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CEOs and Executives are often functioning at a high capacity and are highly goal oriented. They are often highly functional at work, have a competitive and “go getter” personality, and are typically interested in further optimization and enhancement of their work performance and motivation. This is because they play an important role in an organization. CEOs and Executives influence organizational effectiveness, organizational financial performance, and collective organizational commitment. Important roles like these require higher levels of functioning.[1]

CEOs and Executives often work long hours, may travel a lot, and are highly dedicated to their careers. Work-life balance can be difficult and they may feel the impact of loneliness. The work-life balance stress may cause relationship difficulties in their personal lives with their partner or child(ren).[2]Relationship issues with family can impact work performance.[3]

Another issue that CEOs & Executives face is that their performance at work may suffer due to high levels of stress and burnout. Burnout often happens over the course of years and may affect job performance, concentration, and motivation levels. Stress experienced by Executives and CEOs may be due to high job demands, low job resources, role ambiguity, work overload, and organizational politics, to name a few.[4]

  • In 2010, workers employed in management and professional occupations were more likely to report being highly stressed than workers in blue-collar jobs.
  • In 2010, 1 in 4 Canadians reported being highly stressed.
  • In 2010, 73% of all working adults aged 20 to 64 reported at least some level of stress. Thirty-seven percent reported that they were highly stressed.
  • In 2012, executives work an average of 50.7 hours per week. Twenty-five percent work more than 55 hours per week, which has been shown to significantly increase the risk for cardiovascular diseases and depression. Working extended hours decreases mental capacity and performance, which leads to higher error rates.
  • Workload for executives have also remained to be high and 46% indicate that this high workload contributes to a decrease in their work/life balance.
  • Many non-for-profit executive directors are highly stressed and often obtain the least amount of support for the most challenging tasks that they are working on.
  • Executives are more stressed than 75% of Canadian adults. The majority of executives say that most days are very stressful.
  • In 2010, 62% of stressed people described their mental health as less than good.
  • In 2010, 49% of stressed people described their physical health as less than good.
  • In 2010, 62% percent of highly stressed people identified work as their main source of stress.
  • Twenty percent of executives use medications to treat depression, anxiety, or insomnia.
  • Twenty-one percent of executives use professional counselling services. They seek counselling from physicians and psychologists to deal with work-related stress issues that are not only affecting their work performance but their personal lives as well.
  • Avoidance of work
  • Decreased job satisfaction
  • Reduced productivity and efficiency
  • Lower job performance
  • Lower organizational commitment and creativity
  • Difficulty falling asleep or waking up too early
  • Unhappiness
  • Depersonalization or detachment
  • Frustration
  • Cynicism
  • Isolation
  • Irritation
  • “I have all this work that I still need to finish and I am worried I will not be able to finish it by the deadline.”
  • “I do not want to fail and embarrass myself and my team.”
  • “I feel like this work is never ending. We are working diligently and around the clock, but we don’t seem to be making much progress.”
  • “Sometimes I do not want to go to work and dread waking up in the morning.”

Constant stress takes a toll on the body and here are some of the physical effects of burnout:

  • Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Muscle aches
  • Fatigue
  • High blood pressure
  • Increased vulnerability to illnesses
People who are experiencing stress and burnout, usually have an enlarged amygdala (a region in the brain that plays a role in emotional reactions such as fear and aggression)[10] and a weaker connection between the amygdala and the anterior cingulate cortex (a region in the brain that is linked to the processing of emotional content).[11] This suggests that a person will likely experience emotional distress and also have difficulty processing stress responses when he/she experiences occupational burnout.

Overworked people also showed a weaker connection between the activity in the amygdala and the medial prefrontal cortex (a region in the brain that is involved in executive function). This means that the person is likely to be unable to easily access his/her rational, thinking, and problem-solving part of the brain when he/she is stressed.[10]

The normal effects of aging, such as the thinning of the frontal cortex (an area of the brain that is essential to cognitive functioning), was also more prominent among those who experience burnout. As the person continues to experience stress, the brain will continue to be impacted and may lead the person to experience difficulties with memory, attention, and emotional regulation.[9]

  • Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT): Researchers show that CBT is effective in reducing emotional exhaustion,[12] Depression, and Anxiety.[13] CEOs and Executives whose work performance is affected by these issues are likely to benefit from this type of therapy. Addressing the issues that affect work performance will open opportunities for performance improvement and prevent burnout. Additionally, CBT can be used for performance enhancement when the CEO or Executive is already functioning at a high level.
  • Mindfulness Therapy (MT): Researchers show that MT Interventions are effective in reducing psychological distress,[14] Depression, and Anxiety[15] and help address work performance issues in CEOs and Executives whose work performance is affected by these issues. Work performance are often enhanced when the blocks to improvement are removed or addressed.
  • Emotionally Focused Couples and Family Therapy (EFT): Researchers show that EFT is an effective treatment for relationship distress and conflict. The aim is to help people develop ways to meet each other’s needs[16] within the professional relationship. This could be helpful for CEOs and Executives who are experiencing burnout due to communication and work relationship issues.
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR): Researchers show that EMDR is effective in treating traumatic experiences, whether these are small traumas (such as relationship betrayals, workplace bullying, or being overburdened by multiple demanding projects) or whether these are large traumas (such as assault).[17] EMDR is also helpful for CEOs and Executives who want to enhance their performance when they are already functioning at a high level.

