Can workplace culture be a significant contributing factor to chronic illness in senior leaders? The culture dictates the story that must be played out and each staff member has a role to play in that story. The senior leader must be decisive, highly resilient and infallible and set an example of strength for all to follow.
However this story fails to acknowledge the reality that all staff at every level of an organisation experiences workplace stressors. Not everyone has a variety of coping strategies to draw upon. For all of us, regardless of hierarchy, our psychological health fluctuates over time.
So what happens when a senior leader doesn’t feel resilient, when they do feel like they are not coping and they can’t tell anyone? Usually it is a downward spiral from there. Issues impacting on the senior leader are not resolved because the issues aren’t known about and therefore can’t be addressed. So the negative consequences continue to burden the senior leader and worsening health conditions usually become prevalent.
The economic burden of illness in those occupying senior leadership roles is conservatively estimated to be $27 billion.
The Centre for Workplace Leadership and Department of Management and Marketing (The University of Melbourne) are conducting a study into illness amongst senior leaders, and seeks to better understand how perceived stigma impacts disclosure rates in the workplace.
The study will also explore the extent of concerns around reputation or status loss, and judgements about ability to perform and lead.
Surely an organisation that places emphasis on health and wellbeing does so for all workplace participants. But is this viewpoint supported by the real cultural story being lived out within the senior ranks of the organisation?
One organisation that encourages staff to speak up about illness and reach out for support as early as possible is the Victorian Police. However, the Victorian Police Commissioner has only recently acknowledged the enormous pressure he faces at work resulting in mental and physical fatigue.
beyondblue CEO Georgie Harman called Mr Ashton a “true leader’’ for being prepared to ‘walk the talk’. “These jobs are tough…. None of us is 10-feet tall and bulletproof or immune from mental health challenges,’’ she said. “Leaders in organisations across all industries are essential to challenging stereotypes, smashing stigma and promoting good mental health practices by prioritising their own mental health and wellbeing.’’
If you are interested in understanding more about your own mental health or how, as a leader, you can help your staff, you may like to also read this article.