Since the pandemic, Hintsa has coached over 500 senior executives through the most difficult period of our careers. This has given us fascinating insights into how senior executives are doing. So what are the key six findings about senior leaders’ wellbeing, and why do they matter?
I have mentored at least 50 senior executives since the start of the pandemic. Right now, many of my clients are finding things tougher than usual. The urgent threat of the pandemic has passed, but lots of my fellow senior executives are feeling more tired and under pressure than at any point in the last three years. Believe me, I get it.
It is not a selfish action or a luxury for those in senior positions to look after themselves. In fact, reserving non-negotiable time for wellbeing allows them to bring their best qualities to work.
1. Leaders feel “used up” right now
According to Forbes, a study of 15,000 leaders found that 60% feel “used up” by the end of the working day. More worryingly for businesses, 44% of us who felt this way expected they would change companies, and 26% were planning to leave in the next year.
Improving general wellbeing, gaining more mental energy and preventing or reducing injuries and muscle tightness are now leaders’ top priority, according to our own Hintsa survey. If our jobs compromise our mental and physical wellness, more of us are willing to walk away.
I see the same reasons time and time again for why leaders seek wellbeing coaching. One said they wanted to improve their self-esteem and self-worth, as they question themselves a lot. That’s something I’ve had to overcome myself.
To me, it is pointless trying to address things only in your personal or working life. One of my clients said our work helped them think about life “in a fundamentally different way than before”. You must take a holistic approach to wellbeing in every area of your life, rather than trying to separate them.
2. Leaders dismiss wellbeing for fear of looking selfish
I know how it feels to have spent years sacrificing your free time and enduring stress to climb the corporate ladder. So many of us senior executives feel we have no right to invest in ourselves – but why?
First, I must help my clients break down the notion that self-care is selfish. Neglecting your wellbeing can supress your immune system and literally make you ill. How can you deliver what so many people expect from you if you’re bed-bound with flu?
Many high achievers struggle to do things anything less than perfectly. I am the same. But by carving out just minutes of our days at first, we can form those micro habits that underpin lasting, significant changes. Over time, we can work on making more time for proper nutrition, sleep and exercise – and celebrate even the smallest moments of progress.
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3. Leaders need to be held accountable for their wellbeing
As people who are responsible for at least some aspect of company performance, us executives are constantly held accountable by shareholders and stakeholders. In our personal lives, we rarely have the same pressure to look after ourselves.
Self-care is often the first thing to slide when life gets busy. Why? Because we think there are no immediate consequences if we let it slip. We don’t see how our tired snappiness, frustration from lack of movement or inability to make good decisions affects those around us.
One of my favourite quotes is “if knowledge was enough, we would all be billionaires with perfect abs”. My clients know what they’re doing. We just have too much in our lives to reach our goals without a bit of accountability.
I ask my clients what they want out of life, and who they want to be, and show them how to make it a reality. I can’t do the work. But just knowing someone is expecting something from them outside of work is a powerful motivator.
4. Leaders don’t realise how important physical movement is for wellbeing
I link every suggestion I make back to cognitive performance. As people with lots of responsibility, it’s a key concern, alongside preventing or treating pain as we age.
To me, movement is the medicine. Exercise has been shown to reduce age-related cognitive decline. And it doesn’t take much: a brisk, 40-minute walk, three times per week, can increase the size of your hippocampus – the brain area responsible for memory and learning.
There’s so much proof that activity, paired with nutrition, recovery and sleep, is key to your cognitive performance. Looking after yourself makes you smarter, you could say. It takes less effort to get your job done, and done well, and you have more energy to lead the business.
5. Leaders need a dedicated wellbeing programme and communication
Company-wide wellbeing initiatives are great for those who are already well. Executives, who already have too much to do, will not be engaged by well-meaning but generic step challenges or coffee mornings.
Lots of my fellow executives are in the third, and worst, stage of wellness: surviving. They have no energy to do anything non-essential. Another way of saying this: close to burnout.
Once someone is surviving, they need a personal intervention that keeps them accountable and makes changes non-negotiable. If they don’t get this, an important part of a company is in danger of falling apart entirely. At this stage, I know a tailored coaching plan and personalised coping strategies will have far more impact than company-wide enforced fun.
6. Investing in leader wellbeing raises subjective performance
So many of my clients are used to only making decisions with cold, hard data. If you think you can’t quantify the impact of wellbeing, think again.
Our wellbeing coaching sessions helped leaders improve both life satisfaction and subjective work performance. You might think life satisfaction improved the most, right? Wrong. We found that subjective work performance increased the most.
My theory is that, when a highly successful individual has more energy, their natural work ethic means they’ll put a lot of it into their work. I know wellbeing looks like an expendable luxury on paper, especially when you’re trying to balance the books. But this is the time when that little investment will really pay dividends.
What would you rather have in your business? Executives who are mentally well and a pleasure to have in the office? Or an exhausted, burnt-out leader who can only communicate by shouting. To me, the answer is clear.