July 29, 2022
Work-Life Bloom

26% Of Executives Are Depressed, 40% Overwhelmed

Deloitte Insights’ recent research paints a grim, if not bleak, picture of well-being.

Leaders, in particular, appear to be oblivious to not only the low levels of well-being experienced by their team members but also to their own personal plight. Add in some correspondence bias, and you’ve got yourself a rising workplace wellness disaster.

For over 20 years, I’ve worked with leaders and senior leaders. Yet, I’ve never felt so anxious in my career as someone supporting leaders as I do these days. Yet, everywhere I look, I see palpable levels of distress that I have never seen before. Deloitte’s research aptly describes my concerns.

Consider the executive suite. According to the research, members of this critical group have alarming levels of mental duress and fatigue. Fourteen percent are stressed, forty percent are overwhelmed, thirty percent are exhausted, thirty percent are lonely, and twenty-six percent are depressed.

What’s even more upsetting? Employees report feeling 5 percent less overwhelmed, 6 percent less lonely, and 3 percent less depressed.

man in blue and brown plaid dress shirt touching his hair

To put it another way, it appears that many members of the C-Suite are less happy than the employees they are attempting to lead. That is not encouraging. What comes next?

A senior leader who is stressed, overwhelmed, and exhausted is hampered not only in making critical strategic and financial decisions but also in having less in the proverbial leadership tank to support employees. This can lead to a variety of problems.

First, there is the issue of the senior leader’s overall health. No one, regardless of title, deserves to live an unhealthy life as a result of their job. Anyone who is mentally, socially, or physically ill due to their job is not receiving adequate support at work or in life. That is a huge problem to solve.

Second, a leader’s absence from employees due to illness exacerbates issues of workplace well-being. When they are suffering, how can they possibly model good well-being, let alone advocate for and implement well-being for employees? We need leaders to be role models of well-being, not in absentia.

Arianna Huffington, the founder of Thrive Global, emphasized this point in a recent Forbes interview with me. Huffington mentioned the following:

“We believe that when leaders take care of themselves, they are much more able to take care of their employees to be empathetic, creative, inspiring. But when they’re depleted, running on empty and burnt out, it’s much harder to lead from what is best in them. Role modelling is key because we are changing an entire culture that used to believe that burnout is simply the price you pay for success.”

Arianna Huffington

The magnitude of what we might call a senior leader’s fundamental attribution error in understanding well-being is alarming. According to Deloitte, more than eight out of ten global executives believe their employees are thriving in all aspects of their well-being.

Employees, on the other hand, rate their well-being significantly lower. The gap is highly alarming. And by “gap,” we mean the distance between Toledo and San Diego. The misalignment can be found in four key areas of well-being: physical, mental, social, and financial well-being. For example, consider the Deloitte chart below:

Deloitte Insights

As if that weren’t enough, leaders’ fundamental attribution error mindset is also visible in how they handled employee well-being during the pandemic. The researchers, for example, noted the following:

“Only 47% of workers believe their executives understand how difficult the pandemic has been for them, yet 90% of the C-suite say they do recognize how challenging it’s been. Similarly, while only 53% of employees feel that their company’s executives have been making the best decisions for their well-being during the pandemic, 88% of the C-suite believe their decision-making has been exemplary.”

Deloitte Insights

What are we left to ponder?

Senior leaders are not only suffering at work, but they also believe they are doing an excellent job with their employees’ well-being—assuming they have been doing so since the pandemic began.

We are approaching a tipping point regarding organizational culture and employee experience. If economists are concerned about inflation and stagflation, I am worried about the state of well-being, as should you be.

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