Executive burnout

Burnout is a widespread leadership topic that has grown in importance recently.

According to the World Health Organization, burnout is a clinical condition resulting from extreme, unaddressed workplace stress and can affect both employees and executives. The hot question of 2023 is not if executives will experience burnout  - but when.

Dealing with burnout is a prevalent theme that appears not only in leadership development coaching sessions but also seems to be a major driver of senior managers wanting to change their jobs.

Commonly recognized as an emotional state where a person feels exhausted and out of touch with their work, burnout is also a well-known term in psychology and management used to explain why some people quit their jobs and look for new opportunities.

A recent Deloitte survey shows that nearly 70% of C-level executives are considering jobs that might better support their wellbeing. Although not on the same scale, we can say that our experience with executives confirms this trend.

Burnout becomes a serious challenge that may undermine the success not only of the career seekers but also of many businesses.

What needs to be done to cope with this new epidemic?

Knowledge about most typical signs and symptoms of burnout state is crucial. This can be a starting point for taking further actions or seeking and providing support. Physical symptoms like headaches, stomach-ache, neck pains combined with concentration difficulties, mental fatigue, impatience, cynical reactions, lack of motivation, anxiety and depression may be solid indications that burnout is there.

If an executive identifies these signs in their state and behaviour, a possible solution could be starting looking for a new job. However, if this new job is not in a less stressful environment, this solution could make the things even worse.

What other options are available?

Taking a sabbatical - a long break from work that will help executives recover from the work-induced stress. It can be paid or unpaid, and companies usually have a sabbatical policy that details the application procedure. Sabbaticals can help if the senior managers feel overworked or need some time to recover their creative capacity. However, if the burnout is due to some underlying issues in the team, or some personal reasons, it will be better to choose a different solution.

Downshifting - Starting a gradual process of changes that makes the work life balance easier, quieter, balanced, and much less stressful. This can happen by reducing work hours and/or responsibilities and may impact managers' incomes.

Working with a coach – taking this approach may help to constructively deal with burnout symptoms, identifying stress points and building new habits.

Finally, businesses contribution can make a huge difference. Prioritizing executives’ and employees’ well-being is essential for growth-oriented companies and building a strategic approach for prevention and support in case of burnout may turn out as significant competitive advantage.

Skills for leadership success

Executive hiring has been quite intense in the Bulgarian market over the past few months.

Many companies, across different sectors, who wanted to attract best in class C-suite executives and senior leaders chose FPI Bulgaria as their partner seeking to ensure a significant pool of top-notch candidates.

Although technical expertise and proper managerial experience is what brings many candidates to the short-list, there are certain qualities, traits and characteristics that are strongly considered when it comes to the final choice for the position.

Approaching this with curiosity, we noticed that in these unusual, dynamic, and change-filled times employers are looking for some interesting combinations of timeless leadership qualities and provocative mindsets.

Communication skills, persuasion, decision making and change management are always on the list of preferred leadership characteristics that companies seek, and they are a non-negotiable attribute of successful candidates.

Some emerging skills and qualities are also becoming more and more crucial.

Currently, businesses are not just on the lookout for leaders who can properly and diligently manage transformations, but they are also searching for those who have the mindset to initiate changes, to facilitate new ideas, new ways of working and sometimes even new directions for the business.

Out-of-the-box thinking

Professionals who possess this quality are typically seen as outstanding candidates with great potential.

Resilience and cultural awareness

These skills have almost the same weight in the final selection as the technical skills required for the role. They have become highly desirable requirements for senior leaders.

Learning agility

Although this competence is not always clearly described and defined, many employers see it as the ability to easily learn and/or unlearn concepts, methods and approaches - the capacity to connect the dots and work with complex information.

Boldness of character / standalone leadership

This is a surprising and relatively new characteristic in high demand was the one described by clients as consisting of the ability to stay firmly behind a bold or unusual idea with the energy and courage to realize it and bring it to fruition - even without the initial support from others. Companies believe that leaders possessing this characteristic will be really a great asset who will not only help the business survive in this dynamic situation, but will also allow it to grow, expand and be more sustainable.

Although these conclusions are mainly based on our systematic observations and numerous interactions with the business related to Executive Search, we can say that there is a move away from the “ideal leadership candidate” template.

