Almost half of business leaders feel forced to sacrifice wellbeing

Unless executives recognise there is ‘no shame in sharing the load’, they risk a ‘crash,’ experts warn

Almost half (44 per cent) of bosses in the UK admit they have felt forced to compromise their health and wellbeing as a result of pressure at work, research has revealed.

The survey of 352 CEOs and small business owners by Vistage, a peer mentoring organisation, also found a quarter (24 per cent) of leaders have sought outside support to help cope with work-related stress. 

Geoff Lawrence, general manager at Vistage, said: “Being a boss can mean having to put your body on the line from time to time, but there’s a fine line between making sacrifices and becoming a martyr to the cause.” 

According to the Q3 2018 Vistage CEO Confidence Index only one in 10 (12 per cent) would ‘always prioritise their health and wellbeing over their work.’ 

Lawrence added that finding the right balance can be difficult for business leaders, especially if they have built their organisation from the ground up: “They want to do everything, be everywhere, and be involved in every decision, but almost inevitably that type of approach ends in a crash. There’s no shame in sharing the load.”

The study adds to concerns over the increased pressures faced by senior employees, and the effect on their wellbeing. Earlier this year, research by the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) revealed managers were facing a mental health crisis, with one in 10 taking time off work for mental health issues in the past year, for an average of 12 days. 

Vistage Chair Andrew Marsh said: “Speaking from experience, executives remain in stressful, high-intensive situations because they tell themselves they have to be strong and show no vulnerability, often to the detriment of personal relationships and wellbeing. It is important for business leaders to understand that there is support out there and they do not need to suffer in silence.”

The CIPD Health and Wellbeing at Work report in May revealed mental ill-health was the main cause of long-term absence in more than a fifth of UK organisations (22 per cent) and that stress-related absence had increased over the last year in more than a third (37 per cent) of businesses. 

In the same month, the Mental Health Foundation’s Stress: Are we coping? report found almost three quarters (74 per cent) of Brits had felt so stressed they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope, while 32 per cent of UK adults reported suicidal thoughts or feelings because of stress. 

Chris O’Sullivan, head of workplace mental health at the Mental Health Foundation, said managers were often singled out as the people responsible for making workplaces more mentally healthy.  

He said: “It’s true managers play a critical role in setting culture and they can benefit from training on mental health and wellbeing [but] at the same time, we have to recognise that managers and business leaders are under huge pressure.

“For too long, there has been a culture of driving middle managers hard to achieve results without giving them the time to manage their people, a culture of promoting the best salesperson or project manager into management without thinking about their people skills, and the culture among some leaders of putting themselves last. This has to end if we want to see mentally healthy workplaces.”

CEO and founder of Headtorch Amy McDonald agreed: “Business leaders are not immune. Stress and mental ill-health can happen to anyone at any time, regardless of their position within an organisation.”