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  • Alan Ball

The Secret Taboo !

Updated: Dec 20, 2018


I often wonder how the leaders of the last Century and before dealt with the forbidden taboo of business.


The question is what taboo?

Do I mean the quietly spoken women in business taboo? Well, no. Even though as a percentage of the business leaders in the UK only 17% of boards have a women member as presented in the report on Women in Business, I don't.


(http://www.som.cranfield.ac.uk/som/dinamic-content/research/ftse/The%20Female%20FTSE%20Board%20Report%202014.pdf)


So how about the taboo on minority board members? Well, no. Business in the Community report (http://www.bitc.org.uk/issues/workplace-and-employees/race-and-gender) that only 5.5% of boards have representatives of minority groups, and even though this number may be slightly higher due to anonymity, it is not the context of my question.


The taboo I speak of is that of Business leaders who have, or suffer from a form of stress or depression.


Ok, so many of you will at this point have raised your eyebrows or claimed ignorance or denial but in all seriousness, this is the biggest taboo in the Business world today across all sectors in both Public and Private businesses.


We know that approximately 33% of employees are suffering from stress related illnesses, and 80% of those say that they feel lonely and isolated with their condition. Business leaders and companies are looking at ways in improving the environment their staff work within. Initiatives like Wellness are on the increase and certainly the prevention rather than cure is the new mantra.


But just how many business leaders suffer from stress related Illnesses? How many suffer in silence, in fear of being removed or ridiculed? My research has shown estimates range from 35% to 60%, a significant range and my own research over the last 4 months has suggested the number is nearer to the 60% rather than the 35%. In a confidential and anonymous survey of 600 CEO’s and MD’s, 57% admitted to suffering from some form of stress or depression but only 2% had done something about it.


Whenever someone is brave enough to “come out” and declare their illness, I wonder how the Board or stakeholders take such news.


We have had two high profile cases, in a report by the BBC http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/blogs-ouch-28092120 the former chairman of HBOS, Lord Stevenson, says that, despite having made many big business decisions, the only really brave decision he has taken was telling people about his depression, and the second was António Horta-Osório who took time off with exhaustion at the end of 2011 after becoming the chief executive of Lloyds Banking Group and has said he checked himself into the Priory clinic because of the extent of his sleep deprivation. He admitted he did not sleep for five days in late October 2011, six months after taking the helm of the bailed-out bank.

What's interesting for me is that the number one feeling that people with stress and depression feel is loneliness and a sense of failure. They are afraid to speak out in case the consequences leave them without work and the position they find themselves would only increase the sense of failure and loneliness.


So, what is imperative is that this leadership taboo is faced and tackled head on, Chairs across the country have a duty of care to build a trusting relationship with their executives so that it's not just the results that are the centre of attention. CEO’s and MD’s at all levels need to take control and find a release that will empower them to confront what they are going through.


If we can begin the process to deal with the problem before it becomes a major issue then we have a chance to manage and reduce its impact. Wellness centres and programmes are certainly on the increase and will assist but equally leaders should seek support from organisations who provide advisory groups and support for CEO’s and MD’s.

It doesn't have to be a lonely place and it doesn’t have to be taboo.


Rosia Bay utilises clinically proven Positive Psychological Interventions (PPI) to confidentially support Executives struggling with stress or depression. www.rosiabay.co.uk

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