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3 Strategies for Coping With the Pressure of the C-Suite

Of course, C-suite executives have a significant amount on their plates when leading their respective areas of the company. And in many cases, the changes brought on by COVID-19 have worsened their stress and anxiety. Thankfully, there are some tried-and-tested ways to better manage their workloads, become more efficient and productive, and avoid stress and burnout in turn.

Burnout was a serious concern well before COVID-19, and the World Health Organization even recognized the phenomenon in 2019. Although entry- or mid-level employees certainly struggle with the day-in, day-out realities of their jobs, a study from Oracle and Workplace Intelligence suggests that members of the C-suite might be at an increased risk for potentially debilitating issues. This is a pressing problem considering that these effects could trickle down from the top leadership positions to impact entire companies.

According to their global survey, C-suite executives are more likely than their employees to struggle with the changes wrought by COVID-19, and 85% indicate they’ve faced significant challenges throughout this shift. Collaboration, stress management, and learning new technologies have all proved problematic for leaders, and that’s contributing to a crisis where more than half (53%) of C-suite executives experience mental health struggles.

Considering that many of the workplace changes sparking stress in the C-suite could become permanent even after vaccine rollouts are complete, there’s a pressing need for a solution.

Combatting Stress Across the C-Suite

To help alleviate strain and work more efficiently, members of the C-suite should explore these three strategies:

  1. Find ways to cut down on meetings. Meetings are meant to solidify objectives and get everyone on the same page, but it’s hard to deny that many meetings leave participants feeling even less clarity than before (or perhaps worse, that the meeting was simply a waste). In a survey by the University of North Carolina, 71% of senior managers called meetings “unproductive and inefficient,” and 65% said they were an obstacleto accomplishing work.
    There are myriad ways to address the avalanche of meetings many C-suite employees attend and lead. Implementing additional collaboration tools can cut down on the need for face-to-face (or virtual) interactions. Setting companywide quiet hours or no-meetings days can also preserve periods of productivity. (For example, the CEO of One Month, an online coding course provider, strictly holds meetings on Wednesdays.) Explore all these options and find the one that works best for you.
  2. Embrace artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies. Artificial intelligence might still be in its early stages, but it has come a long way since its infancy. Although it plays a role in solving a vast and growing array of problems, many of its most successful solutions are designed to automate mundane tasks and give workers time to tackle more complex problems.
    One 2018 survey found that 75% of executives anticipated this type of cognitive technology would transform their companies in the near future. The survey also revealed that the most successful projects were those that applied AI to “enhance business processes,” as opposed to the incredibly ambitious use cases.
    After all, AI isn’t a silver bullet — but it can accomplish incredible things when appropriately applied. According to Chen Amit, co-founder and CEO of Tipalti, “AI can also play a role in helping team members act as strategists. That’s because providing teams with the right technology and automation capabilities allows everyone to be more strategic and impactful on a day-to-day basis. Instead of being inundated with mundane or transactional tasks, they’re now able to focus on work that truly elevates the business.”
    Why not implement AI-powered chatbots to alleviate the strain on customer service representatives or utilize AI security solutions to ease the burden on IT teams, for instance? By alleviating stress and freeing up time for all employees, leaders in the C-suite stand to benefit, too. Explore all your options, and remember that AI is an investment whose return will eventually eclipse its upfront cost.
  3. Use up those PTO days. You might intuit from your own experience that vacation actually helps you return to work feeling energized and refreshed, but research from Project: Time Off helps make those assumed benefits much more tangible. According to the firm’s findings, 78% of managers agree employees come back from vacation with renewed focus, and 81% report that vacation is a successful way to combat burnout. It goes without saying that these benefits apply to people across the organization — including the C-suite.
    There’s a problem, however: Many employees fail to use all their vacation days and reap the full mental health and productivity benefits of time away, but executives struggle even more. The majority of executives fail to use up their yearly vacation time. Likewise, just 7% of senior leadership totally unplugs while away on vacation. All of this clearly sets the wrong tone for the rest of the organization. Fortunately, improving your own efficiency and becoming a better (and more rested) leader in this context should be easy: Allocate time to step away from work, and ensure your employees feel supported enough to do the same.
    Junior-level employees might imagine that once you reach the C-suite, you’ve made it. For most people, however, that’s where the work truly begins — and many executives and members of senior leadership work themselves to the bone and suffer the consequences, forgetting that the rest of the company is watching. Instead of grinding your way toward stress and burnout, follow the three steps above and align with the old adage of working smarter instead of harder.

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Rhett Power
Rhett Power is responsible for helping corporate leadership take the actions needed to drive impact and courage in their teams that will improve organizational performance. He is the author of The Entrepreneur’s Book of Actions: Essential Daily Exercises and Habits for Becoming Wealthier, Smarter, and More Successful (McGraw-Hill Education) and co-founder of Wild Creations, an award-winning start-up toy company. After a successful exit from the toy company, Rhett was named the best Small Business Coach in the United States. In 2019 he joined the prestigious Marshall Goldsmith's 100 Coaches and was named the #1 Thought Leader on Entrepreneurship by Thinkers360. He is a Fellow at The Institute of Coaching at McLean Hospital, a Harvard Medical School affiliate. He travels the globe speaking about entrepreneurship and management alongside the likes of former Gates Foundation CEO Sue Desmond-Hellmann and AOL Founder Steve Case. Rhett Power is an acclaimed author, leader, entrepreneur and an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. You can follow him on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.