Is being a CEO bad for your health?

I spoke with a group recently and after I completed the presentation one of the attendees engaged me in a great conversation regarding organizations and health.  Being a former YMCA staff member and a long-time member and user of the Y for my own exercise program I found the conversation to be of great interest, value and concern.

Being at the top of your profession can buy you a lavish lifestyle, but could being a CEO be bad for your health?

A few days after our conversation my colleague sent me a link to the article “Why being a CEO should come with a health warning”, written by Mark Tutton for CNN, but based upon research and a book written by Steve Tappin.  It is extraordinary to see the multiple challenges that this top role brings and it brings into question whether most people would really want the down-side that comes with this prestigious role in many organizations.

Let me share a few of the key points of the article:

  • CEOs are “frustrated, disappointed and overwhelmed” in many cases
  • Half of the incumbents found the role to be lonely
  • Many CEOs found the role to be a huge challenge to their work-life balance

Let’s probe a little deeper into this subject.

Tappin makes some interesting comments from his research.  He says that two-thirds of CEOs are struggling and that they don’t really feel there is a place where they can learn to be CEOs.  Further research using the help of a neuroscientist using neurological and physiological tests shows that these senior leaders are overworked, overstressed and exhausted.  Not surprising information from my own personal observations.

Mike Roney, one of the CEOs interviewed, says in the book that “The CEOs role is solitary.  You really don’t have a peer group in the same way that you have when you are one of the other execs in the company.”

Another CEO quoted in the book who has been married twice is quoted in the book as saying “I don’t remember my boys growing up.”  In many cases you have to make a choice between your work and your family and the career typically wins.

A refreshing exception to this was Phillip Green, the CEO of a British firm, United Utilities.  Green has a “5 f formula” that helped him to balance his life: faith, family, fitness, fun and firm.  Not having firm first made a profound difference in how he approached his role.

Tappin suggests that CEOs should surround themselves with a support network.  This may include personal trainers and psychologists who can aid them in coping with the extreme pressures of the role.

I found it very interesting that something that many aspire to may not be as rewarding as you might think.  The ego and reward structure that come with this top-level role also has a number of strings attached that can be anchors that drag your life into deep areas that are hard to deal with.

Many organizations have little wellness infrastructure to help the top level, let alone the masses in the workplace.  At a time when the overall health outlook of our country has never been worse it may be high time to have an evolution, or perhaps a revolution, when it comes to health in the workplace.

I’ll write more about the current state of health in the workplace  and also spend some time talking about potential solutions that can aid organizations in making strategic long-term investments that will benefit the workforce and the bottom line.