Its lonely at the top

It is widely acknowledged that to have CEO level of success you have to have a certain personality, drive and clear thinking but Shaw argues that the increasingly fast pace of life this decade is causing CEO’s to neglect their mental and subsequent physical health.

Dr Lynda Shaw says: “As CEO’s are responsible for most high level strategic decisions in the corporate world, it can be incredibly intense, and dealing with this level of continued pressure can be detrimental to their own wellbeing and personal lives. Rising to the influential position of CEO may seem the height of success and glamour on the surface with the wealth, authority and influence that goes with it, but the flip side is CEO’s are increasingly sleep-deprived, stressed and lonely at the top.

“Sleep is more important than food in the short term for survival but long term sleep deprivation is also known to be linked to high blood pressure, heart attacks, stroke and obesity. A lack of sleep and unpredictable sleeping patterns also affect your mood and behaviour tending to make us very irritable and short tempered, causing a strain on relationships. A severe lack of sleep will leave you energy-less, unable to do the things you enjoy in life which can be a part of the downward spiral leading into depression.”

Modern technology allows us to be available constantly 24/7 which has advantages but it also has huge disadvantages, as we are increasingly unable to switch off and relax without thoughts of work. Shaw says: “In evolutionary terms, the brain hasn’t structurally evolved for many thousands of years but one thing we do know is that the human brain adapts brilliantly. It adapts all the time. It is, however, vital that we don’t feel overwhelmed, for if we do cortisol the stress hormone plays havoc on neurotransmitters and our mental and physical wellbeing. In my opinion, it is incredibly important to seek respite from work on a daily basis, even if we love or are very driven by what we do.”

“It can also be very lonely making cut-throat decisions that can affect any number of people within an organisation. We get to the top because we are able to make those sorts of decisions but there is a tendency for CEO’s to get caught up on the strategic side of a company and to lose touch with the company’s operations and staff, not to mention their own families and friends.”

Top management can often be unaware of what’s happening further down in the organisational hierarchy and oblivious to the hours of hard labour invested by more junior colleagues. The recession forced companies to streamline their operations, bottom line cuts were made and unemployment rose. Shaw believes as a result, uncertainty and a lack of trust are common amongst the UK’s workforce. “CEO’s need to rebuild these relationships and regain the trust and commitment of their employees to move forward. After all, the success of any company is down to the combined efforts of all employees and not just the members on the board. Having better staff relationships is also important to stop the isolation of the CEO.”

Dr Shaw believes another way to reduce isolation of the CEO is for them to join relevant networking groups. “High flying networking groups can be of huge advantage to CEO’s. The CEO’s success makes finding someone to confide in very difficult, but the business world is also about connections, and talking to like-minded individuals can be very beneficial especially in reducing isolation.”

Shaw argues that living the fast life is not going to help the already sleep–deprived and possibly lonely CEO and that stress management is key to survival. Dr Shaw provides some stress management tips for the CEO.

1. Ensure fun and humour is in your life. Laughter is said to reduce stress hormones such as cortisol and epinephrine (aka adrenaline). Humour of course will also distract you from the stressful situation.

2. Avoid smoking, drinking alcohol or taking pills or drugs to cope with day to day stress. They may make you feel better in the short term but they will cause harm to your body in the long run.

3. Plan in and don’t rearrange family time and fun with friends.

4. Leave work at work when you can. Practise turning off your BlackBerry or disable work emails during the evenings and at weekends, so that you’re not constantly distracted by thoughts of work during your ‘downtime’.

5. Make sure you find the time to relax and unwind so if you have to plan downtime into your schedule! Even on a hectic day, just 10 or 15 minutes where you can read a book, go for a walk, watch a bit of TV or listen to some music will help recharge your batteries. Step away from the desk!

6. Keep active and make time for exercise – this will boost your energy levels, improve concentration and ultimately help you get things done more efficiently. Do exercise you enjoy rather than one that is a chore so you are more likely to do it. Go for a walk with friends.

7. Make sure you fully enjoy the time you spend away from work, by doing things that you will really look forward to. Don’t over-plan but have a social event such as a family day out or cinema trip in your diary so you feel you have done something with the feel good factor.