C-Suite Stress

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Pressing deadlines, heavy workloads, traffic-heavy commutes, poor management, expensive lunches and time-consuming meetings. The thought of the workplace alone can often be stress-inducing. Of course, some aspects of our jobs fill us with a sense of joy and fulfilment, but oftentimes unexpected challenges arise, and it can be a little overwhelming – and stress is inevitable. 

While the demeanour and appearance of a business leader can often seem perfected, prompt and productive, beneath it all, everyone gets stressed. We are only human after all. In fact, most people living in our world today have what the World Health Organisation describes as Chronic Background Stress. It’s so ubiquitous that many of us don’t even notice it any more, because that’s just the way it is. So, within the fast-paced world of meetings, marketing and mayhem, just why are we so stressed, what is truly causing it and how do we cope? 

We surveyed the business leaders and senior management teams of the UK* to reveal all, alongside Founder of Beeja and Meditation Master, Will Williams, providing his advice and tips to a calmer work-headspace.

Stress in the Workplace

The ‘always on’ culture can often mean business leaders and managers tend to work way over their ‘normal’ working hours. However, when constantly running on overload, your health can be seriously impacted, with stress resulting in an overtaxed body and an overwhelmed mind. So just how often do we feel stressed, is it getting to us more than we think and just why exactly?

How Often do leaders feel Stressed in the Workplace?

  • 26% of respondents feel stressed several times a week
  • 22% of respondents feel stressed daily
  • 29% of business presidents/CEOs/chairpeople feel stressed daily 
  • 11% of owners say they never feel stressed 
  • 15% of people in a small business say they never feel stress (1-24 employees) 
  • 35% of directors say they feel stressed several times a week 

Causes of Stress in the Workplace

  • 58% of respondents put their stress down to heavy workloads
  • 56% of tech workers put their stress down to tight deadlines 
  • London – tight deadlines (65%)
  • Midlands – heavy workloads (57%)
  • North – heavy workloads (62%)
  • South – heavy workloads (60%) 
  • Scotland – heavy workloads (47%) and other members of staff (35%) 
  • Wales – tight deadlines (47%) and senior members of staff (35%) 
  • Northern Ireland – tight deadlines (56%)
  • By position – either tight deadlines or heavy workloads 
  • By sector  – either tight deadlines or heavy workloads 

“In many businesses and especially with people in senior roles, tech overload is one of the biggest causes of stress – never being able to switch off.  It is an adrenaline culture to get sh*t done that actually compromises physiological and neurological function and underpins mental health issues. In addition, there is a rampant culture of perfectionism which leads to negativity, misunderstandings, unattainable expectations, and LOTS of negative self-talk.”

Will Williams

Effects of Stress

Stress is your body’s way of responding to demand or danger. Ever heard of someone working better under pressure? Well, stress can help you stay focused, energetic and alert in the short term. It could even save your life in certain circumstances. However, beyond a certain point, stress stops being helpful and can cause serious damage to everything from your productivity to relationships. So, just what are the most common effects of stress? And how can these impact your work? 

Headaches

  • 17% of respondents suffer headaches from work-related stress several times a month 
  • 22% of senior tech workers suffer stress-related headaches at least once a week 
  • 21% of respondents in London suffer stress-related headaches at least once a week 

Depression & Unhappiness

  • 16% of senior management feel depressed and unhappy due to work-related stress several times a week 
  • 20% of Londoners in respondents feel depressed or unhappy due to work-related stress several times a week 
  • 19% of Presidents/CEOs/chairpeople feel depressed or unhappy due to work-related stress several times a week 

Sleeping Problems

  • 17% of respondents said they struggle to sleep at least once a week due to work-related stress
  • 19% of Presidents/CEOs/chairpeople struggle to sleep every day due to work-related stress

“When we don’t sleep well, we under-secrete happy hormones and over-secrete stress chemicals like cortisol and adrenaline, leaving us in a poor mood, and if chronic, significantly raising the probability of developing mental health issues.

