Senior leaders depleted, stressed in pandemic era workplace

23 August 2022 2 min. read
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Eighty-two percent of senior leaders reported exhaustion indicative of burnout risk, according to research from LifeWorks and Deloitte. The two consultancies in spring 2021 surveyed 1,158 senior leaders in the public and private sector across North America, EMEA, and APAC (with 66% of respondents in Canada) in order to fill the research gap in how the pandemic has affected leadership wellbeing.

Of the 82% of leaders reporting exhaustion, nearly all (96%) said their mental health has declined. As such, more than half (51%) said they were thinking about leaving their roles.

The top stressor (68%) was an increase in work volume compared to pre-pandemic. The number of extra hours worked and reports of mental health decline were strongly correlated in the research.

With heavier responsibilities and expectations, more than half (55%) of leaders worry that stigma around mental health would have an impact on their careers if they had a known issue, compared to 39% of non-leaders.

Top stressors for leaders

Six in 10 senior leaders said they don’t consistently make time for their personal wellbeing.

“In almost all areas, the findings show that mental strain and its consequences affect senior leaders more strongly than they affect employees and mid-level managers,” the LifeWorks and Deloitte report said.

The pandemic greatly increased work demands, risk, and complexity for senior leaders. A significant stress multiplier for leaders was feeling a lack of control over factors introduced by a global pandemic.

Having burned out and depleted leaders is a serious business risk for organizations. Resignation is a top risk, which becomes especially costly in a tight labour market. Burnout can also lead to underperformance and absenteeism which could have destructive impact on an organization at the senior level compared to entry level.

“It’s really important for leaders to fit their own oxygen masks first,” said Zabeen Hirji, executive advisor, Future of Work, Deloitte Canada.

The research from LifeWorks and Deloitte recommends several calls to action. One is targeting and reducing the specific drivers of stigma around mental health disclosure and treatment at the leadership level. Another is providing a continuum of assistance and support that addresses complex workplace, personal, and family challenges. Leaders should also be provided with guidance, training, and ongoing coaching in their roles to aid their wellbeing and their teams’ wellbeing.