Strengthening Mental Well-being in High Performers

11 Apr ‘24
4 min
Work performance
Editorial Board OpenUp
Reviewed by psychologist Eva Rüger
Imagine winning a pie-eating contest where your prize is yet more pie. This mirrors the high performer’s dilemma: the more they give, the more others take, as hard work often earns them additional work. This cycle can exact a toll on their mental well-being, with burnout and related challenges disproportionately affecting high achievers.


As a manager, what can you do to recognise and prevent mental well-being challenges in high performers? This issue arises in almost all organisations, but it’s particularly prevalent in organisations with a greater number of high performers..



Why does burnout occur more often among high performers?


One in five high performers experience some form of mental well-being challenge. They are more likely to take on more work, chase promotions and work overtime.

The work habits of high performers partially explain why they are more likely to struggle with mental well-being challenges. At OpenUp, we see the following reasons for this (forgive us if we’re generalising a little):


  • Completing a triathlon, painting a masterpiece, climbing Mont Blanc: high performers at work are often high performers in their private lives. Rest always comes second.
  • High performers are more likely to feel a need to prove themselves. They want to exceed their standards as well as everybody else’s. They’ll always try to do things a bit better than others.

If they know that clients are paying thousands of euros or pounds a day for their organisation’s services, then they don’t feel like they can have an off-day or an off-week.


But business practices – often unconsciously – put pressure on the mental well-being of high performers, according to Harvard Business Review:

  • High performers get assigned more difficult projects
  • High performers are often expected to support employees who don’t perform as well
  • High performers are more likely to be asked for help on things not directly related to their role
  • “Top tier” companies often have an up-or-out system (either you get promoted or you get fired) or several employees compete for the same promotion
  • (Extreme) overworking is seen as a normal part of the role or even rewarded
  • The company culture doesn’t encourage openly discussing your feelings 

How can you recognise mental well-being challenges in high performers?


The easiest way to recognise mental well-being challenges in your team is if they tell you directly that they’re facing a challenge. This means that having a culture where people can openly discuss their feelings is the most important thing. We’ll come back to this later.


Other signs of mental well-being challenges or even burnout include:


  • Seeming distracted and less engaged during meetings and events
  • Physical absence from social activities
  • Decreased productivity
  • Frequently calling in sick
  • A short fuse; easily irritated
  • Struggling to cope with feedback
  • Forgetfulness and sloppy errors
  • Complaining about tiredness, not sleeping well and pain (for example, headaches, neck pain and back pain)


Not all managers are trained to recognise the signs of poor mental well-being.  However, our experts will be able to help you and your team by providing psychological guidance. You can also learn more about recognising team mental well-being challenges in this article.



How can you help high performers avoid mental well-being challenges and burnout?


By the time burnout symptoms appear, it’s often too late to prevent them. Instead, it’s more effective to proactively implement strategies that help your colleagues mitigate these challenges. Here are ways to achieve this:



1. Allow high performers to choose their projects (when possible)


 Often, the most demanding projects are naturally given to the highest performers, adding more pressure to their already busy schedules. When possible, give high performers an option to choose projects so they can achieve a better balance.  



2. Encourage people to be open about their feelings


 You could fill a library with books about creating an open corporate culture. The first step is to talk openly about your feelings and encourage colleagues to speak up as well. On Spaces to OpenUp, you can find interesting group sessions or masterclasses on this topic. 



3. Encourage a culture of openness throughout your organisation 


You could do this through newsletters, podcasts or videos, sharing weekly or monthly stories from colleagues about their mental well-being challenges. Make sure some of these come from colleagues in higher positions: they can set an example.



4. Make weekly “openness and transparency” meetings part of your standard routine


At management consultancy BCG, employees fill out a weekly survey about their feelings and energy levels. These are then discussed with the project team. Be strict about the purpose of these meetings: the goal is not to discuss work-related topics.

From time to time, have a professional join, for example, someone with knowledge of occupational psychology. If you don’t have internal access, our experts at OpenUp are available to help.



5. Have a “no questions asked” agreement if a team member needs an extra day off


If someone tells you that they feel unwell, then let them stop working for the day, without demanding a detailed explanation. Agree to talk about it the following day, so you know what’s going on. And be flexible when it comes to granting days off or re-delegating projects if the mental well-being of an employee requires it.



6. Discourage (extreme) overworking


We sometimes hear stories of teams pulling all-nighters and as a result, being hailed as heroes. As far as we’re concerned, that’s a no-go.

Of course, sometimes a project comes along that requires a bit of a push to the finish line. But when long working days and working weekends become what’s generally expected and part of the culture, then you’ve got the perfect recipe for burnout. If you notice a team member who is constantly overworking, discuss it with them 1:1 and work together to lessen their workload.



7.   Evaluate potential stressors within your organisation


An up-or-out system is a significant contributor to success at high-performing companies: only ‘’the best’’ people remain. But it also creates an enormous amount of stress, as well as encouraging people to work overtime. Do some research and find out what your team members are finding stressful. Then examine the extent to which these factors are still serving or working against your team’s performance.


High performers are invaluable to any organisation. So let’s keep it that way by making sure they remain in good mental well-being. 



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