Executive Burnout Syndrome and its Private Treatment Options in London

Burnout was a term that was first used by Herbert Freudenberger, in his book, Burnout: The High Cost of High Achievement. His original definition for burnout was “the extinction of motivation or incentive, especially where one’s devotion to a cause or relationship fails to produce the desired results.”

According to Dr Sherry, a consultant chartered clinical psychologist, with six areas of expertise ranging from trauma to executive coaching, ‘We are seeing more cases of burnout, but we’re not always identifying it.’ Dr Sherry believes that specific attention hasn’t been given to the idea that there is a wide spectrum of burnout. ‘There is a gender variance in how some of these things are expressed in terms of risk-taking and also internalisation or depression. Classically, there is a difference between a male executive who is disenfranchised and losing interest in his work or family and a female executive. The spectrum ranges from persons going on cocaine and champagne binges to persons who are just veering slightly off the rails.’

Signs and Symptoms of Executive Burnout.

Isolating and withdrawing from work related activities: when experiencing burnout you will start to see your job as overwhelmingly stressful and frustrating. You will start to view work and the people you work with negatively. You may not just physically distance yourself, but become emotionally absent too.

Physical aches and pains: consistently feeling under stress and pressure can be manifested physically. You may find yourself suffering from headaches, stomachaches or intestinal issues.

Emotional exhaustion: when experiencing burnout you may feel more tired than usual, unable to cope with situations you normally manage, emotionally drained and lacking the motivation or energy to get their work done.

Poor performance: burnout will have a negative affect on everyday tasks at work that you normally are able to manage easily. You may find yourself having difficulty concentrating, finding motivation or lacking inspiration and creativity.

Drug or alcohol abuse: some manifestations of burnout will involve drug and/or alcohol abuse. You may find that you have turned to drugs or alcohol to cope with the negative feelings or lack of energy and motivation. This can lead to a dependence on a substance which has its own ramifications. You may be dealing with fear of exposure and risk ruining your business reputation and potentially your career all of which is extremely anxiety inducing.

According to Dr Sherry, ‘There are many ruptures or triggers – the loss of a parent, a diagnosis of cancer (even when not life-threatening) or an extra-marital affair. Burnout comes from so many different things. We need to understand the dangers of bottling things up and just getting on with it. It is far better to address the problem and treat it, otherwise worse issues are likely to arise. Having a pro-active culture is vital.’

Recovering from Executive Burnout

Dr Sherry states that ‘burn-out is not just like a star exploding, as there is a full panoply of different manifestations.’ Thankfully he also acknowledges that ‘we can reverse many of those issues, oftentimes to huge positive benefit.’

Although it still remains true that business leaders shouldn’t be seen to be weak or particularly vulnerable, Dr Sherry thinks ‘the Teflon notion of leadership and identity is beginning to change, for good reason. Mental health is supremely important. The more that we don’t have this notion that it is static and doesn’t fluctuate, and the more that we don’t shame or stigmatise sufferers, the more we will all benefit. We need to have an honest and compassionate conversation in which we change the HNW community’s hypernorms.’

Whether or not an executive should take a week off work to deal with any mental or emotional health issues really depends how serious the problem is. The kind of treatment that should be sought is also important. The required treatment would depend on the specific and unique needs of every individual, which is why approaches such as Behavioural Wealth’s is tailored for each individual case. As Dr Sherry says, ‘You need the expertise to understand whether it’s an offensive or defensive situation. Is the person in meltdown and in desperate need of containment because of an addiction; or is it merely a situation where friends and family are noticing that things are a little bit off?’

However, ultimately the situation needs to be looked at from the point of view of what is best for both the company and the individual. When any business really analyses the cost of burnout: the human waste and how long it takes to train someone to fit within your company, the only right conclusion can be that to ignore burnout is not an option. As Dr Sherry concludes, ‘If a company does pastoral care correctly, it is less likely that dysfunctional leadership will create a toxic environment and less likely that it will lead to haemorrhaging of other skilled workers. If burnout issues can be worked through, the potential gains so far outweigh the challenges. The upside is enormous.’