Some leaders have already led the way out. A CEO turnover report by Challenger, Gray & Christmas showed first-quarter CEO departures from U.S. companies in 2022 increased 29% compared to Q1 of 2021.
A revelation in the Deloitte survey was that both executives and employees are struggling to prioritize their well-being during the pandemic. Stress and exhaustion are underpinnings of the Great Resignation—a phenomenon triggered by Covid-19—and burnout has afflicted executives as much as the rank-and-file. That’s largely because they wrestle with more responsibilities related to culture and workers’ rising demands. Leaders find themselves scrambling to keep their company’s head above water at the same time they’re trying to keep their best employees from abandoning ship.
Thus, more leaders are more engaged in supporting employees’ mental health, balancing achieving business results with creating a great employee experience (which includes leaders adjusting to a workforce that overwhelmingly favors remote work), driving diversity and inclusion initiatives, and providing more overall support (technological, etc.) to help them do their jobs better.
Meanwhile, executives also are human beings with needs of their own to be addressed. And they’re not all monetary. Leaders are burned out not only because they have to do more to help the workforce, but also because their company’s culture doesn’t consistently support or sustain their well-being.
Here are some steps organizations can take to keep executives from burning out and have a better chance of retaining them:
• Give them an open forum, and listen. One major mistake business owners and top company leaders make is assuming other C-Suite executives are doing OK—with the compensation, workload, job satisfaction, etc. This is partly due to the fact many high-level leaders don’t want to sound off about personal gripes and be seen as complainers. They don’t want others to see them sweat.
But bottled-up frustrations and concerns lead to poor mental health on the job and resignations, so it’s incumbent on the people paying their salaries to reach out for regular check-ins. Let your CEO and other executives talk without judgment, and really listen. Maintaining a culture of open dialogue, starting with your top leaders, can set the stage for company-wide transparency and an improved ability to adapt to the needs of both leaders and the most valued workers.
• Offer generous incentives. Though an executive’s salary is the main incentive for most, additional incentives may help to convince them that you believe in them and desire a long-term relationship to help guide your company. Some extra benefits that talented execs may want include exclusive club memberships, a free vacation every couple of years, generous bonus programs, a paid sabbatical, tuition reimbursement or a luxury car service, among others. Meanwhile, make sure you get the basic benefits right (retirement plan, life and health insurance, profit-sharing), making family the highest priority. For example, offering paid time off for new parents shows an executive that they and their family are essential to the company.
• Give them the right resources. Given the many changes in the workplace and business in general since Covid started, this category has never been more important. “Resources” means both the technology and talent, enabling teams to perform better and giving leaders the space to truly lead and advance the company by using their special soft skills—coaching, painting the big picture, thinking outside the box and inspiring—instead of spending so much time on tedious tasks, which burn them out. Provide them with training and toolkits about how to navigate being more inclusive in the workplace. Make it easier for leaders to access support materials.
• Provide career development. While some leaders have too many challenges today, one key to keeping them is to give them the kinds of challenges that motivate them and can fuel their growth—and by extension, the company’s. Another must to prevent them from straying is to show them the arc of advancement that is possible by meeting those challenges.
Leaders are goal-oriented, and an unchallenged executive is often an unhappy leader who ultimately will find the door. Top executives often flourish in high-stakes situations, showing their ability to adjust and overcome. It’s important that the company partner with the executive regarding growth and advancement and that such goals are established and clarified. By tapping into their inherent competitiveness, giving them opportunities for continuous learning and development that lead to achieving higher goals will encourage them to stay.
• Have sustainable change management. At a time of massive change for many companies, it’s easy for executives to get lost and exhausted between trying to help implement change, understanding the “why” behind it, and helping the rank-and-file deal with it. For both large and small businesses, the organization is more likely to lose its top executive talent if they fail to effectively manage change in the company and ensure long-term sustainability.
Owners should ensure that any structural or cultural change in the organization is suitable to their top executive talent in order to avoid losing them to competitors. Working with a dedicated change leader or manager who acts as a liaison with HR and other departments to manage change effectively and sustainably can help you retain C-Suite members. Work with leaders to reassess targets and productivity; they need time to regroup and the flexibility to give their team breathing space in times of significant change.
There needs to be a cultural shift in how organizations support leaders. Employers must understand their executives both as people and professionals, and they must understand their motivations in order to keep them engaged. Keeping them as the leaders of your organization can be directly tied to keeping your company on track to a bright future.
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