Work Stress Is A Major Health Problem, Even For CEOs

Workplace wellness often does not extend to the executives.

United Airlines has remained silent since its newly named CEO, Oscar Munoz, was hospitalized last week in Chicago. The 56-year-old reportedly suffered a heart attack.

Though the details are sparse, the executive -- who was just a month into his new job -- certainly had a lot on his plate. While there is not great research that points to a direct connection between stress and heart attacks, doctors do know that stress negatively impacts health.

Munoz is the second relatively new CEO of a major corporation to suffer a health incident in just over a month. BMW's CEO, Harald Krueger, collapsed onstage at the Frankfurt Motor Show in mid-September after he chose to appear at the event despite not feeling well that morning.

Overwork -- not just in hours, but in the amount of emotional energy invested in one's job -- has become a huge problem in today's corporate culture, Gianpiero Petriglieri wrote in the Harvard Business Review earlier this year. "As we are urged to have a romantic, rather then [sic] instrumental, relationship with work, we should not be surprised that it threatens our families, our productivity, and our health," he wrote.

Following common advice for relieving stress -- a balanced diet and regular exercise, as well as identifying and avoiding situations that trigger stress -- may be difficult for a CEO of a multinational corporation who is likely to be constantly traveling and unable to stick to a fixed schedule.

In his new job, Munoz doesn't seem to have enjoyed much of a honeymoon period. Despite the fact that the airline posted record profits last quarter, it is mired in a variety of different companywide issues. According to the Wall Street Journal:

His illness follows a stressful period for him and for United. The airline has struggled with operational difficulties and poor labor relations since it was formed. Its business also has been clouded by a federal corruption probe into the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey that is examining the relationship of a former agency official with United.

That corruption probe is the reason Munoz was named CEO. His predecessor, Jeff Smisek, and two other United executives stepped down from the company as a result of the probe.

Possibly adding to his stress, there are some who have questioned Munoz's ability to lead the airline, according to another story in the WSJ:

Though he has served on the Continental and United boards for more than a decade, Mr. Munoz will have a lot to learn about the nitty-gritty aspects of the world’s No. 2 airline.

“UAL needs to take a hard look at which hubs work and which hubs don’t as a primary driver to close its potentially structural margin gap to peers,” said Wolfe Research analyst Hunter Keay. “That’s not really something Mr. Munoz is qualified to do…at least not immediately.”

Whatever Munoz's condition, United is staying silent, and shareholders are unhappy, Reuters reports. The company's stock fell more than 3 percent to $55.97 on Friday -- although it rebounded about 1 percent on the open Monday.

The company did not return a request for comment.

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