Corporate Stress or Boardroom Burnout?

30 August 2006 Ian Broadmore

In a world of executive pressure and tight budgets, corporate stress is an issue high on the agenda. There are however many simple solutions that may be implemented to safeguard the psychological health and wellbeing of your staff.

Whether it's the pressure of dealing with tight budgets or preparing for the next board meeting, executive stress can have a negative impact on your performance, decisions and focus.

In today's competitive marketplace, stress suffered by key executives and CEOs can lead to underperformance, lack of motivation, procrastination and lack of stamina and concentration. Worse still, this pressure will affect much more than personal achievement; ultimately the efficiency and development of the whole company can be compromised.

"Common stress inducers are excessive workloads, unrealistic deadlines and targets and 'blame cultures'."


Stress is a reaction to a perceived threat that is either real or imagined. 75%-90% of employee visits to hospitals are stress related. In fact, stress has been strongly linked with many ailments such as hypertension, heart attacks, allergies, backache, skin disorders, anxiety, high blood pressure, headaches and migraines.

Commonly accepted stress inducers within the workplace are excessive workloads, unrealistic deadlines and targets and a 'blame culture' within the company. Stress that is allowed to build within a corporate environment can lead to 'executive burnout', a condition that is primarily caused by how an individual perceives a situation.

Today's society dictates that many of us need to work longer hours in order to keep up with ever-increasing performance targets, but society also needs to remember that the body can only take so much before stress before burnout sets in. Early signs of impending burnout include:

  • Anger at those making demands
  • Cynicism, negativity and irritability
  • Exploding easily at inconsequential things
  • Frequent headaches or migraines
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Insomnia and depression
  • Shortness of breath
  • Extreme tiredness and fatigue
  • Heart palpitations
  • Butterflies in the stomach
  • Inability to focus

By giving staff the skills they need to perform effectively under pressure, you can help them deal with stress and anxiety, be more positive and committed, and transform their personal beliefs and values to enable your business to grow to its fullest potential.

Unfortunately, however, it is often difficult for a business to run an in-house training programme for key staff whose role does not allow them the time to attend.


Most companies understand the need to invest in their employees' welfare, since this approach has tangible benefits in terms of staff retention.

"75%-90% of employee visits to hospitals are stress related."

However, an individual may not suit a group environment, either due to his or her position within the company or because of the perceived stigma of being singled out for special attention. Such a delicate process can often involve office politics, as well, which means that the individual's reaction may be one of being victimised rather than being helped, which will only escalate the feelings of stress.

A personal coaching intervention with a stress management specialist, however, overcomes these difficulties by making the individual feel valued.


A session can begin with an informal one-on-one assessment of the needs of the individual, taking the needs of the organisation into account. The individual's goals can be achieved through a carefully designed series of questions in order to fully understand any issues that he or she is experiencing.

Only then can an initial assessment be made as to what form the stress management help will take.

Stressed executives can be taught the essential theory of stress management and shown techniques that will enable them to deal will stress, making it manageable and thereby increasing performance and value to the company.

The most obvious tangible benefit is an enhancement in personal productivity, since employees can focus their minds where they want to go, to achieve results more quickly and effectively.


Companies that invest in the psychological health and wellbeing of their staff will see the benefits on the bottom line in terms of both increased productivity and long-term employee retention.

Staff that are stress-free (or have manageable stress levels) perform better, work harder and are happier in their work environment and have a long-term commitment to the business.

"When we learn to manage stress we can teach our brains to react with intent rather than through instinct."

Undervalued, overworked personnel won't help your business to be more cost effective. Employers offering an 'Employee Assistance Programme' (EAP) are valued by their staff.

This commitment to staff development can also be an important part of the recruitment process offered as an inducement in the individual's health and wellbeing as a valued member of the team.

When we are highly stressed, we act and react instinctively. Anger often surfaces because we feel threatened or just plain worn out. When we learn to manage stress we can teach our brains to react with intent rather than through instinct.


  1. Learn to delegate: you can only do so much in a day. Spread the workload and spread the responsibility.
  2. Learn to say 'no'. Often in a busy work environment you are called upon to do work that you are not experienced in, or in an area where you lack training. Learn to say 'no' and keep your stress levels low.
  3. If you are in a poor physical working environment, perhaps the office is too hot or cold, it will make you stressed (as you either freeze or swelter). Either turn the air con on or turn the heating up. You will work better and be more productive if you are comfortable.
  4. Plan your day; nothing causes more stress than unexpected events. Plan each day with prioritised tasks and stick to them.
  5. Learn to switch off for a 15-minute power break each day. Just a 15-minute break will refresh you and lower your stress levels.
  6. Avoid caffeine. Although coffee, tea, and other caffeinated drinks taste great, caffeine raises your heart rate and anxiety levels. Drink water instead. Dehydration can lead to migraines and headaches and an inability to concentrate
  7. Take regular exercise. If you live within 15 minutes of work try walking or cycling instead of driving. If you live further away go to the gym at least once a week or walk at least 30minutes a day. You will get fit, increase the oxygen in your blood, and be more alert.
  8. Keep your sense of humour. Smile. At the end of the day no problem is so great it's worth risking a heart attack over.
  9. Introduce monthly stress buster meetings. Sit down with each employee and discuss how things are going. This approach will help cut stress because people will not bottle things up and will feel valued if you lend a sympathetic ear.
  10. Remember, your staff are your best asset. Treat them with the respect – the same that you would expect in return – in order to ensure a happy, stress-free working environment.