How to Avoid Executive Burnout

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Executives are people, too. And that means they suffer from all the same problems and challenges as other people. They are not immune to any of the normal human failings, and have no special protection against mental and emotional problems. It might even be argued that because of the added pressure under which they operate, executives are even more at risk than most people.

Hotel California describes executive burnout this way:

Executive burnout is a specific type of job-related stress, defined as a state of physical, emotional, or mental exhaustion combined with doubts about your competence and the value of your work. With the instability of the economy in recent years, executives are finding themselves struggling to meet the overwhelming demands placed on them in their careers.

They also list the following as symptoms of work related burnout:

  • Becoming cynical or critical at work
  • Difficulty getting motivated to be at work and functioning at your best
  • Irritability with clients
  • Change in sleep habits or appetite
  • Unexplained headaches and backaches
  • Using food, drugs, or alcohol to feel better about work, or to avoid feeling altogether

At some point, everyone experiences work-related burnout. It is inevitable. That is why we have vacations and sabbaticals. Companies can ill-afford to lose high-ranking executives to burnout that could have easily been avoided. Here are a few things that can be done to lesson the instances and impact of executive burnout:

Treat Executives Like Employees

There are protections in place to keep employees from being worked like slaves. U.S. labor laws mandate a maximum number of work-week hours, overtime, sick days, etc… But these protections seem to only apply to the rank and file. For executives, there seems to be no concept of a start and stop time for work. It is 24/7/365. Anything less is considered less than a full commitment.

With no discernible beginning and ending to the work day, it is impossible for executives to develop anything that resembles a healthy, work/live balance. Without this balance, burnout is all but assured.

Delegate

Burnout begins with too much responsibility. One of the burnout symptoms is the feeling of having more responsibility than can possibly be fulfilled. The reason so many people feel this way is because they really do have more responsibility than any one person can fulfill.

If your job actually requires 16 hr. days, then it is too much job. Two things stand in the way of appropriate task delegation: The first is the old adage, “If you want a job done right, do it yourself.” This is arrogance to the point of narcissism. You are not the only one in the world, or likely, in the company, that can do the job correctly. You are simply not that special. The second barrier is fear. Many are afraid to let an underling do any part of an important job lest they be outshined, and viewed as less necessary.

Both of these motivations can be seen in professional football. Quarterbacks routinely play injured because they feel like they are the only ones who can win the game, and they fear being outshined by the backup. If quarterbacks had their way, backups would never play in big games. Quarterbacks retire prier to age 40. Executives have to be smarter.

Stop Ignoring the Symptoms

As shown above, the symptoms of work-related stress are obvious. We know when we are suffering from stress. For some, the amount of stress they can bear is a point of pride, and a badge of courage. This kind of unhealthy machoism is something evolution frowns upon.

Work-related stress leads to stress-related illness. According to WebMD, some of those illnesses include:

  • Heart disease
  • Asthma
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes

Ignoring the symptoms of work-related stress have consequences that are far worse than being outshined by an underling at work.

The good news is that work-related burnout can be treated proactively so that it never becomes a problem. Even after it becomes a problem, effective treatment is still available. Executives are people too. It is past time they act like it. Get help before burnout gets the best of you.

About Mohit Tater

Mohit is the co-founder and editor of Entrepreneurship Life, a place where entrepreneurs, start-ups, and business owners can find wide ranging information, advice, resources, and tools for starting, running, and growing their businesses.

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