The president of Dorset Chamber of Commerce and Industry has said she wants to set up a programme to help stressed bosses.

Liz Willingham, the first person to embark on a second year at the head of the lobbying group, floated the idea as a way of offering “real life support to our membership and beyond”.

She welcomed the fact that wellbeing, workplace stress and mental health had become a “comfortable and constant topic of conversation” in the chamber community.

But she added: “Whilst we need to continue to work on support structures and maintain awareness for our workforces, tell me who is looking out for our business owners and leaders? Those who go to bed at night really needing to get a good night’s sleep but who stir at 3am then 4am then 5am, feeling the responsibility of multiple mortgages on their shoulders?

“My fear is there are business leaders in our community who are struggling, or who are close to it and feel the pressure of the treadmill, and the responsibility is too great to deal with. They may worry about their reputation and the reputation of their business.

“They may feel their strength of leadership is in question. Their ability to be dynamic, make the right decisions – especially in a world where the future of work is moving fast – and be ahead of the game, feeling positive, driven, inspiring those around them. It may all be really compromised and the reality is they are just functioning.

“They’re tired, fuzzy, basically just not performing at their best. And no, a holiday won’t just fix it.”

She said the chamber network could be the right place for a “neutral hub” directing people towards support.

“I’d like to establish a programme that takes the stress in the workplace agenda one step further and actually provides real live support to our membership and beyond. We are not qualified to treat people, of course. All we can do is listen and signpost but if we can create the right, confidential infrastructure around this then we are on track,” she told the chamber’s AGM.

She urged members to let her know whether the idea was good.

“We have a progressive chamber and chamber leadership. We are lucky to have that. The stuffy perceptions of the past I genuinely see are on their way out; organisations like this can’t survive unless they evolve and we have a team behind our chamber which is not afraid to make bold decisions to protect its future,” she added.

“We are in a period of widespread distrust, fake news, our politicians accused of lying. It’s therefore more important to lean on organisations like this which have the solid foundation and heritage we need to help us through.”

Ms Willingham, founder of Liz Lean PR in Poole, said every business she had spent time with in her first year of office had “seen significant unprecedented change”.

“The good news is, as long as we can keep up with the logistics of such change, it brings fresh thinking, better balance, and a realisation that the future of work could be really quite exciting,” she said.

“The sweating of 14 hour days are not ‘de rigeur’ right now and frankly that’s because we’ve proven they just aren’t sustainable from a human perspective. And our young entrepreneurs are showing us the way.”