Is Technology The True Culprit Of Overwhelmed Employees?

Deloitte’s 2014 Global Human Capital Trends report stated, “Sixty-five percent of executives…rated the ‘overwhelmed’ employee an ‘urgent’ or ‘important’ trend, while 44 percent said that they are ‘not ready’ to deal with it.” The report also stated, “Senior executives should create a culture that broadens the opportunity for leaders to develop in new ways…continuously coaching and supporting leaders so they can build their capabilities as rapidly as possible.”

On one hand, senior executives need to continuously coach and support leaders, and on the other hand, leaders are overwhelmed and executives are not ready to deal with it. This highlights a gap, which I consider the proverbial elephant in the room, the human side of leadership. Senior executives may be overwhelmed too. Leaders carry high levels of stress and anxiety, but have to show up to work every day and be the leader that everyone else needs, while neglecting their own.

 “Awareness is the greatest agent for change.” – Eckhart Tolle

When people talk about how leaders should perform and act, they are stating what the perfect model of leadership should look like. This is great in theory, but when you add the human element, you don’t account for the other roles leaders have to play in their lives. To “coach and support” leaders takes an investment of time and/or money on the part of the leaders and organization.

Known as a leader of leaders, I invested a significant amount of time into my personnel and 50+ people outside my office. Every evening, I spent 1-3 hours (at their request) sharing insight, leadership principles, balancing work and home, managing stress and anxiety, averting depression, and filling them with enough information that would last 15+ years. At home and on weekends, I coached the other 50.

To complete all tasks required, lead and nurture, create and maintain a climate of fairness and respect, my personnel were adequately coached. However, I was overwhelmed, stressed out with high levels of anxiety, but hid it behind a masked smile at work.

By the results I produced, I was considered a fantastic leader, but I was not a great aunt because I missed my niece and nephews’ birthdays for years. I knew a birthday was May 10th, but not when May 10th actually occurred. I was an okay daughter, because I didn’t visit home as often and every year, got progressively worse in picking out thoughtful Christmas gifts for my mom. Earlier in my career we were in tune and I knew what she wanted. As time passed, I got busy, we talked less and I didn’t know anymore. I was a pretty lousy niece and cousin because I was too stressed to manage my dramatic family during the holidays.

Information overload is not the only factor in overwhelm. How many leaders carry the guilt/burden of missing important milestones in their family’s lives because they were at work? How many have failed or strained relationships/ marriages because they take work home and are not emotionally present? How many have unresolved guilt for missing time with their aging parents, only to show up to put them in a nursing home or attend their funeral?

Time can never be recouped and carrying this baggage, along with meeting the demands at work, not being fully engaged at home, all while coaching others, can be a significant contributing factor to the overwhelm, stress, anxiety and depression leaders experience. Companies spend millions developing leaders professionally, but is anyone addressing the baggage they carry for having the leadership position?

One of the best pieces of advice I pass to junior leaders is to get a life and not work themselves into oblivion. I tell them to manage their stress and anxiety by working out, and not alcohol. If they are displaying signs of depression, I offer insight into what makes them happy and investing their time into activities that give them meaning.

Somehow I couldn’t save myself and felt trapped in the hole of decisions that were made to get to the executive leadership position; but felt it was important to inform young leaders to watch their balance from the beginning.

Regardless of the countless number of assessments and training programs available, people look for others with leadership traits they want to emulate. A great leader can cross cultural, racial, gender and generational barriers. People are inspired by others that have traits they desire and look forward to growing into a similar mold of the person they are looking up to.

If organizations do not have leaders that others want to emulate, there are going to be issues. If senior executives don’t have the time or desire to deal with overwhelmed leaders (or themselves), is it realistic to expect a succession of leaders created in their organization? Creating a pipeline of effective leaders starts with addressing overwhelm, stress and anxiety in the current leaders.

Below are 3 recommendations to develop better leaders in your organization:
1. Address the needs of leaders by asking what they need. Being unbalanced, stressed out with anxiety, or unhappy, can wreak havoc on the workforce. Also, they do not display the characteristics others may want to emulate. If the workforce observes leaders who suffer from depression, why would they seek advancement in that organization?
2. Make leadership an expected trait in all employees. A number of people operate at 10-20% of their capacity and if you give them an opportunity to expand, they will shock you and themselves. This decreases the workload of stressed leaders.
3. If leaders are displaying behavior that is disruptive to the organization’s culture, address by getting to the root cause and not just the glaring issue. Ask yourself, did your organization, the culture, unmanageable workload and inadequate programs for stress management create the negative behavior in this person? Are you now punishing that which you created?

What are some great leadership lessons you’ve learned? What advice do you have for leaders who are struggling? Can you relate to the trade-off of great leadership?

Christy Rutherford, an Executive Leadership Strategist, trains leaders on long-standing leadership principles to assist them with realizing their full potential and increase productivity. She also coaches Type A leaders who are suffering from burnout, which impacts their performance at work and home.

Download your free workbook: “Success Roadmap – 7 Powerful Ways To Get Clear On The Results You Desire” at 

Check out the programs designed for you to manage your stress, reduce anxiety and significantly improve your life while you work to make a living.

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