Are senior executives different?


I was surprised recently when the senior HR manager of a large listed company told me she believed that executives and upper-level managers were all highly stressed and had problems with alcohol and other substances. As a medical practitioner, I clearly recall, perhaps six months after assuming my current practice, that the individuals I was seeing were very different to the tens of thousands of patients I had seen over the previous 20 years as a doctor, and finally as a consultant physician. The practice is in Sydney, and 85 per cent of the patients we see are male, with the average age being 55, ranging from the early 20s to late 80s. While my clients may not be representative of the general population, I strongly suspect they are typical of senior management nationwide. It is also worth noting that as a medical practitioner, having had an ongoing relationship with senior business people in excess of 10 years now, one gets a very personal and intimate view of their lives.

Health is a priority

What struck me was that these individuals were typically very healthy, not stressed, do not abuse alcohol, don’t smoke or abuse substances, and are successful in other domains of their life in addition to their health. I think there are several key reasons:

  • They know how to prioritise and they value their health as a key priority.
  • They actively seek information on how to optimise and measure their health.
  • Typically they also highly value their marriages and relationships with family.
  • They value quality free time – they take and thoroughly enjoy their holidays, and are quite focused in terms of investments and wealth creation.
  • They are numbers focused. They want to measure their health parameters (cholesterol, fitness and weight), and constantly compare these numbers to their own prior results and also to their peers.
  • They are also highly disciplined. I met the CEO of one of Australia’s largest companies who exercises for an hour a day, every day, and still manages to be the leader of tens of thousands of people.
  • They have good stress-management skills. When asked how they manage stress or unplanned events, they often point to the importance of exercise in managing stress.

I suspect these principles are integrated in other areas of their lives. For example, the rate of marriage breakdown is much, much lower than the national average. While they are on a high income, they also know how to wisely invest and grow their income by measuring, getting the best advice, and being disciplined in their investments. So one immediate question is: are these people like this because of their fundamental personalities and style, which predisposes them to success, or do they have these characteristics because their career has fostered and honed this type of thinking, discipline and measurement profile? I suspect it’s a bit of both.

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Are senior executives different?


I was surprised recently when the senior HR manager of a large listed company told me she believed that executives and upper-level managers were all highly stressed and had problems with alcohol and other substances. As a medical practitioner, I clearly recall, perhaps six months after assuming my current practice, that the individuals I was seeing were very different to the tens of thousands of patients I had seen over the previous 20 years as a doctor, and finally as a consultant physician. The practice is in Sydney, and 85 per cent of the patients we see are male, with the average age being 55, ranging from the early 20s to late 80s. While my clients may not be representative of the general population, I strongly suspect they are typical of senior management nationwide. It is also worth noting that as a medical practitioner, having had an ongoing relationship with senior business people in excess of 10 years now, one gets a very personal and intimate view of their lives.

Health is a priority

What struck me was that these individuals were typically very healthy, not stressed, do not abuse alcohol, don’t smoke or abuse substances, and are successful in other domains of their life in addition to their health. I think there are several key reasons:

  • They know how to prioritise and they value their health as a key priority.
  • They actively seek information on how to optimise and measure their health.
  • Typically they also highly value their marriages and relationships with family.
  • They value quality free time – they take and thoroughly enjoy their holidays, and are quite focused in terms of investments and wealth creation.
  • They are numbers focused. They want to measure their health parameters (cholesterol, fitness and weight), and constantly compare these numbers to their own prior results and also to their peers.
  • They are also highly disciplined. I met the CEO of one of Australia’s largest companies who exercises for an hour a day, every day, and still manages to be the leader of tens of thousands of people.
  • They have good stress-management skills. When asked how they manage stress or unplanned events, they often point to the importance of exercise in managing stress.

I suspect these principles are integrated in other areas of their lives. For example, the rate of marriage breakdown is much, much lower than the national average. While they are on a high income, they also know how to wisely invest and grow their income by measuring, getting the best advice, and being disciplined in their investments. So one immediate question is: are these people like this because of their fundamental personalities and style, which predisposes them to success, or do they have these characteristics because their career has fostered and honed this type of thinking, discipline and measurement profile? I suspect it’s a bit of both.

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More on HRM