Who’s looking after the CEOs?

Burnout should not be the cost of success

After a gruelling 3 years of pandemic and recovery which took the rug from under us all, many organisations have been made to review how they worked, how they could survive and, if they did, how they could reinvent themselves. CEOs of all organisations have taken the brunt of critical decision-making.

Business leaders, whether in the not-for-profit sectors or commercial world are used to working under high-pressure, however in the not-for-profit sector where CEOs may be working with a smaller team the onus is on them to ‘keep the ship afloat.’ Pressure from funders, Boards of Trustees and stakeholders can be immense and is taking its toll. At CBR Business Solutions, we are seeing the impact of these pressures on CEOs in the voluntary sector. Our conversations with CEOs and trustees highlight the huge strain that CEOs have been under and the impact this is having on them.

The pressure to ‘lead by example’ means that many CEOs follow a culture of overwork.  They are often preparing for worst-case scenarios which may include considering restructures and redundancy scenarios, directly affecting the people they work with and rely on. On top of Covid and Brexit, the cost-of-living increases, balanced against downturn in income and the prospect of delivering all of these messages to staff they care about, can increase anxious thoughts.

Whatever is happening within the organisation, CEOs can feel a need to look strong and positive in front of their staff and Boards of Trustees and feel that any show of vulnerability will be seen as a weakness.  This increases a feeling of loneliness.

“Give up the delusion that burnout is the inevitable cost of success” is a well-known quote by Arianna Huffington, Co-founder of The Huffington Post and CEO of Thrive Global.

Whilst CEOs are the decision-makers who help lead others, as individuals they are not super-heroes/heroines. There is a need for strong support from their Boards, not only in terms of organisational strategic decision-making, but also wellbeing, mental health and resilience.

A duty of care towards your CEO

In our work providing HR support, we are often seen as trusted advisors – people who know the organisation well but are independent. An increasing number of our conversations are with CEOs feeling the pressures of the role, or trustees concerned about how to support the CEO and mitigate the risks for the organisation that over-reliance on one person may bring.

What is often overlooked, is that the CEO is also an employee of the organisation. Under employment legislation they have the same rights as any other employee.

Every UK employer has a duty of care which looks to the critical health, safety and general welfare of all employees, regardless of the size of an organisation. Generally speaking, employers’ duty of care comes into force when a person or group of people do something that might reasonably harm someone and this harm may be in the form of mental or physical injury.

With work-related stress now widely recognised in the UK as a serious health and safety issue, employers are duty bound to treat this condition like any other workplace hazard.

From a legal perspective, an employer who has failed to identify and take reasonable steps to prevent work-related stress, can find themselves exposed to claims for constructive unfair dismissal where employees have felt forced to resign due to stress.  Equally the dismissal of an employee on grounds of capability because of stress, may result in a claim for unfair dismissal.

Trustees of a charity have a responsibility towards all staff (and volunteers) and must ensure that the charity complies with relevant law including employment, pension, equality and health and safety legislation.  Trustees therefore have a vital role to play, in supporting their CEOs through effective lines of communication and support and by understanding their responsibility for ensuring that the health and wellbeing of their CEO is taken account of.

How CBR Business Solutions can help

As HR Consultants with particular expertise in the voluntary sector, we are working daily with CEOs and Trustee Boards with their decision-making processes and plans and considering how those may impact employees.

Having a third party, independent professional to be able to have a confidential, open discussion on upcoming strategic decision making, which will inform in-time next steps and ensure legally complaint HR practise, is hugely beneficial to any process.

We  have used several HR providers in the past but would rather buy from a fellow infrastructure organisation.  The advantage we have with CBR is they know the VCSE sector, our value base, why we want to do things a certain way. The benefit of external HR is they are independent.  We have CBR for some specific pieces of HR work, but they are also useful for assurance when implementing change.” CEO – MACC – Manchester.

If you are facing similar issues and would like to discuss how we can support your organisation, you can find out more here or contact our HR consultants Kate and Nicola: HR@cbrsolutions.org.uk