CEOs Succumbing To The Great Resignation: Prioritizing C-Suite Mental Health

The “Great Resignation” is causing waves across the workforce, but not in places you might expect. While plenty of attention has been devoted to Gen Z employees switching jobs in record numbersnew data shows the C-suite is struggling too.

Deloitte reports around 70% of high-level executives are seriously considering quitting their jobs, largely to improve their emotional well-being. In fact, these departures are already underway. According to a recent report conducted by Challenger, Gray & Christmas, over 650 CEOs left their jobs in 2022.

What’s behind this exodus of leaders?

Workers across all industries have been deeply impacted by mental health challenges, exacerbated by COVID-19, rising economic uncertainty, 40-year high inflation, and global conflict. The C-suite is no exception.

Deloitte’s study on the C-suite’s role in well-being finds that around 1 out of 3 executives are constantly struggling with fatigue and poor mental health. High numbers of C-suite executives report significant difficulty finding enough time for friends and family (65%); getting at least 7 hours of sleep (68%); exercising every day (74%); starting/stopping working at a reasonable time (76%).

The New York Times chronicled five chief executives who left major companies for well-being concerns ranging from happiness, pursuit of hobbies, avoiding burnout, or increased travel and family time.

Well-being does not discriminate by rank or title and the mental health of CEOs matters. So how can companies improve executive retention and enhance well-being across all employee levels?

Leaders must start by prioritizing their own mental health while supporting workforce mental health initiatives to combat the factors driving the Great Resignation. Potential action areas include:

First, modeling healthy behavior openly and transparently.

Greater C-suite transparency encourages other employees to prioritize their health. Among employees whose executives are transparent, 72% reported above-average well-being. The vast majority of C-suite executives also say that it’s important for them to see other leaders taking care of their well-being (84%) and that seeing this would motivate them to improve their own well-being (82%).

CEOs who are open and transparent about their struggles – both business and personal – garner public attention. Recently, HyperSocial CEO Braden Wallake posted a crying selfie on LinkedIn describing one of his toughest business decisions. The post quickly went viral, receiving 60,000 reactions and widespread media attention.

Second, addressing burnout.

C-suite executives experience persistent stress, leading to poor health outcomes and the development of ‘burnout,’ a significant driver of job departures and considered by some to be a catch-all phrase for general mental health struggles. Wellbeing initiatives need to be addressed burnout through multiple avenues including investing in mental health initiatives, replacing old models with new solutions, giving employees additional control in decision-making, and developing company culture to improve connection. Everyone should feel comfortable that “its ok to not be ok” and that doing something about it will not result in discrimination for accessing needed treatments.

Third, building recovery into workflow.

Strategies for boosting productivity require building recovery into the day-to-day workflow, encouraging employees to take breaks and emphasizing downtime. Studies show this can increase job satisfaction, creativity, mental health, and well-being.

Fourth, supporting older workers.

Many CEOs and business leaders are in the later stages of their careers, requiring renewed attention to differing generational needs for mental health. Providing health checks and counseling for employees, mitigating ageism, and addressing unconscious bias are all strategies that prioritizes the mental health of older workers.

Without robust mental health and wellness programs, the Great Resignation will continue to impact all levels of the workplace. Executives can be better and more purpose-driven leaders by prioritizing their own mental health, being open about their own condition, and making well-being central to the long-term success of their organizations.

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