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Executive Burnout: a serious condition

Burnout is a dangerous condition, officially recognized by WHO (The World Health Organization), that affects executives and younger team members, calling it a “factor influencing health status”

By: Business Today Egypt

Mon, Dec. 14, 2020

Burnout is a dangerous condition, officially recognized by WHO (The World Health Organization), that affects executives and younger team members, calling it a “factor influencing health status”.

Burning out has become an occupational phenomenon; in a recent summer survey, global online employment platform Monster found that 69 percent of those surveyed experienced burnout symptoms, 20 percent higher than a similar survey in spring.

Herbert Freudenberger, the psychologist who coined the term Burnout, stated that it affected “the dedicated and the committed,” those who “feel a pressure from within to work and help and . . . feel a pressure from the outside to give.”

Although originally identified mainly in professions such as nursing, education and social work, by the early 1980s, burnout had been accepted by corporations in the US and worldwide.

This contradicts with the way companies today have only just begun to truly tackle the physical and mental health risks of long hours, particularly with the startup/hustle mindset that has become increasingly popular.

In Egypt, burnout continues to be a hidden issue that affects businesses unknowingly, particularly when executives experience its symptoms.


A dangerous obsession with work

It is common to see executives, managers, and employees in various levels of organizations push themselves to the limit; WhatsApp messages 10 pm, weekend meetings, and late nights at the office or home are all common instances in Egypt’s business landscape.

Many do not have support systems or strategies in place to cope, waiting until the last moment when their burnout is at its highest to leave their position as a perceived cure.

Some are unable to see the symptoms of burnout, attributing them to normal work culture.

Many medical institutions state that mental symptoms of burnout include mental exhaustion, detachment and feelings of remoteness, sense of ineffectiveness, feeling overwhelmed, anxiety, depression, and excessive and frequent self-criticism.

Physical symptoms include chronic fatigue, constant headaches, chest pains, insomnia, loss of motivation, low energy and productiveness, withdrawing from social interactions, and an increase in negative self-soothing behaviors such as overindulging in food and increased smoking.

With or without insomnia, exhaustion and chronic fatigue is a common tell-tale sign of burnout.

According to Psychology Today, “fatigue becomes a physical and psychological state of exhaustion. You feel drained. Everything takes a concerted effort. You have no energy, so you do as little as possible to make it through the day. You find it difficult to get out of bed and may even call in sick on the days you feel like you simply can’t get out of bed”.

Executives who have suffered from burnout often note that a deep sense of dissatisfaction happens with the demands of dealing with content reorganization, and when work lives are interrupted for arbitrary and inner-organizational political reasons. These are seen as common causes for increased fatigue and decreased focus, significant signs of burnout.

The main problem facing local organizations is the work culture that shares these symptoms as “just part of the job”.

According to Gallup, a global analytics and advice firm, burned out employees are 63 percent more likely to take a sick day and 2.6 times as likely to be actively seeking a different job, thus affecting the business. What is worse, is that they are 23 percent more likely to visit the emergency room.


How to fight burnout

Burnout, with executives in particular, can heavily affect the business’s operations.

Sport psychology uses the term “Mental Quicksand”, which describes how moments of poor performance can cause athletes to feel overwhelmed, leading to additional poor performance and damage to their confidence when making decisions.

Productive executives can quickly shift from focused and confidence to tired and evasive under bad work-life conditions and unrealistic or overwhelming workloads.

Some of the best ways to fight burnout is to monitor your physical and mental wellbeing.

These include finding ways to improve amount and quality of sleep, and improve nutrition. Executives should search for mindfulness and mediation programs, as well as personal trainers and nutritionists (or at the very least, personalized plans).

Psychology Today suggests mindful walking where you “inhale for four steps, exhale for four steps”, make time for self-care, and other mindfulness techniques.

To further support your healing process, remember that unclear accountability and expectations create unnecessary difficulties, to both you and your employees, that you will have to manage. The best executives and managers discuss clear responsibilities and performance goals, including your own and how you can delegate across the board.  

According to Gallup, “… time constraints are often imposed by people who do not know how long it takes to deliver quality work or great customer service. Unreasonable deadlines and pressure can create a snowball effect -- when employees miss one overly aggressive deadline, they fall behind on the next thing they are scheduled to do.”  

It is up to executives and managers to find reasonable goals and workloads for both themselves and those they work with to create a beneficial work environment and culture that does not promote overworking and burnout.