Coronavirus (COVID-19), HR Management & Compliance

The Pandemic Has Taken a Toll on Manager Wellbeing

Managers have often seen themselves as dispassionate observers of their employees, implementers of systems and protocols, and enforcers of time management—all in the name of productivity and efficiency. This past year proved a major challenge to all those systems, ongoing work assignments, ways of working, and job roles as the pandemic brought dramatic change at great speed. Recognizing the growing/changing personal challenges of work-family balance, health, and the expanding work day fell to managers—people largely trained for and skilled at something else entirely.

pandemic manager stress

Managers Have Born the Weight of Change

No wonder data and surveys from meQuilibrium, McKinsey, and Gartner show that managers are stressed, under-resourced, overworked and calling for help. meQuilibrium’s internal data, which tracks hundreds of thousands of employees globally across many industries, found that as of the fall of 2020 member managers were almost twice as likely to have taken on additional work assignments than non-managers along with twice the worry about job security and health than non-management members. They also reported 3 x the loss of motivation and 34% higher risk of PTSD than non-management members.

At the same time, surveys have shown that managers are also dealing with a crisis of confidence in their abilities with 37% of HR leaders reporting they don’t believe their managers are equipped to lead change and 66% of their teams do not trust them or the leadership to navigate change or crisis — adding to their burden.

Managers With Low Resilience Are Struggling the Most

In late 2020 meQuilibrium conducted a national survey and found that one fifth of managers have low resilience. They are working in the pandemic’s high stress environment without adaptive skills and not attending to their own self-care and that has put them at significant risk for a range of mental health and performance problems. They have 279% higher risk for burnout than managers with high resilience, 55% are at risk for COVID-related PTSD, 40% show moderate to worse depression and 43% show moderate to worse anxiety. Given the level at which they are struggling, it is not surprising that 20% intend to leave their job next year.

Inevitably, challenges at the management level become challenges for an entire organization. McKinsey reports that employee dynamics with management is responsible for 86% of satisfaction with interpersonal relationships at work — a key driver of job satisfaction overall. In fact, in another survey, 75% of participants said a bad immediate boss was the most stressful aspect of their job.

It’s Time to Take Care of Managers

It’s time to take care of managers by helping them take care of themselves, and preparing them for the fluid task of running businesses in a time of ongoing uncertainty.

These are three key areas of understanding that will address manager wellbeing and make them successful going forward:

  1. Managers need support and an emphasis on attending to their own self-care so they can offer it to others. They should be encouraged to honestly recognize and address their own feelings of stress, burnout, and uncertainty.
  1. They need training in empathy, listening and communication skills. The work persona—a form of armor that people wear to compartmentalize and focus—has been pierced. In today’s environment of constant and rapid change, continual empathetic communication is central to creating the trust that will enable teams to move quickly and perform in high stress environments. Also, emotions are nearer the surface now. Managers and their team members need to feel heard.
  1. Managers need adaptive capacity and the skills to foster it in their teams. Managers are typically recognized for competency in their area of expertise. Today’s imperative for change—in customer engagement, virtual work environments and technology— is to make agility and flexible thinking essential skills.

Managers have new needs and challenges, but they also have new avenues to success. They can take advantage of a more human-focused work environment and the wellbeing tools that many employers have introduced to rebuild their own happiness and engagement and the skills to motivate their teams. Doing so will take resourcefulness and resilience.

Jan Bruce is the CEO and co-founder of meQuilibrium, the first holistic SaaS-based cognitive performance platform built for organizations as they navigate the need for more innovative, agile workforces and integrated employee wellbeing strategies. Prior to her work with meQuilibrium, Jan Bruce was CEO at Body+Soul Magazine, the category leader in wellness and sustainability, which was acquired by Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, Inc.