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Leading by Example: Prioritizing Executive Mental Health

Leading by Example: Prioritizing Executive Mental Health

Continuing the theme of mental health awareness this May, we explore how prioritizing executive mental health in the workplace plays a key role in organizational culture and success.

The world is quickly becoming more fast-paced, the competitive landscape is growing and processes are continually evolving, leaving executives with multiple, ever changing roles and responsibilities within the workplace. With executives bearing so much responsibility at work, they often neglect important areas of their own wellbeing, including their mental health. Not only does prioritizing the mental health of executives benefit the individual themselves, but it also has a significant impact on the overall culture and success of an organization. Managers should not only lead by example in work initiatives but they should also lead by example when it comes to prioritizing mental health and wellbeing.

Understanding Executive Mental Health

Top-level executives often have a lot on the go -  whether it be managing team members, executing strategy or driving an organization forward, they are typically the last to catch a break. The common mental wellbeing issues experienced in the workplace are stress, depression and anxiety, with stress being the most prevalent at approximately 76%. A work-life balance can be difficult to maintain as an executive due to the fact that they are often held to high standards and the outcomes of their decisions are attached to great accountability. This makes it challenging for executives to not “bring work home”, as thoughts around workplace decisions consume significant mental capacity. In a recent survey published by Microsoft, it was found that more than half of managers (53%) experience burnout at work. Burnout can happen as a result of excessive workload, long working hours, lack of recognition or reward, and no support. If executives are burnt out or facing mental health battles, they are not only less likely to be productive, but the risk of them looking for alternative opportunities also increases, ultimately posing a significant threat to an organization's success.

Recognizing the signs and symptoms

Approximately 1 in 4 employees silently struggle from mental health related issues at work, emphasizing how important it is to be aware of employee behavior and to regularly check in. Executives seldom complain about workload or their stress levels, because they want employees to believe that everything is in good order, for them to remain productive and focused on their own work. There are however a few common signs and symptoms that can indicate whether an executive’s mental health may be at risk.

Here are 5 common signs to look out for:

  1. Low levels of engagement
  2. Decreased productivity
  3. Increased absence
  4. Disinterest in social gatherings
  5. Changes in usual working patterns

Breaking the stigma

Mental health has been stigmatized for many years, resulting in a number of people suffering silently and not receiving the support that they need. Many may think that it's taboo for individuals in executive positions to face mental health challenges. Those in leadership may feel that they have to ‘lead by example’ by always working, but in reality they are not only aiding the downfall of their own mental health challenges, but also creating a toxic work culture. By executives advocating for mental health and wellbeing, and demonstrating their advocacy through actions in the workplace, employees are more likely to be engaged and the stigma around mental health possibly reduced, resulting in a more inclusive work culture.

Leading by example

If executives prioritize their own mental health and advocate for a work culture that places importance on mental wellbeing, employees will be more inclined to be open with their managers in speaking about mental health related issues, resulting in them feeling like they are a part of a safe, inclusive work culture.

Here are a few ways you can lead by example as an executive when it comes to prioritizing mental health in the workplace:

Be honest and vulnerable - speaking about your own challenges can break stigma around mental health at work and assist others in sharing their experiences, creating a culture of connection and belonging.

Regularly reach out or check in - ensure you are having regular conversations with your direct reports. By doing this, you’re able to notice any changes and offer your support if they’re going through a hard time. If you do notice anything different in the behaviour or working pattern, ask them if there is anything you can do to support them. Be careful not to probe too much, as this may not be appreciated and you may lose their trust.

Do as you say - saying that you prioritize mental wellbeing and that you encourage work life balance is one thing, but following through with action is what is most important if you want to create a culture based on trust and loyalty.

Self care strategies

Despite the job title or role that someone fills in the workplace, it is important for everyone to take care of their mental health. Mental health affects the way we feel, think and act, having a significant impact on our work, people we connect with and the culture we create.

Here are some self-care strategies that executives can make use of when prioritizing their mental health:

  • Set boundaries - make sure you set boundaries between your work and personal life. This will enable you to focus on work when it’s required, but also allow you to relax and spend time doing the things that you enjoy when you aren’t working.
  • Delegate and prioritize - to ease the burden of juggling multiple tasks, delegate specific tasks to other team members and execute the tasks that you need to complete in order of priority.
  • Be open and transparent - speak to your manager about any current challenges you may be facing.
  • Have a hobby/hobbies - make sure you have something or a few things that you enjoy doing outside of work. Whether that be cycling, spending time with friends or family, fishing or baking, these hobbies will contribute to a healthy work-life balance.


In conclusion, by prioritizing mental health, executives lead by example, breaking the stigma around mental health issues and creating a safe space for other employees to express their concerns and share their experiences. To prioritize mental health, executives should implement various self care strategies that focus on alleviating the burden of managing multiple tasks, such as setting boundaries, delegating tasks and having hobbies outside of work. It’s important to note that prioritizing mental health is not a weakness. Often executives believe that they need to put on a “brave face”  to ensure that their direct reports respect and feel confident in them, however leaders prioritizing mental health and openly addressing mental health related issues will give employees an even greater sense of confidence in them.

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