The mental health of CEOs can be a corporate risk

by Stephen Conmy on Feb 9, 2022

mental health of CEOs

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In the same way that boards approach other corporate risks, it is important they treat mental health – including the mental health of CEOs and their executive team – as a corporate risk that must be identified and managed effectively.

Over the past two years, burnout among CEOs has grown as they tried to manage their organisations through the pandemic. A significant cause of mental health issues among business leaders is workplace pressure.

What is happening to business leaders?

According to a study conducted by Oracle and Workplace Intelligence in 2021, more than four in five C-suite executives (85%) reported having problems working outside the office setting.

The hurdles ranged from leaders’ purported lack of technical competency – particularly when using new tools – to a lack of face-to-face collaboration. A few of their concerns were:

  • Problems with collaborating virtually (39%)
  • Increased stress and anxiety (35%)
  • Lack of workplace culture (34%)
  • Difficulties learning new technology (29%)

Mental health is an issue at all levels

Mental health deserves serious consideration at all levels of a business. Companies have been paying greater attention to the well-being of their employees in recent years, but the figures above show that mental health issues can affect CEOs and executives.

The WEF’s Global Risks Report 2022 surveyed nearly 1,000 risk experts and global leaders in business, government, and civil society. They say the erosion of social cohesion, mental health deterioration, epidemics, and livelihood crises will equal environmental threats over the next two years.

BUPA also published research in its Executive Wellbeing Index in 2021, revealing six out of ten executives and board members who suffered mental ill-health during the covid pandemic turned to potentially unhealthy coping mechanisms such as alcohol and gambling instead of seeking help. Over 80 per cent of business leaders surveyed showed symptoms such as fatigue, low motivation, mood swings, and sleep difficulties.

What can be done to address this issue?

Business owners and senior directors often live and die by their jobs, so it can feel overwhelming when problems arise at work. When their organisation’s success or failure rests on their shoulders, some CEOs and directors struggle to prioritise their well-being.

To benefit both employees and leaders, firms and their boards must provide access to detailed information and guidance on addressing mental health at work.
Boards and CEOs need to recognise mental health as a corporate risk in the same way they handle other risks.

The board should place workplace mental health on the agenda and encourage a culture of openness regarding mental health issues within the organisation. Furthermore, boards and CEOs need to drive well-being and cultural change programs and take an active interest in their outcomes.

CEOs and leaders have found coaching to be a critical touchpoint during the pandemic because it offers them a way to manage change and find the ability and capability to work through the many challenges life has put in front of them.

Lisa Paris, an executive coach, says, “There has been a steep uptick in demand for coaching that supports a more mindful and emotionally intelligent way of leading, as well as for the self-care that’s necessary for leaders navigating this unfamiliar and relentless terrain. Taking time to pause and reflect is fundamental if leaders are to have the energy necessary to lead others through a time of disruption and change. Coaching provides a critical space for reflection, which can lead to greater self-awareness, clarity on how we should move forward and where to start.”

mental health

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