Sustainability and mental health pressures prompt senior career transitions

A proactive approach to mental health and wellbeing may alleviate job changes at board level
23 Jan, 2023 • 4 minutes to read
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As the world emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, the ‘Great Resignation’ has regularly hit the headlines, as business experts predict more and more people will leave their jobs over the next twelve months and beyond. And, according to Bupa Global’s 2022 Executive Wellbeing Index, CEOs around the world are joining the movement. 

More than half (54 per cent) of business leaders reporting they’re planning major career changes in the next year including leaving their job, becoming consultants, reducing hours or stopping work.1

- Executive Wellbeing Index 2022

Bupa Global’s study finds that the US, Singapore, and the UK are expected to see the biggest number of CEO career changes – countries which also have some of the highest rates of burnout and poor mental health.2 Indeed, 20 per cent of CEOs say they’re currently experiencing burnout (29 per cent in the US, 22 per cent in the UK and 18 per cent in the UAE), and 23 per cent of executives globally say they need to prioritise a positive work-life balance.

So, with significant numbers of global bosses considering moving jobs, reducing working hours or even stopping work completely, it’s clear that something needs to change. We look at the pressures senior executives are facing – and explore ways they can take control of their mental health and wellbeing.

Why (and how) are executives feeling the pressure?

It’s no secret that business leaders today are facing unprecedented challenges. Bupa Global’s research revealed that repercussions of global conflict, stubborn inflation and a potential Global recession are all weighing heavily on leaders’ minds.

Added to these challenges is the growing pressure from boards and investors to deliver against sustainability ambitions. Indeed, meeting goals without impacting profits or operations in the current economic and geopolitical climate is now chief executives’ biggest daily worry, alongside their own wellbeing.

And the concerns don’t end there. 22 per cent of executives across the world are worried about ongoing ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic and 23 per cent are worried about personal financial stability.

The impact of these pressures appears to be significant – and disillusionment among CEOs is resulting in mood swings (20 per cent) and disturbed sleep (20 per cent). Concerningly, one in eight (12 per cent) are ‘not enjoying life’.3

It’s unsurprising that with these concerning symptoms, many executives are planning to make significant changes in their working life. But, how can executives alleviate their stresses and protect their mental health, without handing in their notice?

Tip 1: Build a culture that encourages a better work-life balance

One way to protect executive wellbeing (and indeed wellbeing throughout an organisation) is to encourage a better work-life balance. Currently, over a quarter (27 per cent) of executives say they work more than 60 hours a week, and the same number say that they regularly work weekends.4

Promisingly, since the pandemic, senior leaders are encouraging flexible working practices (44 per cent) and better support for mental health and wellbeing at work (52 per cent), believing work-life balance is key to maintaining a happy, healthy workforce. And more than half are enjoying hybrid working themselves (54 per cent).5

Of course, getting hybrid working right can be challenging, and for some companies requires rethinking their entire philosophy. But finding the right mix of flexible work arrangements that offer security and flexibility, providing recognition of a job well done and greater attention to mental health can all help retention of CEOs. Indeed, CEOs have the ability to lead from the top, and to build a culture which encourages more flexibility throughout an organisation – all the way to the top.

Tip 2: Take preventive action and address issues quickly

When it comes to mental health issues including stress and burnout, prevention is better than cure. And if they’re able to proactively address any looming issues, CEOs may be able to avoid having to take drastic action, like a job change or even stopping work entirely.

“CEOs may wield the power but they’re also accountable – and human. It’s understandable many will be feeling enormous pressure in today’s changing world and managing this effectively is incredibly important. When it comes to mental health, diagnosis delays can have a big impact on prognosis, so it’s crucial that business leaders work to address any issues as quickly as possible.”

- Dr Robin Clark, Medical Director for Bupa Global & UK

Dr Robin continues: “Take proactive advantage of the wellbeing services provided by your work or personal medical cover– rather than waiting until a crisis hits. This includes considering preventive measures to combat work related stress, treatments and therapies which are aimed at keeping you well, meaning you can do your job as well as possible – and enjoy it.”

Tip 3: Protect your physical health

When work is so busy, it can be difficult to make time for physical activity. Bupa’s research shows that nearly one in ten executives exercise less than once a week, and four per cent say they never exercise.

Of course, the amount and type of exercise a person can undertake varies greatly – not everyone can undertake the same activity – but it’s important to be active when and however you can, and to look for other ways to embrace a healthy lifestyle, such as eating and drinking the right things.

The good news is that executives realise the importance of physical fitness and are taking steps to improve their own. 26 per cent say they want to increase the amount of exercise they do over the next 12 months, in order to prevent physical or mental health issues in the future. And 23 per cent also say they want to improve their diet in order to better their health for the long-term.

Sources expand_more
  1. Executive Wellbeing Index 2022. Bupa Global. Accessed 06/03/24.
  2. Countries With the Best Mental Health, Compared to the Worst. Accessed 29/10/22.
  3. Executive Wellbeing Index 2022. Bupa Global. Accessed 06/03/24.
  4. Executive Wellbeing Index 2022. Bupa Global. Accessed 06/03/24.
  5. Executive Wellbeing Index 2022. Bupa Global. Accessed 06/03/24. 

This information was published by Bupa Global's Content Team and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence. It has been reviewed by appropriate medical or clinical professionals and deemed accurate on the date of review.

We review our content at least every three years to ensure it is fresh and relevant.

The information contained on this page and in any third-party websites referred to on this page is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice nor is it intended to be for medical diagnosis or treatment.


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