In the fast-paced world of business, executives at the helm of organisations find themselves facing an array of challenges. While the demands of leadership are undeniable, so too are the stresses that accompany them. As a business coach, I understand the intricate dance between ambition and stress. In this blog, we will explore the various causes of workplace stress and delve into effective strategies to cope with these challenges, ensuring a healthier and more resilient executive leader.

The first thing that I need to get across though is that a world without stress is not what we are driving for here. Stress is needed for a healthy life. Plants need certain stressful conditions to flourish, athletes need that stress to achieve their best performance levels. Even rollercoasters at fun parks are designed to stress us out!

So why do we need stress in our lives? Well, stressful situations cause our bodies to generate certain hormones and chemicals, such as adrenaline, oxytocin, serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins. These substances enhance our performance and make us feel alive.  However, like all drugs, too much of them, or their arrival at the wrong time, can have negative effects on us. The key then to stress management is awareness of what might cause us stress, and the knowledge of what to do in each individual situation.

Below is my take on the top 6 executive stressors, and a coping strategy for each.

1. Overwhelming Workloads: The Juggling Act

Executives often find themselves in a constant juggling act, attempting to balance numerous responsibilities simultaneously. The pressure to meet deadlines, oversee projects, deal with staff issues and make strategic decisions can lead to an overwhelming workload. Recognizing this challenge is the first step in addressing it.

Coping Strategy 1: Prioritisation and Delegation

Executives must learn the art of prioritisation and delegation. The first step is to really understand what the goals of the company are and how your role works towards that goal. A lack of alignment of goals is a dangerous position to be in, so make sure you know yours and your team know theirs. This clarity will then allow you to prioritise your to do list.  There will always be more to do than you can get done, so you have a choice: Do it, Defer it, Delegate it or Ditch it. Be bold, and don’t procrastinate.  If you delegate, then make sure you do it properly. See my blog on delegation for more information – Go to blog

2. Too Little to Do: The Dangers of Boredom

Paradoxically, executives can also face stress when confronted with too little to do. A lack of meaningful challenges can lead to boredom, and diminishing levels of motivation and satisfaction. This situation may arise during long periods of organisational stability, or when the executive’s skill set surpasses the demands of their current role.

Coping Strategy 2: Continuous Learning and Innovation

Executives should view downtime as an opportunity for personal and professional growth. Engaging in continuous learning, exploring innovative strategies, and seeking out new opportunities can rekindle enthusiasm. Encourage a culture of innovation within the organisation, fostering an environment where executives feel empowered to propose and implement new initiatives.  You become +- 10% of the people you spend time with, so if you are not meeting people at a higher level, then you will be stuck where you are.

3. Team Disengagement: The Death of Productivity

An engaged team is the heartbeat of productivity. A disengaged team, on the other hand, is a breeding ground for stress. When employees lack motivation or a sense of purpose, productivity suffers, and executives bear the weight of the consequences. You will know you are in this situation because you will be constantly fire-fighting.  You’ll spend too much time dealing with issues your team are creating, and you’ll feel that you might as well do everything yourself. This will give you an even more overwhelming workload.

Coping Strategy 3: Cultivate a Positive Workplace Culture

Invest in creating a positive workplace culture that values open communication, collaboration, and recognition. Regularly check in with team members, solicit feedback, and celebrate achievements. By fostering a sense of belonging and purpose, executives can cultivate a motivated and engaged team that works cohesively towards common goals. For more information on this, see my blog on team engagement here: Go to blog

4. Slow Progress/Productivity: Lack of Results

In the Game of Business, Executives are accountable to the Board for getting results, and when those results don’t go your way, stress ensues. This can be the biggest fear of any leader, because it will affect relationships across the company, and even outside it.

Coping Strategy 4: Accept That You Can’t Win All The Time

There is no game or competitive sport where you will win all the time.  Failure is never what we intend, nor is it nice, but likewise, it should not be life threatening, either.  f we can analyse the cause of a loss, learn from it and use it to work better next time, then we can embrace it as just part of the game we are playing. Oh, and when you do win, make sure you celebrate and give credit to those that worked hard, and showed the values you are tyring to instil in the business.

5. Lack of Support: Nobody Understands or Listens

Human beings are social creatures.  Solitary confinement has been banned as a form of punishment because of the negative impact it can have on a person’s long term mental wellbeing. Social isolation and a lack of support are probably the major causes of suicide. They say it is lonely at the top – you don’t want to talk about your weaknesses to your bosses, peers or subordinates. Family and friends won’t understand, or you don’t want to burden them.  So you internalise it, come up with excuses, blame others or just deny that there is a problem at all.

Coping Strategy 5: Don’t Wait for Help to Come, Go Find it

You have to take ownership of this one, and go and find somebody to talk to, even if you have to pay them.  Everybody needs support. Top athletes and executives work with professional coaches.   Entrepreneurs seek out mentors, or business groups to externalise their issues.  A problem shared is a problem halved, even if that person is not there to give you the answer, but just to listen and help you solve your own problems.  Talking through things is the medicine you need, even if you think it tastes bad, it will be doing you good.

6. Lack of Sleep: What Is Keeping You Up at Night?

Lack of sleep is partly a cause and partly a symptom of stress.  But either way, it is a great way to self diagnose, because as if you are stressed ,you will most likely be struggling to sleep. Turning to alcohol or drugs to induce sleep or avoid the mental anguish are another sign that you are stressed, and need to take action.

Coping Strategy 6: Sleep Is the Cure, You Have To Find a Way

The latest neural science shows the negative effect of a lack of sleep, and the positive effect of the right amount of sleep. They say if you have a problem then sleep on it, and they are right. Sleep is your body’s way to regenerate itself and empty your mental bucket of stress. During sleep, you flush out all those chemicals and hormones that you have used to get you through the day, and rest the body and mind ready to deal with another day. But if you don’t get enough sleep, those chemicals build up, and after a while, they become toxic.  It has been proven in lab rats that to go 12 days without sleep is fatal, with the body turning on itself and shutting down.

Don’t think that sleeping pills or alcohol aid sleep either. All they do is render you unconscious, and you don’t then benefit from the healing effect of real sleep.  So, if you’re not getting enough sleep, it’s imperative to find a way to start sleeping well.  Dealing with the issues above will be a starting point.  Exercise, other hobbies and socialising, that take your focus to another place are a must. Talk to a sleep expert or Therapist if you have to, but remember it is down to you to find your way to achieving a good night’s sleep.

In conclusion, the role of an executive is inherently demanding, but it need not be overwhelming. By understanding the causes of stress in the workplace and implementing effective coping strategies, executives can lead with resilience, ensuring both personal and organisational success. Embracing a proactive approach to managing stress not only enhances the well-being of executives, but also sets the tone for a thriving and productive workplace.