“A lack of good quality sleep also means our prefrontal cortex (or CEO of the brain) doesn’t charge up, meaning we tend to lack focus, creativity, decision-making ability and empathy. 

“The meditation we teach charges up your prefrontal cortex so you can continue working without feeling strained by unexpected demands. You will be able to think clearly, make good decisions, prioritise tasks, come up with creative solutions and ultimately have more refined interpersonal skills.

“Lack of sleep also means that the part of your nervous system that mediates the fight or flight response – the sympathetic nervous system – is more actively engaged, meaning that you tend to be more reactive, aggressive, withdrawn, and fearful. 

“A lack of sleep can also increase the secretion of the hunger hormone, meaning you tend to eat more (and more junk food). This affects microbiome (gut bacteria) which impacts your mood, your physical health and self-esteem. It’s a very vicious cycle.”

Will Williams

Struggle to Doze Off? Will’s Top Tips

“The best pre-sleep methods that I’m aware of are yoga Nidra and binaural beats. However, if you have a really solid practice, you don’t need to use techniques before bed because your nervous system will also be calm. 

“I would also advocate making sure that the timing of mealtimes, bedtimes and screen time is in alignment with your body’s circadian rhythms rather than working against them.”

Unmotivated

  • 18% of respondents feel unmotivated at least once a week due to work-related stress 
  • 28% of senior tech workers feel unmotivated at least once a week due to work-related stress 
  • 20% of Presidents/ceos/chairpeople feel unmotivated due to work-related stress every day 

Lack of Concentration

  • 21% of respondents said they have a lack of concentration due to work stress at least once a week

Feeling Frustrated & Angry

  • 18% of respondents said they feel frustrated/angry at least once a week 
  • Tech workers more likely to feel angry and frustrated from work stress 

Feeling Anxious

  • 20% of respondents say they feel anxious from work stress at least once a week 
  • 11% of respondents feel anxious every day from work stress
  • 22% of presidents/CEOs/chairpeople feel anxious due to work-related stress every day 

Coping With Stress

Stress affects everyone in different ways, but people also cope with it in different ways. It’s a part of everyday life for many people in business, with it altering lifestyles and routines. The first step to dealing with stress is to recognise that it’s happening. The symptoms can be both mental and physical and often vary from person to person, but how do the majority deal? What are our coping mechanisms?

Meditate

  • 12% of respondents meditate every day 
  • Just under half (42%) have never meditated 
  • Londoners most likely to meditate to relieve stress – 19% meditate every day 
  • 22% of presidents/CEOs/chairpeople meditate every day 
  • 33% of CFOs/CTOs meditate several times a week 

Wanting to start practising mindfulness and meditation? Will’s Advice

“If you wish to dip your toe in the water, then apps like Beeja are the best bet, however, If you wish to shortcut your learning experience, then find a teacher who can help you perfect your technique in two or three classes. 

“In terms of technique, avoid concentration-based practises – they are the most difficult and frustrating, and not really suited to 21st-century life. Having travelled the world for years trying all sorts of techniques, it becomes very obvious that techniques designed for monks aren’t that well suited to busy lives.”

Alcohol

  • 14% of respondents drink alcohol every day to cope with stress, with 26% drinking several times a week 
  • 24% of Scots drink alcohol every day to cope with stress
  • 35% of Londoners drink alcohol several times a week to cope with stress
  • 25% of presidents/CEOs/chairpeople drink alcohol every day to cope with stress
  • 26% of owners/partners drink alcohol several times a week to cope with stress
  • 21% of directors drink alcohol several times a week to cope with stress
  • 25% of senior management drink alcohol several times a week to cope with stress

“Alcohol is a suppressant, so it helps numb pain temporarily, but the sting in the tail is that after it wears off,  it increases anxiety, aggression, depression and poor quality sleep. It also negatively impacts our microbiome, which will have a correspondingly negative impact on our brain and body, and gene expressions.