A person who is in a high-power, high-intensity position often has endless responsibilities and numerous important tasks that they are managing simultaneously. This may become exhausting after a while. In turn, here are a few tips on how to prevent burnout and ensure that your performance is at its highest:

  • Seek help in the form of social support. Support networks can include friends, family, or a Psychologist.
  • Utilize relaxation techniques and exercise on a daily basis.
  • Take a break. The body and the mind need to rest in order to function at it optimal.
  • Understand and accept the feelings and expectations that accompany burnout. Being aware of burnout and its consequences can help prevent it in the future.

Stress from work and burnout may hinder a person from giving his or her best performance at work and may impact important relationships. It also affects the person emotionally, cognitively, and physically. At Hopewell Psychological, therapies will be tailored to the needs of CEOs and Executives who are concerned with decreasing stress, anxiety, and depression and who are interested in the enhancement and optimization of their performance. We are also available day and evenings, online or in person, and have multiple locations that can accommodate your schedule.


[1] Colbert, A.E., Barrick, M.R., & Bradley, B.H. “Personality and Leadership Composition in Top Management Teams: Implications for Organizational Effectiveness.” Personnel Psychology. 67. 2 (2014): 351-387. DOI: 10.1111/peps.12036.

[2] Stock, R.M., Bauer, E.M., & Bieling, G.I. “How do top executives handle their work and family life? A taxonomy of top executives’ work-family balance.” The International Journal of Human Resource Management. 25. 13 (2013): 1815-1840. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09585192.2013.860383.

[3] Reina, C. S., Peterson, S.J., & Zhang, Z. “Adverse effects of CEO family-to-work conflict on firm performance.” Organization Science. (2017): 228-243. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1287/orsc.2017.1114

[4] Dishon-Berkovitz, M. “Burnout: Contributing and protecting factors within the work-family interface.” Journal of Career Development 4.6 (2014): 467-486. DOI: 10.1177/0894845313512181.

[5] Crompton, S. “What’s stressing the stressed? Main sources of stress among workers.” Statistics Canada. 2015. Web. May 2017.

[6] Association of Professional Executives of the Public Service of Canada. “Synopsis of APEX 2012 Work and Health Survey.” APEX. (2013). http://www.apex.gc.ca/uploads/key%20priorities/health/2012%20health%20survey%20results%20-%20eng.pdf

[7] HR Council for the Non-Profit Sector. “Driving Change: A National study of Canadian non-profit Executive Leaders.” (2012): 1-53.

[8] Sharma, Radha R. & Cooper, Cary. “Executive Burnout: Eastern and Western concepts, models, and approaches for mitigation.” Bingley, UK: Emerald Group Publishing Limited. 2017. Print.

[9] “Stress and Burnout.” Correctional Service Canada. 2015. Web. May 2017.

[10] Savic, Ivanka. “Structural Changes of the Brain in Relation to Occupational Stress.” Cerebral Cortex 25 (2015): 1554-1564. doi:10.1093/cercor/bht348

[11] Golkar, A., Johansson, E., Kasahara, M., Osika, W., Perski, A., & Savic, I. “The influence of work-related chronic stress on the regulation of emotion and on functional connectivity in the brain.” PLOS ONE. 9 (2014): E104550. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0104550.

[12] Maricutoiu, Laurentiu P., Sava, Florin A., & Butta Oana. “The Effectiveness of Controlled Interventions on Employees’ Burnout: A meta-analysis.” Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology 89.1 (2016): 1-27. DOI: 10.1111/joop.12099.

[13] Watts, Sarah E., Turnell, Adrienne, Kladnitski, Natalie, Newby, Jill M., Andrews, Gavin. “Treatment-as-usual (TAU) is anything but usual: A meta-analysis of CBT versus TAU for anxiety and depression.” Journal of Affective Disorders 175 (2015): 152-167. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2014.12.025.

[14] Virgili, Mario. “Mindfulness-Based Interventions Reduce Psychological Distress in Working Adults: A meta-analysis of intervention studies.” Mindfulness. (2013): 10.1007/s12671-013-0264-0.

[15] Strauss, C.,  Cavanagh, K., Oliver, A., & Pettman, D. “Mindfulness-Based interventions for people diagnosed with a current episode of an Anxiety or Depressive Disorder: A meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials.” PLOS ONE 9.4 (2014): E96110. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0096110.

[16] Carr, A. “The Evidence Base for Couple Therapy, Family Therapy, and Systemic Interventions for adult-focused problems.” Journal of Family Therapy 36.2 (2014): 158-194. DOI: 10.1111/1467-6427.12033.

[17] Cusack, K., Jonas, D.E., Forneris, C.A., Wines, C., Sonis, J., Middleton, J., Cook, F.C., Brownley, K.A., & Olmsted, K.R. “Psychological treatments for adults with posttraumatic stress disorder: A systematic review and meta-analysis.” Clinical Psychology Review 43. (2016): 128-141. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr.2015.10.003

[18] McCormack, N. & Cotter, C. “Managing Burnout in the Workplace.” Oxford: Chandos Publishing. 2013. Print.

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