Top tips for C-Suite execs on managing burnout

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Mental wellness is high on the agenda for company leaders these days, thanks to a new culture of openness in discussing mental health. Ensuring all team members are supported, and fostering a culture to ensure happiness and wellbeing, can take up a lot of C-suite time and attention, and rightly so. But who looks after the leaders? With Mental Health Awareness Week from 15-21 May, we talked to some of our portfolio management teams to gain their tips on how C-Suite Execs can avoid burn out.

Joanna Swash is Group CEO of Moneypenny, a global leader in outsourced communications. Joanna had a meteoric rise since she was recruited as Moneypenny’s first salesperson in 2005, and today she manages a business that has grown to employ more than 1,200 people, and that has become a leader in telephone answering, live chat and outsourced communications across the UK and the US. Achieving this success has not been without some challenges for Joanna, who has also observed the pressures felt by leaders of many of Moneypenny’s 21,000 businesses clients in the UK and US, which range from large corporates and Magic Circle law firms to estate agents, vets and small businesses and everything in between.

Joanna comments: “Everyone expects business leaders to be invincible, and in this country, there can still be the belief that if you are in charge, you need to maintain a stiff upper lip and get on with it and that stress is surely part of the deal? However, we all need to remember that business leaders can also suffer from the same anxieties experienced across all levels, if not more so, as they carry a weight of responsibility. And this is on top of the usual business worries about making a profit, hitting growth targets, managing headcounts and more, so I think business leaders also need to take the time to think about their own mental wellbeing and to nurture it like looking after a plant – watering little and often.”

Naz Dossa, CEO of Peoplesafe, the world’s largest provider of personal safety technology, started his career in banking and has held numerous leadership positions across the Telecoms and IT sectors. He comments: “As the saying goes, ‘it can be lonely at the top’, so when faced with the pressures of the role, there isn’t always someone to share those experiences with. That’s why it’s essential to have a good Chair and senior team around you, where you can have open conversations about the challenges facing the business. Connecting with the team beyond work is also important, as it makes it easier to be open and recognise in each other the symptoms of burnout and talk openly about that. As well as this, one of the main tips is to make sure that there is always time in the week to fully switch off and be away from work. For me, having a hobby or two that helps to destress has been key to that.”

Here are a series of tips from the leaders ECI spoke to on managing stress and avoiding burnout:

  • If I were to write a letter to my 20-something self I would say: ‘Be bold and be kind to yourself.    Remember that if you work at Ferrari pace, then you should also have Ferrari brakes – know when to stop and when to have some fun.’
  • Admit when you need help. No one is perfect, and no one knows everything. It is not a weakness it is a strength to be able to admit this. There is no space for the ego leader and your mental wellbeing will suffer if you try to be one.
  • Don’t be ‘always on’. We talk a lot about availability and making sure businesses are open when clients need them, but when you think of senior leaders, there is value in being unavailable too. You need to ring-fence time for quiet head down working that is so important to productivity and to achieving a feeling of accomplishment and control. Also, it’s a good idea to simply ‘switch off’ devices for 15 minutes each day.
  • No individual is an island. Self-belief is a choice, and with it, anything is possible. Believe and trust yourself. People generally want you to succeed. Be realistic but optimistic, surround yourself with a great team and lean on them when you need to.
  • Create your own path. Burnout happens when you feel you are out of control, with no choices available to change things.  There are always choices, and it can help to share decisions when you feel you can’t see the wood for the trees.
  • Independent support can be hugely helpful too, so pour out your worries to a friend or a non-exec you can trust, over a pint or a glass of wine in the pub, or during a dog walk.  They are bound to have a different, and even an unexpected, perspective on things.
  • Take a break. On a day-to-day level I’m a big advocate of the power of walking – just a 10-minute walk outside in the fresh air gives me renewed energy to come back and face a difficult brief or something tricky.
  • Bury your pride. It’s really important to keep talking and not internalise problems, as this is the key to managing mental health.  Try to spot any problems and deal with them before they escalate, and don’t be afraid to seek professional help if you need it.

David Ewing, Managing Partner at ECI Partners, comments: “When you’re operating in a fast-paced environment, as so many C-suite are, it can be very easy to put your mental health on the backburner while you tackle the day-to-day. Investing in your well-being is valuable time spent, whether it’s talking openly about stress with those around you or ensuring you have something which helps you to switch off. As your business evolves, you will need to develop new tactics as it scales to ensure you not only grow with your business, but that you enjoy the journey and take your colleagues with you.”

David Ewing, ECI

About the author

David Ewing

I joined ECI in 2001 after an early career in software development, and since then have largely focussed my time at ECI on software and digital businesses. I’ve had the pleasure of working with some really great and ambitious management teams including our current portfolio companies: Zenergi, Avantia, Ciphr, ATG, Peoplesafe, Bionic and MiQ. Back […]

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