Even Bosses (and Beyoncé) Are Burnt Out

If you spent any time at all online this week, you’ve probably heard Beyoncé has a new single out and it’s a Great Resignation anthem. On ‘Break Your Soul’ the music legend sings: 

I just quit my job

I’m gonna find new drive, damn, they work me so damn hard

Work by nine, then off past five

And they work my nerves, that’s why I cannot sleep at night

Beyonce goes on to urge fans to, “Release ya anger, release ya mind, Release ya job, release the time, Release ya trade, release the stress, Release the love, forget the rest.” 

Apparently, she’s not the only person at the pinnacle of her profession feeling the burn after two years of pandemic stresses and re-evaluations. A new survey from Deloitte and research group Workplace Intelligence asked C-suite executives about the state of their mental health. The results suggest it’s not just pop stars who are rethinking the sustainability of their high-octane work style. 

Bosses aren’t doing too well right now. 

The poll of 2,100 executives in the U.S., U.K., Canada, and Australia, which was taken in February but released this week, found 76 percent of bosses believe the pandemic has negatively affected their overall health. 81 percent said improving their own equilibrium is more important than advancing their career right now. 

Four out of five top executives may be willing to sacrifice some advancement to gain a little more well-being at the moment. But doing so won’t be easy. Three quarters of bosses (74 percent) reported they’re “facing obstacles when it comes to achieving their well-being goals–and these are largely tied to their job,” according to Deloitte. 

But just because actually improving work-life balance feels challenging doesn’t mean some executives aren’t at least giving it a try, both for themselves and for their employees. 83 percent of respondents said they intend to expand their company’s well-being benefits, while smaller percentages are trying concrete strategies to help employees find a better balance, including banning after-hours email (20 percent), making breaks mandatory (35 percent), or sending notes encouraging employees to take time off (35 percent). Just 29 percent are setting an example by taking time off themselves.

Dan Schawbel, the founder of Workplace Intelligence, didn’t sound terribly impressed by these initiatives when he spoke to Axios about the research. “What we found was that the majority [of C-suite executives] want to do something about it, but they just haven’t done something about it. So it’s been more talk and less action,” he told the site. 

Employees seem to agree with his assessment. While 91 percent of bosses told Deloitte they saw themselves as caring leaders, just 56 percent of employees agreed the higher-ups cared about their well-being.

What should entrepreneurs make of all this? 

The most basic takeaway here for entrepreneurs and startup executives who are also teetering on the edge of exhaustion is not to feel alone. If even wildly ambitious figureheads of hustle culture like Beyoncé are thinking of taking a step back and reassessing, you’re certainly not soft or weird for thinking the same thing. Maybe it’s time to move beyond complaining to pollsters to actually making some changes. 

As Quartz’s Annalisa Merelli memorably puts it in her perceptive close reading of the new Beyonce lyrics (the title of which inspired the headline of this piece), “Doing it on your own terms, and without stress, is the new doing it all.”

Meanwhile, Thrive founder Arianna Huffington, who highlighted the Deloitte report on LinkedIn, offers another more concrete takeaway: put your own oxygen mask on first. 

“Our ability to read how others are doing and our capacity for empathy are less available to us when we’re stressed, depleted and operating in fight-or-flight mode. The findings point to the wisdom of securing our own oxygen mask first. When we prioritize our own well-being, we’re much more effective in helping others do the same,” she writes. 

So let Beyonce’s anthem and the Deloitte report’s serve as a permission slip to all you hard-charging entrepreneurs out there who thought you had to stiff upper your way through impending burnout. It’s OK to take a step back and re-evaluate your approach to work. Not only will that probably make you more effective (and happy) in the long run. It will also help you deal with the tidal wave of employee burnout that’s driving sky-high quit rates. 

Want to read (or hear) more? Here’s the complete report and here, for your listening pleasure, is the new Beyonce song:

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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