like to spend our own time can differ – some prefer spending that time with family and friends, whilst others appreciate time by themselves to relax. Either way, manufacture at least a few hours a day and a full day on the weekend to completely check-out and enjoy the non-work side of life.

Seek executive-level treatment and rehabilitation

Sometimes, it’s our own attitudes and work approach that cause the build-up of stress and eventual burnout and these ingrained behaviours can be hard to self-identify and manage. One of the most damaging problems of executive burnout and stress is that it can lead to addictive tendencies as a coping mechanism, such as alcohol, prescription drugs and even illegal substances too.

If the latter begins to take hold, it can be time to seek some extra support and expert help. At Step 1 Recovery, for example, our executive burnout and rehabilitation programme helps clients create real positive lifestyle changes, take time to recover in luxury whilst still being able to manage any pressing business concerns during your stay.

Learn more about our executive recovery here.

Highly successful and motivated professionals are not immune to developing dysfunctional patterns of behaviour to cope with the demands of their roles. The trick is to learn when you need external help.