Organizations face potential senior leader exodus

19 July 2021 2 min. read

Hammered by the stresses of the pandemic, more than half of senior leaders are contemplating leaving their current role, according to a recent survey from Deloitte Canada and LifeWorks. The survey in April polled 1,200 leaders one or two levels below CEO, with 66% of respondents in Canada, 18% in the US, 10% in EMEA, and 6% elsewhere.

The research reveals that 82% of senior leaders are finishing work feeling mentally or physically exhausted, 59% are unable to relax or pause activity, and 49% are having trouble sleeping.

The degraded wellbeing of leadership could have a significant impact on organizations. Fifty-one percent of senior leaders are considering leaving their current role, with 23% thinking about resigning. Others said they were considering moving to a less demanding role (16%), retiring (15%), taking a leave of absence (13%), or working part-time (6%).

The most popular reason for leaving one’s role was “increased mental stress/strain at work,” which was chosen by 38%.

“Senior leaders have gone through a period of feeling exponential pressure to deliver, while dealing with personal disruption from the pandemic and extraordinary business disruption,” said Paula Allen, senior vice president at LifeWorks, a wellbeing solutions firm. “This has taken a toll that was under-recognized.”

The top sources of professional stress for leaders

Mentally-exhausted leadership could also have a negative effect on their employees. “In the short term, this increased pressure could lead to behavioural change among senior leadership that trickles down and ultimately causes employee burnout at lower levels,” Allen added. “In the longer term, we anticipate seeing a risk of turnover among senior leaders. This is an issue we must immediately address, as senior leaders play a critical role for organizations.”

Senior leaders said work volume was the top source of work stress, at 68%, followed by trying to provide enough support to their staff (62%). “Pace of change” and implementing “cost-cutting and layoffs” were tied for fifth, at 31%.

Many leaders, however, still fear the stigma associated with mental health issues in the workplace. More than half of leaders (55%) thought they would lose out on career opportunities if their workplace was aware of a mental health issue.

As such, it’s important for organizations to work to destigmatize mental health support, while providing senior leaders (and employees) with the wellbeing resources they need. “This will have a trickle-down effect in setting a culture that normalizes mental-health support for all employees,” said Zabeen Hirji, executive advisor on future of work at Deloitte.