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Relieving the Burden: How to Address the Mental Health of Your Managers

We talk a lot about managing the mental health of employees, but what about the mental health of managers in your organization?

After all, they’re also employees, and with the challenges they have to deal with, it should come as no surprise that managers are struggling just as much as the people they lead.

Regardless of industry, today’s managers are taking on a full roster of responsibilities, including:

  • Serving as a counselor and support system for employees and helping them deal with their mental health struggles.
  • Continuously learning and practicing empathy toward employees (with no guarantee of receiving it in return).
  • Motivating employees to perform at their best in varying work environments – remote, in-office, and hybrid.
  • Undergoing immense pressure to meet business objectives, where the goalposts seem to keep moving forward.
  • Handling their own personal lives, including parenting, caregiving, and actively participating in their relationships.

It’s enough to make any manager struggle with the same mental health issues they’re tasked to identify and address in their own teams. As such, companies that truly want to create a healthy work environment that’s rooted in wellness must ensure their managers are included in those plans and understand the gravity of this issue.

Why Managers are Struggling

Let’s take a look at two big factors contributing to the state of manager mental health.

Work-Related Burnout

A March 2022 article from Employee Benefit News cited some sobering statistics from a Prudential Financial survey about the pandemic’s impact on manager mental health.

Specifically, 60% of managers reported that their mental health has been hurt by the pandemic, and 44% said that the hybrid work model has already left them feeling burned out.

A Gallup study confirmed this phenomenon and found that only 25% of managers in 2021 strongly agreed that they’re able to maintain a healthy balance between work and personal commitments. In fact, their levels of stress, physical well-being, and work-life integration are now worse than their employees’.

And while remote work carries many benefits, not all companies are making the transition gracefully. Almost 25% of managers with remote staff told Gallup that they don’t feel they’re being supported by their leaders, adding even more stress and forcing them to fend for themselves, potentially at a cost to their careers.

Feeling Stuck in the Middle

Well-being has become a table stakes issue across organizations, as 81% of senior executives are starting to prioritize their well-being over advancing their career.

That may come as no surprise, since senior executives are, by definition, at the pinnacle of their careers. Why wouldn’t they want to slow down and enjoy the view from the top?

Managers, however, often find themselves unable to focus on their own well-being because they’re simply too busy focusing on everybody else, sandwiched between employees and the C-suite. Plus, when everybody in the company is feeling the burden of burnout and not getting the support they need to address it, the task often falls to the managers to be everything to everyone so things don’t fall apart.

Why Mental Health Support is Critical for Managers

Not having a conscientious approach to wellness throughout a company’s management ranks has a definite ripple effect.

Actualizing Potential

When you think about it, managers are the liaisons between employees and senior leaders. That means managers have to bring their “A” game every day to make sure that connection stays strong and all sides are attended to.

As a result, if a manager is struggling, their team will suffer in turn. The mental health of employees relies heavily on how well managers are trained and how effectively they do their jobs. In fact, researchers at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Total Worker Health program found a correlation between leadership training and improved employee personal and workplace well-being. In particular, they noticed a higher level of employee job satisfaction and a reduced tendency to look for other employment opportunities.

When managers have the necessary resources to tend to their own mental health, they’re more easily able to support their employees.

Leading by Example

Another reason why the mental health of managers should be addressed is because they will have the necessary clarity and resources to support their team’s mental health and well-being.

A June 2022 article from the American Psychology Association pointed out that managers must be able to see their employees as “whole people with complex lives” in order to help them juggle their work and life responsibilities and attend to their mental health. The article also pointed out the fact that managers can also impact other initiatives, including DEI:

“Equity, diversity, and inclusion trainings are also connected to supporting employee mental health. They require leaders and managers to understand and carry out their organizations’ inclusive policies and practices, welcome diverse points of view, and foster a psychologically safe workplace.”

Consider a manager who feels so burned out that they don’t have the energy or resources to care for their own mental health. How effectively will that manager be able to actively help their employees find and take advantage of wellness programming and services?

Even if they’re not in crisis themselves, simply having the conversation with managers about mental health can create a positive downstream effect. The more informed managers are about the complexities of workplace mental health, the more likely they will be to foster positive mental health in employees and encourage the use of wellness resources.

The Role of Employers in Manager Mental Health

Anyone who’s listened to flight attendants on a plane review the safety instructions before takeoff knows that when it comes to your oxygen mask, it’s critical to put yours on before you can assist someone else with theirs.

That concept also applies to mental health, both in life and the workplace. And it’s something that managers often put off.