Traditional skillsets and managerial abilities are no longer sufficient to be a successful senior leadership candidate. Soft skills and personal characteristics have become more and more important in the selection process, and they deserve thorough investment and consideration from both C-suite candidates and businesses.

We spoke with Nevena Nikolova, from our office in Bulgaria, to hear her Friisberg story.

You have been a Partner in Friisberg since 2009. What was the career path you took to get to where you are today?

It all started with my curiosity for understanding people - my willingness to understand what we are made of.

I graduated with Master's degree in Consulting Psychology, exploring for a while a career as psychotherapist, before I realised that I was more interested in exploring the nature of talent and how it could be identified, harnessed and further developed.

My career in the field of HR began when I joined the TGS team at the establishment of its HR consultancy practice, holding consecutively the positions of consultant, senior consultant, Search & Training Department Manager and Executive Director.

From April 2006 - 2008 I was elected as a Management Board Member of the international HR consulting organization PSI (People Solutions International), registered in London with Headquarters in Brussels. From 2009, following the merge between PSI and Friisberg, I became a Partner in Friisberg Bulgaria and was elected as a Management Board Member of the international Executive Search organization FPI (Friisberg & Partners International). I am glad to be part of a great international group that is more and more able to show its unique face and have its special voice heard.

What has been the biggest change in Executive Search over the last years? 

The use of technologies is changing the modus operandi of the Search companies, but the very essence of the service and its value proposition remains the same. Executive Search is less and less transactional and more and more a transformational service and the headhunters are growing towards becoming trusted advisors of the client companies.

What qualities do you look for in a new consultant when joining Friisberg in Bulgaria?

What do you enjoy most about being part of Friisberg? 

Friisberg is constantly evolving and the enthusiasm of my colleagues is inspiring.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time when you are not working hard?

I love theatre and I enjoy performing monthly scene performances.

Creative writing is the other activity that makes me feel great – I create poetry, short stories, plays, and scripts. Maybe one day I will dare to share those with the world…

Nevena Nikolova, Partner

Nevena Nikolova, the Managing Partner of Friisberg & Partners Bulgaria, has been invited to be a Moderator for AGILE HR  - a virtual conference of the Bulgarian Association for People Management (BAPM) 23rd-27th November. As a member of the European Association for People Management (EAPM) and the World Federation of People Management Associations (WFPMA) it is a non-governmental professional organization established as a platform for sharing experience and knowledge among its members in order to raise the general level of expertise in the community in line with the increasingly dynamic business environment in Bulgaria.

As Moderator she will act as a host, introducing the guest speakers, leading the Q&A sessions and the debates, serving as an interface between the speakers and the audience, giving opening and closing speeches, and summarizing the key insights.

Read: Nevena's introduction to the BAPM Conference.

Nevana is delighted to be involved, she said:

“In a VUCA world the organization`s agility is becoming the most important capacity allowing the survival and prosperity of every company. This conference aims to challenge and inspire both business leaders and HR professionals to adopt Agile philosophy and practices by learning from key opinion leaders in the field.”

The Association was established in 2000 to develop the best professional practices in human capital management and development and to support and develop professionals in the field of human resource management, to raise the status of the profession and set high standards in work equivalent to the world practices and trends. Its mission is to support the progress of society by creating conditions for the advancement of people and organizations. It promotes sharing, interacts and partners with other professional non-governmental organizations as well as with state institutions.

Today BAPM has more than 850 individual and corporate members working in the field of human capital management and development - from various companies and industries including heads of human resources departments in Bulgarian and multinational companies, training and development managers, recruitment experts,  compensations and benefits experts, as well as managers and specialists from consulting companies, academic lecturers, communications experts.

Nevena has more than 20 years’ experience in Executive Search, Executive Assessment and Development. She is a certified Management Trainer of Group Dynamic Trainings and qualified Executive Coach. In 2015 she was elected as General Secretary of the Management Board of Friisberg & Partners International.


(Conference Website)

The Survey “Friisberg Insights – CTO on SPOT” is part of regular in-depth exploration of different C-level roles aiming to identify respective key trends and findings.

The Survey represents a snapshot of the mission, challenges, motivational factors, compensation terms etc for CTO professionals in Bulgaria.

This article, first published by the leading Bulgarian Business media “Capital”, provides an overview of the Survey results based on the answers from 94 CTOs (Head of Engineering, Head of Development, Technical Director or other similar).


(in Bulgarian)


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