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Is being a CEO stressful?

Being the CEO of a company comes with a lot of responsibility and pressure. Many people envision a CEO’s life as glamorous – flying on private jets, making important decisions, and earning a large salary. However, the reality is that a CEO’s job is extremely demanding and stressful. The decisions a CEO makes can make or break a company, leading to huge consequences for shareholders, employees, and the CEO’s own reputation. Let’s take a closer look at some of the key factors that contribute to a CEO’s stress levels.

Reasons Why Being a CEO is Stressful

Accountability for Company Performance

CEOs are ultimately accountable for their company’s overall performance. If a company is doing well and meeting goals, the CEO is praised. However, if the company is underperforming, missing targets, or losing money, the CEO often takes the blame. Shareholders will call for the CEO’s resignation if they are unsatisfied with results. This extreme accountability for things often outside of the CEO’s direct control creates huge pressure. Even in a stable business environment, scrutinizing performance metrics and shareholder value on a daily basis is demanding.

Complex, High-Risk Decision Making

CEOs constantly need to make big decisions that affect the entire company. Strategic moves like new product launches, international expansions, mergers and acquisitions carry great risk. The board and shareholders expect the CEO to carefully analyze all options and predict outcomes. However, factors like competitors, regulations, technology shifts and economic forces make the business landscape highly complex and unpredictable. Even with experience and expertise, CEOs know even well-planned decisions could lead to costly failures.

Type of Decision Potential Risks
New Product Launch Insufficient demand, high R&D costs, cannibalizing existing products
International Expansion Unfamiliar regulations, different consumer preferences, exchange rate fluctuations
Merger & Acquisition Overpaying, integrating corporate cultures, key talent leaving

Responsibility for Employees

CEOs are ultimately responsible for all employees across the company. This means oversight of hiring, compensation, culture, and terminations. HR issues like discrimination lawsuits, employee theft, or fraud also fall under the CEO’s jurisdiction. Even without direct interaction, CEOs get regular reports on employee metrics like satisfaction, retention and performance. Keeping employees happy, motivated and productive in a competitive labor market is a major factor in company success. However, doing so across large global organizations with thousands of workers spread across departments like sales, R&D, operations and more creates huge oversight challenges for CEOs.

Frequent Travel and Workplace Isolation

Many CEOs report workplace isolation and lack of true peers as a significant stressor. The top executive role has no real peers within the organization, which can feel isolating. Building genuine friendships across organizational hierarchies is very difficult. Extensive travel schedules including frequent flights and hotel stays take CEOs away from family and friends, further contributing to isolation. While necessary for the job, frequent national or global travel across multiple time zones is physically draining. It also leads to irregular sleep and difficulty maintaining healthy habits. While they may seem to be surrounded by assistants and subordinates, CEOs report loneliness is common at the top.

Intense Scrutiny and Criticism

As the face of a company, CEOs deal with relentless scrutiny of their every word and action. Shareholders, employees, competitors, business media and the general public watch the CEO’s every speech, policy change and public interaction. With today’s social media news cycle, criticism and calls for resignation can go viral quickly even over minor missteps. CEOs need to be “on” 24/7 despite human flaws and mistakes. Former CEOs speak of the difficulty switching off corporate responsibilities when heading home each day. Being under constant pressure to meet expectations leads many CEOs to eventually burn out.

High Stress Leading to Health Issues

The tremendous responsibilities and accountability of being CEO have tangible impacts on physical and mental health:

  • Sleep deprivation – Thinking about business decisions and problems around the clock
  • Insufficient exercise – No time for exercise due to packed schedules
  • Unhealthy diet – Irregular meals, frequent business dinners
  • Burnout – Emotional exhaustion from carrying heavy workload
  • Depression – Isolation, loneliness, fear of failure
  • Anxiety – Public speaking, managing crises
  • Addiction – Alcohol, drugs to cope with unrelenting pressure
  • Cardiovascular disease – Link between high stress management jobs and heart disease

CEOs sacrifice personal health and well-being in order to lead. The impact on mental health is just as severe as the physical toll.

Coping Strategies for CEOs

Given the high pressure environment, CEOs utilize various tactics to manage stress:

Relying on Support Networks

Maintaining strong personal relationships outside work is vital. Whether with family, friends or mentors, CEOs need support systems separate from their professional lives. Prioritizing personal time to decompress and speak openly helps relieve stress.

Regular Exercise and Healthy Eating

Despite hectic schedules, CEOs must find ways to exercise, eat nutritious meals and get sufficient sleep. Staying physically strong reduces risk of stress-related illness and improves ability to handle pressure.

Focusing on Controllable Factors

While CEOs must be aware of external events like stock price changes, concentrating time and energy solely on controllable factors brings clarity. Strategic planning, hiring the right leaders, maintaining culture- these internal factors are where CEOs should place their focus.

Learning to Let Go

Despite responsibility for everything, CEOs must empower others inside and outside the organization with trust and autonomy. Micromanaging leads to burnout, while automating tasks and delegating to capable leaders reduces overload.

Planning Personal Time Off

Intentionally scheduling time for hobbies, vacations and other indulgences outside work is vital. Refraining from business activity during personal time preserves work-life balance.


Being the CEO of a company is an enormously difficult job fraught with complexity and stress. However, the most successful CEOs employ lifestyle choices, support systems and mindset shifts to better manage health and reduce burnout risk. At the end of the day, being a CEO is still just a job, not someone’s entire identity. Keeping perspective by valuing relationships, health, and personal growth can help CEOs survive inevitable ups and downs.

While CEOs have immensely stressful jobs, the compensation and prestige drive many executives to take on the challenge. And many CEOs report feelings of fulfillment from leading organizations, developing employees and contributing innovations that benefit society. However, all CEOs must utilize stress management and self-care techniques to avoid the physical and mental health consequences of such an intense, high-pressure occupation.