Companies can help managers prioritize their own mental health by putting measures in place to mitigate and, ideally, prevent burnout. Services to mitigate manager mental health issues should be able to adapt to busy schedules. After all, adding yet another thing to their long lists will only create more stress and frustration. That’s where interventions like text-based therapy and digital solutions can be beneficial.

Text-Based Therapy

With the adoption of teletherapy and other remote mental health solutions, text-based therapy is becoming more and more popular. Text therapy provides 24/7 access to qualified mental health professionals via mobile apps or websites. Both convenient and accessible, it can be less intimidating for managers with anxiety about sharing their emotions, as well as more convenient, than traditional therapy.

WellRight’s TextCoach™ solution is an example of this type of therapy. Created in partnership with Chicago-based health and wellness company Marquee Health, TextCoach™ is a convenient and stigma-free messaging platform that connects employees with licensed mental health professionals to manage stress, anxiety, grief, depression, isolation, or relationship issues. TextCoach™ users can also proactively work on mindfulness, coping skills, and resiliency, with all communications being encrypted and securely stored. 

Digital Behavioral Health Solutions

Some managers may want to work at their own pace. Digital behavioral health apps offer a self-directed solution by way of computerized cognitive behavioral therapy (cCBT) with interactive online modules. More and more research suggests that cCBT actually helps remove physical and emotional barriers to accessing mental health services.

WellRight’s cCBT app, Animo, was also developed with Marquee Health and allows users to track their accomplishments by completing pre- and post-assessments. Dynamic training modules encourage them to develop practical skills and coping strategies in a dynamic, private environment ideal for those unlikely to seek help elsewhere.

Setting Boundaries

Managers shouldn’t have to be available 24/7/365. They need to be reminded that boundaries are necessary to devote time and attention to their own needs.

Depending on how well managers are able to set their own boundaries, companies should consider offering a range of challenges and services to help managers learn how and when to ask for help.

For example, organizations can remind managers that they need to block time for lunch in their calendars and actually take that time to eat (away from their desks if possible). Aside from giving managers permission and encouragement to silence calls and alerts when they need to focus at work, organizations can also offer that same advice for managers when they’re at home, like at night or during weekends. It’s critical that organizational leaders are intentional with their communications and emphasize that these are the types of boundaries all employees should set for themselves.

Personal Time Off

Managers who never take vacation time are undoubtedly going to burn out eventually. That’s one reason why it’s important to encourage them to take their personal time.

If your company doesn’t offer unlimited PTO, make sure your PTO policy is realistic and generous. Then, encourage managers to take the time they need for vacation—even if it’s for a long weekend or a few days during the week. Even a few days off can give managers the rejuvenation to manage their own well-being.

However, some managers may feel hesitant to leave their tasks to others. This is where training and/or educational materials about succession planning come in handy, as managers can identify who they should train to be their stand-in when they want to take time off.

How to Ease the Burden of Your Managers

Stopping burnout and stress before they take root can significantly improve the well-being of everyone on your team, especially your managers. The first step is to maintain clear communication so that everyone is on the same page.

Providing Clear Communication from Top to Bottom

We referenced earlier that a significant percentage of managers don’t feel like they’re getting the support they need from senior management.

Part of that support includes communication. As workplaces continue to rapidly evolve, senior leadership should provide clear, direct communication to their managers about anything from company news to organizational priorities. If managers are hearing these things second-hand from other team members or in a last-minute fashion, they may start to feel uncomfortable and frustrated, ultimately leading to burnout.

Helping Managers Build Resiliency

Resilience is defined by the American Psychological Association as “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress—such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors.”

In other words, it’s the ability to “bounce back” from a difficult experience, having experienced personal growth. While some people are resilient by nature, others have to be taught resiliency, but it’s a skill that can be learned and honed with practice.

Companies can help managers build and practice resilience in a few ways:

  1. Coaching services: Coaches can be the sympathetic ear that managers need as well as personal resiliency trainers who help them practice and strengthen their skill.
  2. Mindfulness practices: Mindfulness has been shown to be highly effective in improving health and well-being. It’s also incredibly personal, and managers should be encouraged to identify what mindfulness means to them.
  3. Physical health and wellness: An employee wellness program that promotes physical fitness, nutrition, sleep, and other health-related best practices can help managers feel more energetic and able to bounce back from challenges.
  4. Positive social connections: Social support is important as well. Challenges in your wellness program where managers work with peer groups or their teams toward a common goal demonstrate how they can overcome struggles and the value of relationships in doing so.

WellRight has the expertise and resources to help companies design wellness programs, challenges, and other services that support the mental health of managers. To learn more about how we work with companies like yours, contact us today. At WellRight, we’re here to help.


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