14 Jul Management Style and Mental Health
32% Of workplace stress is caused by poor management style according to a report published by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development in Scotland. This concerning statistic has caused us to reflect on the impact that a manager’s behaviour can have on staff wellbeing and on the business itself.
The CIPD’s 2021 survey on Health and Wellbeing at Work found that the most common causes of stress at work are caused by:
- 59% workload/volumes of work
- 32% management style
- 31% work related demands or challenges due to home working as a result of Covid-19
- 25% non-work factors/relationships/families
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This survey shows that workplaces are causing a tremendous amount of unnecessary stress – much of it preventable. The 59% caused by excessive workloads and the 32% by poor management style are those we can do something about.
Management training could prove to be tremendously cost effective in reducing these numbers and avoiding staff ill health, burn-out and the resultant loss of productivity.
We know that line managers are in the tricky position of having to balance the organisation’s goals with the available human capacity, so they need to have insight, emotional maturity, and good communication skills as well as a thorough understanding of the work and the people doing it to balance wellbeing with productivity. Line managers make up that ‘squeezed middle’ who take flack on both fronts, so ought to have the appropriate training and support to do their jobs well. Their own wellbeing too, needs protecting if they are to manage the demands of the job and nurture others.
Productivity expectations during this period of uncertainty need to be adjusted to suit the realities of capacity. Too often we are hearing about companies expecting people to operate at the same level they were, prior to Covid. It seems that senior management teams need to be given a reality check and the only people who can do this are the line managers.
‘Managing upwards’ is a foreign concept for many UK organisations, whereas much of the new world has adopted a more democratic and therefore more creative and responsive workforce. Flattened hierarchies and collaborative goal setting are fundamental to creating a coherently productive workforce. Managing upwards requires that both managers and staff have appropriate levels of autonomy to match their responsibilities and the confidence to feed information and suggestion up the ‘line’ to effect practical change and improvement. Good leaders guard against creativity, initiative and essential information being lost due to top-down management practices. They know that the financial impacts of no improvement, no creativity or innovation will be felt in due course.
Without genuine consultation people feel unheard and valueless and cannot give of their best. Assigning workloads and setting targets should be a consultation process to ensure they are manageable and achievable; that a realistic pace of work is established, and priorities are understood. We are all still dealing with the complex and compound effects of the pandemic, so everything is taking longer than usual and everyone is on the back foot. We have however woken up to the realization that we can and should have agency over our work outputs if we are to stay well.
In her article for The Guardian (23 June 2021), the writer Otegha Uwagba quotes the experiences of a senior art director, Rafael:
‘Many creative agencies have been vocal about employee wellness and mental health during the pandemic, much of that concern is merely performative. “They talk about mental health, but they fail to recognize that their expectations aren’t in sync with the new reality.’ (Uwagba, 2021)
The Health and Safety Executive requires that our workplaces are psychologically safe environments in which to work, – places where staff feel resilient, have their voices heard, are involved in decision making and encouraged to contribute suggestions for improvement. In a safe workplace people feel comfortable coming forward if they make a mistake and are supported to remedy it without fear, intimidation, or blame. A well-managed workplace prevents mental health issues being created or being exacerbated; keeps people working at their best and helps them avoid reaching a crisis point.
The undue stresses created by poor management is little short of criminal and it is every manager’s responsibility to address and resolve these issues as far as possible.
Confident managers use democratic, participative, and collaborative management approaches instead of falling back on autocracy as insecure managers do. They are able to accept feedback and improve their practice and the systems they work within. We know that management style and attitude is cultured at the top and reflected all the way down the organization. Intelligent leaders look after the morale of their staff and value them for the vital role they play and for the information they gather. Good managers are not born, they are made by emulating good role models – good managers beget good managers and bad beget bad. It is the leadership teams who set the tone for everybody else and the business ethic or lack thereof that drives organizational culture and will manifest in the management style.
Toxic Work Culture
Aditya Jain, associate professor at Nottingham University Business School, describes a toxic work culture as one ‘where workers are exposed to psychosocial hazards’. She describes these workplaces as having ‘little or no organisational support, poor interpersonal relationships, high workloads, lack of autonomy, poor rewards and a lack of job security” (Hickok, H, 2021). These workplaces are damaging people’s health in ways we have not seen since Victorian times. Companies who rely on their toxic culture as a business strategy often find themselves in the news. Customers are beginning to wake up to the power they hold and are more willing to vote with their feet and with their pockets. We are also seeing the tender shoots of structural change happening in workplaces as employees demand new rules of engagement. These toxic companies won’t attract the best talent or grow their custom but many either don’t realize or don’t care that the most powerful reflection of a company’s reputation comes out of the mouth of its staff.
The exposure of such workplace is deeply damaging to shareholder profits, to the brand and to society at large. Be warned – we see you and will call you out. Making public apologies after the damage is done, just won’t cut it anymore.
Good leaders and managers trust their employees and foster open and honest, two-way communication and in doing so, create workplaces where everyone is a mental health champion.
Written by: Sonia Last, MHScot
Arwa Mahdawi, People are quitting their jobs in record numbers. Companies should take note and treat them better. The Guardian, online (23 June 2021).
Uwagba, O. ‘I burst into tears. Then went back to my desk’: when dream jobs become nightmares,Work and Careers, The Guardian (Sat 26 June, 2021),