A new study of top-earning business leaders has revealed the true cost of high-paying careers on health and wellbeing – with more than half of female execs suffering panic attacks and anxiety, and 40% using recreational drugs at least once a week.

Commissioned by The Dawn Rehab Thailand, the study of 1000 senior business leaders (539 women, 461 men) – earning annual salaries of £75,000 and above – looked at how perceived ‘high-fliers’ manage daily work pressures, and the impact of their C-suite status on life outside the boardroom.

The study found that female execs are much more likely than their male colleagues to suffer with work-related stress (78% vs. 58%) – and almost half of women in high-powered jobs (49%) have experienced burnout or exhaustion, with one in six (16%) taking up to three months off work as a result.

The majority of female respondents (69%) reported suffering from depression, with 32% experiencing severe depression. More than half of the women polled (51%) cited regular anxiety and panic attacks and 38% reported physical symptoms such as heart palpitations and headaches brought on by work stress. Furthermore, 30% said they’d had suicidal thoughts.

Helen Wells, clinical director at The Dawn, said:

Many of our female clients appear to be the epitome of ‘having it all’ – on the surface only. They’ve reached the top at work and often have family commitments too. They might look like they’re successfully juggling, but they’re carrying a huge ‘mental load’ and managing an incredibly high level of responsibility – which isn’t sustainable without support, and often the support isn’t there.

Helen Wells, clinical director at The Dawn

Alcohol and drug use, and other ‘coping’ behaviours

  • The study found that just under a third (32%) of high-earning females in C-suite roles said they’d experienced alcohol misuse or problems with alcohol consumption. A similar number (31%) admitted to drinking during the working day and drinking alone.
  • 40% of female execssaid they take drugs such as cannabis and cocaine more than once a week, with 30% taking them when stressed, and the same number (30%) admitting to taking drugs during the working day.
  • Reliance on other known ‘coping’ behaviours was also found to be prevalent, with 50% of female respondents using gambling, shopping and food – either overeating or bingeing – to cope with work stress; additionally, female execs were found to be more likely than their male counterparts to use sex to cope with stress (54% vs. 32%).

Impact on relationships and life outside work

  • A huge 89% of female execs said work-related issues had a negative impact on their personal life, with 49% recognising they’re not always ‘present’ when with family.
  • For a third of women in high-earning C-suite roles (34%), work-related issues have led to the breakdown of their relationship with their spouse or partner. And a similar number (32%) said relationships with friends and family had been damaged by work stress.
  • 60% are worried about further, lasting damage to their relationships with partners, children and wider family.

 Mental health issues are ‘common in high-paying careers’ – but still no regrets?

  • The vast majority (87%) of top-paid female execs believe that issues such as stress, depression, anxiety, burnout, drug and alcohol misuse are ‘common’ within their industry and among high-earners.
  • Despite the heavy impact of their jobs on health and relationships, only 35% say they regret the career path they’ve chosen. More than half (58%) say they dream of ‘giving it all up’ and living a simpler life with less money and less stress.

Helen highlights how help is available for anyone who is struggling:

When a person is suffering burnout, they are usually at a point where they are no longer able to function in an efficient way in their personal and professional lives. Both high-functioning addiction and professional burnout are serious conditions that can escalate critically but the good thing is they can be treated.

Editor at Workplace Wellbeing Professional | Website | + posts

Joanne is the editor for Workplace Wellbeing Professional and has a keen interest in promoting the safety and wellbeing of the global workforce. After earning a bachelor's degree in English literature and media studies, she taught English in China and Vietnam for two years. Before joining Work Well Pro, Joanne worked as a marketing coordinator for luxury property, where her responsibilities included blog writing, photography, and video creation.