“If we resort to alcohol regularly, it is going to be detrimental to our mental and physical health in almost every way imaginable. Drink can be a great social tool, but if we are using it as a relaxant, then we are creating a very vicious dynamic for ourselves and are potentially storing up a whole world of trouble.”

Will Williams

Smoking

  • 24% of respondents smoke every day to cope with stress

Therapists

  • 19% of presidents/CEOs/chairpeople see a therapist several times a week to cope with stress
  • 17% of Londoners see a therapist  several times a week to cope with stress
  • 24%  

Family and Friends

  • 33% of respondents spend time with family and friends to relieve stress

Pets

  • 40% of respondents say they spend time with pets every day to relieve stress – the highest of any other coping method

“People feel unconditionally loved by their pets, and love is the most powerful emotion we can feel. Pets also don’t judge us, and in a world full of stressed and negative people who critique our every move, this is a very necessary outlet. Pets also give us a tactile experience, raising our hitherto deficient oxytocin levels, making us feel better about ourselves.”

Will Williams

Wellbeing at Work

The majority of us spend around eight (or more) hours at work most days. In fact, a huge one-third of people’s lives are spent at their place of work. Fostering a positive approach to wellbeing in the workplace is beneficial for everyone, from employees to senior management and the organisation overall. So, what are the true thoughts and feelings regarding stress in the workplace?

Talking About Work Stress

  • 32% feel comfortable talking about stress with colleagues 
  • 16% of owners say they feel very uncomfortable talking about stress with colleagues 

’There is a Stigma Around Talking About Stress and Mental Health Issues at My Workplace’

  • 26% strongly agree 
  • 32% somewhat agree 
  • 34% of Londoners strongly agree
  • 41% of presidents, CEOs, chairpeople strongly agree 
  • Higher % of agreement in high turnover companies 

Does Your Business Currently Have a Policy in Place to Improve Employee Wellbeing?

  • 35% say no
  • 51% in London say yes

Those Who Don’t Have a Wellbeing Policy

  • 64% want a policy 

Wellbeing Policy

  • 87% of respondents believe having a wellbeing policy in place brings benefits 
  • Main benefits reduced anxiety among staff and staff seem happier (54%) 
  • In tech – employees seem more creative (57%) 

As Part of Your Wellbeing Policy, Do You Provide Opportunities For Meditation?

  • 39% don’t provide 

“Meditation can help to calm down the activation of the amygdala, which triggers the fight or flight response. This means that the nervous system is more balanced, you have less cortisol and adrenaline, you feel mentally sharper, without the edginess that comes from using stress as your driver”

Will Williams
  • You tend to be more collaborative than competitive with your colleagues. 
  • You tend to praise more than criticise. 
  • You get your work done without fuss. 
  • You can make balanced decisions rather than fear-driven ones. 
  • You can switch off at the end of the day, meaning you have a more fulfilling personal life which is absolutely fundamental to a long term successful work life.
  • You can process the tensions and emotions without committing them on clients, colleagues and bosses.

“With time and practice, your actions become founded upon inspiration rather than stress, meaning everything feels lighter, more enjoyable, more creatively inspired, and ultimately more fulfilling. It’s also much more sustainable as an approach.”

Will Williams

Will’s Quick Solutions To Feel Less Stressed At Work

If you’re in a meeting, feeling your feet on the floor and focusing on your breath are good ways to keep yourself on an even keel.

After that, the best tip is strategic application of meditation before and after work so that you don’t get stressed during the day! 

It is much better to proactively preempt stress rather than reactively try and calm it down – because once those adrenals are pumping as if your life depends on it, it’s a bit late – the biological horse has bolted.


*THIS SURVEY ONLY REFERS TO BUSINESS LEADERS/SENIOR MANAGEMENT 

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