Languishing leaders can’t get on top of the workplace wellbeing crisis. Tackling workplace wellbeing paradoxes – part 3

employees working

Workplace wellbeing paradox 3:

Languishing leaders are struggling to prioritise workplace wellbeing.

In this article we explore why leaders, who themselves are languishing, are finding it so hard to make wellbeing a priority in their organizations, and why this is creating a precarious downward spiral that few recognise the implications of.

  • Multiple studies since the pandemic have concluded that between 50% and 80% of leaders are experiencing some or all the symptoms of burnout.
  • 69% of C-Suite respondents to a 2022 Deloitte study explained that they “Are seriously considering quitting for a job that better supports their wellbeing.”
  • A survey by Verizon Media found that 76% of leaders and managers feel overwhelmed, whilst a survey by Limeade found 59% feel overworked.


But why should we care? Don’t we just send our burnout leaders home for a couple of weeks of R&R and they’ll be back to peak performance again in no time? No!

The reason that leader burnout is so concerning is that it creates a path of damage and destruction long before a colleague collapses in the staff kitchen whilst making a cup of coffee. Leaders experiencing burnout symptoms become slow and indecisive, they feel much less confident. These low levels of confidence can lead to poor choices, missed opportunities, and lower employee engagement and morale. The scary thing is that this decline happens slowly, it permeates throughout an organisation undetected. When it is finally acknowledged and later addressed, much of the damage has already been done.

Limeade found that 84% of managers feel responsible for the high levels of burnout of their workforce. This indicates that there is considerable understanding that burnout is self-perpetuating inside organisations who cannot get it under control.

Of course, any new CEO taking over the reins of an ‘unwell’ organisation, risks greater chances of experiencing burnout themselves, as the role of driving a thriving business, with a languishing workforce is an almost impossible task.

Yet when we consider the current leadership context, it is no wonder that our leaders are burning out and presenting huge risks to businesses. Each of the following makes a leader’s role increasingly challenging, and unpredictable, which in turn makes it harder to sustain for the long-term:

  • The wellbeing of the working population is in decline thus impacting productivity, innovation, motivation, staffing levels, and budgets, which mean leaders are having to achieve more with less.
  • Leaders are engaging in unhealthy behaviours in the name of fulfilling their roles. These behaviours include working longer hours, compromising relationships, poor mental hygiene, and foregoing exercise, sleep, and good nutrition.
  • Organisations are failing to address these challenges at their root causes, instead preferring to paper over the cracks and lulling themselves into a false sense of security that their wellbeing ‘strategies’ are adequate to counter the stressors at play. Most aren’t. Not even close! (I explored this in last week’s article)
  • Following the pandemic, organization’s have entered sustained periods of change and transformation, which means that instability has reigned strong for 3+ years with exhausted leaders expected to rally morale and counter resistance, using up even more energy from their already depleted reserves.
  • The world is increasingly VUCA, and both our workforce and leaders simply don’t have the wellbeing and resilience foundation needed to withstand the pressures this creates, and those pressures are not looking to ease any time soon.


Many leaders find themselves in the frustrating situation where they understand their own wellbeing is compromised and that the current situation is unsustainable. They also realise that this is having a huge impact on the health and wellbeing of their employees at large, and they appreciate that this is, and will continue to have a detrimental impact on their organisations. Most critically, they really want to be part of fixing this situation but, they are strangled for time, resources, support, and increasingly the will and personal wellbeing to make it so.

So, what’s the answer?

The answer is to ‘SLOW DOWN’!

In 2022, productivity per employee dropped to the lowest rate since 1947. Just for context this was 2-years after the 2nd World War, when millions of employees had been killed in battle. That’s how low our productivity rate is! What’s going on?!

According to recent data from the OECD, we are working more hours, have more employees, but we’re achieving less and less with them. More hours are not resulting in greater productivity, and yet we are plagued by an always-on culture and 75-hour weeks that are compromising our individual and collective health and success.

The answers are staring us in the face, they are jumping off the page of every study that explores this (and there are loads of them). We are simply trying to achieve too much with too little. We are lacking clarity with our priorities and our direction of travel. We are plagued by busy work that exhausts our workforce but delivers little to no value to our shareholders. We are trying to repair the car whilst it is driving at 60 KPH down the highway. Of course, people are going to get hurt!

We have reached an inflection point, a point of no return. We have reached the limits of human capacity within the confines of our current ways of working. Which means we must find new ways of working that don’t threaten our businesses and our people. As leaders we can resist this as much as we like, we can stick doggedly to the old methods that worked for us in the past (sort of), we can hark back to ‘the good ol’ days’, and allow our egos get in the way.

Or, we can start leading. Really leading!

We must begin to take the role of wellbeing in our businesses more seriously and to treat it with the respect and commitment it requires to become a strategic driver of business success. Failing to do so, given the knowledge we now have, is edging towards wilful neglect.

However, this is bigger than just workplace wellbeing, this challenge calls the very subject of leadership to order. We need to reconsider what being a business leader means, what sort of leaders we want to be, and what legacy we want to leave behind? Leadership should ultimately be about making the bit of the world that we impact upon happier, healthier, and stronger. It means delivering impressive results and leaving our organisations’ (an organized group of people) stronger than when we joined them. It also means leaving a legacy that ensures our organisations’ can continue to thrive and contribute positively to society long after we’ve left.

We must slow things down, so that we can identify the challenges that are weakening our businesses and communities, and then we must address them by reshaping our organisations to overcome them. Arguably, wellbeing is currently the most significant of those challenges and the one that underpins our ability to solve the rest.

It’s on us as leaders to work together to solve this by leading our organisations through one of the greatest evolutions of our time. It’s on us to get this right.

As always, please get in touch if any of this is resonating, or you are a leader eager to move your organisation and the surrounding community to a better place.

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