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Home Day-to-day Issues Employee Wellness 5 Reasons why senior managers and executives burn out

5 Reasons why senior managers and executives burn out

Shirley Hulley
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Every day, we're faced with the realities of the current economy and the stresses that it puts on us to better what we've delivered on previously. If employees think that they have it bad, what about the senior managers and executives who are under pressure not only from the business's shareholders but also from employee expectation as well as their external stakeholders?

Here's an excerpt from a CEO job description:

What you can expect from us:

Our company culture is one of pressure, hard work and discipline in an incessantly deadline-driven environment. Given our environment, you must:

  • Be willing to give 150%,
  • Perform at a minimum of 108% of budget every SINGLE month,
  • Not be afraid to manage by 'treading on toes' to get the job done,
  • Be able to work extensive hours and travel away from home for at least 50% of the month,
  • Have the ability to take on three jobs with ease and not drop the ball,
  • Have the ability to take on massive quantities of deadlines, and
  • Possess a sense of urgency and obsession with deadlines.

You must be:

  • An individual of superior intelligence, highly inspirational and energetic,
  • Diligent, astute, a role model, solid and thoughtful, mature, resilient, assertive,
  • A person with unquestionable integrity,
  • Highly logical and an excellent communicator,
  • Strategic and operational, persistent and able to generate respect and trust,
  • Passionate, grounded, creative and innovative,
  • Compassionate and empathetic, and
  • Analytical and influential, with a strong leadership presence, able to develop a vibrant team spirit.

Exhausting reading! Is it any wonder executives wind up on medication, in therapy and eventually burn out or turn to other means to survive? So what's wrong with this picture?

We all know that the corporate culture is pressurised, however by starting with that, it's kind of stressful already:

  • 'Give 150% 'sets an unrealistic expectation,
  • 'Massive quantities' of deadlines and 'deadline obsessed' sounds compulsive,
  • Shouldn't worry about 'treading on toes' to get the job done – how much value is placed on relationships?
  • 'Extensive hours' indicates that there is little respect for boundaries and people's personal lives, and
  • Take on 'three jobs and not drop the ball' indicates overextension as a norm.

Having dished up its demands, the organisation then expects the individual to be a super-caring, magnanimous and an inspirational fountain of all that is good and righteous. A 'beacon of shining light' to the organisation. Not surprising that people often end up 'sucked dry', so to speak:

  • The executive starts to feel:

- Exhausted,

- Resentful,

- Frustrated,

- Disgruntled, and

- Burnt out.

And this is no matter how good the bonuses are!

Energy is the new currency in performance

The five main reasons for burnout are all 'energy sapping':

1. Unhealthy culture,

2. Unrealistic expectations,

3. Relationships aren't valued,

4. No respect for boundaries and the 'whole' person, and

5. Overextension as the norm.

Companies need to take heed of these 'typical' Westernised corporate demands and look to find ways of ENERGISING and ENGAGING their senior executives – the first step being to find a way to measure these factors. A new spin on metrics and KPIs.

Rather than having a 'TAKE' mentality - as in the five points above - companies should look to have a 'GIVE' mindset, as in: What should our INPUT to the 'whole person' be to ENERGISE and ENGAGE?

ENERGISED and ENGAGED executives will be much more likely to inspire their direct reports to deliver the OUTPUTS rather than those that are on the way to burn-out.


After fifteen years of corporate general management, and a great deal of valuable experience gained in several high-level executive posts,  Shirley was driven by a desire to share and teach using transformational training models which would deliver impactful results in organisations.

In her role as a business coach and owner of Optimal Capacity, Shirley offers her clients programs designed to radically enhance the personal capacity of leadership teams and employees. She delivers game-changing business interventions that create profound behavioural shifts – resulting in easy efficiency, higher profits, and sustainable business growth.

In her role as head of operations for Lumina Learning Shirley qualifies and accredits new business and client practitioners in the use of the Lumina Learning suite of development tools and their application. She supports and develops the SA practitioner network.


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