Did you know that  senior and executive managers suffer from mental problems caused by capacity overload more often than any other professions?

How come some are able to handle pressure while others don’t?

German Professor Dr. Andreas Zimber researches in the field of mental health at work and heads the department of personal development at the Institute of Mental Health in Mannheim, Germany. He investigated the risk factors and protective mechanisms.

He was interviewed by the Manager Seminare magazine (edition 223 Oct. 2016) and here are his main findings.

Risk Factors

  • High workload plus life challenges

Senior Managers usually face a high workload. Fifty, sixty hours per week or even more are quite common. The likelihood to become ill increases when additional requirements, e.g. private issues (such as divorce, illness of family members, parents in need of care etc.) come on top of that workload.

  • Personality

By how far are Senior and Executive managers aware of the fact that they have crossed the limit of their capacity? By how far have they learned to recognize early signs of warning? When do they know they can’t continue working the way they do?

Personality plays a big part in this. Many senior managers are perfectionists and therefore tend to overrate their resources. They have managed everything so far and believe that this will continue; risk awareness is lost. But perfectionism can be a trap as the only acceptable judge is the man himself who will always find something that is not yet perfect. Otherwise he wouldn’t be a perfectionist. One cannot win this game.

Perfectionism is the prefect, straight path to unhappiness.

  • Narcissism

Another risk factor is a narcissistic tendency. To protect their so important self-worth narcissists cannot admit suffering from work load and pressure.

  • Work Conditions

Insufficient room to manoeuvre is not only a problem for the middle and lower management.  There are quite a number of top managers too who are not masters of their own time schedule and who need to follow strict guidelines. They too know that feeling of being in a rat race.

Considerate superiors suggesting a time out before it is too late seem not to be rare as they don’t want to realize the threat. Even obvious symptoms are a distraction from business goals and forces. Managers concerned tend to ignore physical stop signals but hopefully listen to a partner or a friend.

  • Work Environment

The work environment plays an important role here. Most companies now accept mental pressure as a possible problem within the middle management ranks but struggle to recognize it as a leadership topic. Top managers interviewed – that could not broach the limit of workload and pressure – felt moving closer to the abyss. If in addition they feel a lack of appreciation the situation becomes really critical.

  • Private Environment

Many senior and executive managers expect themselves to also perform highly in their private environment. They want to be great sportsmen or musicians, influential board members of community organizations or political parties, just to name a few. One can show ones toughness by running a half or full marathon only to deprive their bodies even more energy.

Counter measures: Become Aware – Accept – Learn – Change

Here is what I recommend to consider:

  • Understand and become aware of the mentioned risks
  • Recognize your own perception of work and life
  • Accept that even the “tough” top guys can suffer from work overload
  • Learn to recognize early warning signs
  • Learn how to de-stress, relax and have recreational vacations
  • Learn how to change limiting behaviour
  • Live and eat healthy to survive in today’s (business) world
  • Hire a coach (get external help)


Physical and mental health is something we mostly take for granted.

But once gone it is costly or sometimes impossible to regain. Maintenance makes a lot of sense – not only for cars!

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