Being a boss is a juggling act. You’ve got to be a great communicator, a brand ambassador, a leader and a motivator, a trusted ear and an understanding guide, and be prepared to take full responsibility when the going gets tough.
Being in charge can be very rewarding, but it’s also pretty demanding.
In 2019, a Teladoc Health survey found that managers were more likely to be diagnosed with a mental health condition than other employees in a business. And that was before we’d even heard of Covid-19.
A further report from Champion Health, which polled over 2,000 working people between April 2020 and December 2021, found that 67% of employees were experiencing moderate to high levels of stress, and more than a quarter felt that their productivity had been negatively impacted during the pandemic.
There are many reasons, some of which may be company or industry specific, that managers suffer from stress, anxiety and poor mental health, but some universal contributors are:
- Pressure to perform and from above
- An expectation to look like you’re always coping
- Managing different staff personalities, or handling disagreements
- The ongoing impacts of Covid-19
- Feeling overloaded or burnt out
- Responsibility — especially around the health and happiness of your team
This article will help you as a manager or business owner take charge of your own mental health. Anything you can do to improve things for yourself mentally will have a positive knock-on effect on your productivity, your relationship with your team, and how happy you feel at work. In short, it’ll make you a better manager.
"Our ability to read how others are doing and our capacity for empathy are less available to us when we’re stressed [and] depleted". - Ariana Huffington
Check in with your own mental health
Taking the time to check on your own mental health is similar to the security briefing on a plane when they tell you to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others. I.e. In order to take care of anyone else, you’ve got to make sure that you’re okay first.
Many managers are guilty of doing the opposite, and fail to make time for their own wellbeing. But being in tune with your own mental health, and taking steps to safeguard it, will actually make you a better and more empathetic boss. Plus, people respond positively to authentic leadership, so it could also help to build loyalty and trust within your team.
Good (or bad) mental health isn’t linear, so this is something you need to be doing regularly. You might not know where to start with that, but taking a few moments every week to ask yourself some questions is a good first step:
- Am I feeling okay or overwhelmed?
- (If overwhelmed) Do I know why that is?
- (If you know why) Is this within my power to change? (For example, current working processes, self-imposed deadlines, or who’s scheduled to work certain shifts.)
You’re not on your own — there are resources out there to support, guide and advise (see below as well for training and support). And if you’re really not enjoying your job right now, we’ve written an article that may help you decide what to do about it: Lost your management mojo?
Remember: if you’re not in tune with your own mental health, how can you be in tune with that of your staff?
Lead by example
(What sort of precedent are you setting for your team?)
As a leader, it’s important to consider how your behaviour affects others. Are you saying one thing, but doing another? For example, if they see you working late and sending correspondence at all sorts of times, then the default assumption is “That’s what I need to do to get ahead” — even if you tell your team to prioritise their mental health. What people perceive to be true makes a big impression.
If you need to work outside of hours for whatever reason, then there are things you can do to ensure you’re setting the right impression for your staff — like scheduling messages or emails to send at a different time or the next working day (more on this below when we talk about harnessing the power of technology).
In the same 2019 survey mentioned above, 50% of respondents said they’d be encouraged by a senior member of staff talking openly about their mental health and it would make them feel more comfortable to talk about their own at work.
You can put mental health on your agenda every day, and help to break the stigma around it. It doesn’t have to be a huge, dedicated exercise either — simple, regular check-ins are likely to be more effective as they feel natural and put people at ease. You can also put it into the context of what’s current or relevant: “Anyone else feeling anxious about the heatwave?”, for example, or “Anyone else struggling to sleep because of the news?”.
People in positions of power can be incredible forces for change. Imagine being a young person who struggles with their mental health, and having a manager who speaks openly about theirs (and as naturally as they might do rotas, task lists or social events). Imagine what that young worker will seek to emulate as they grow and develop in their own career.
So much of management is the example you set for others, not just what you achieve via targets and KPIs.
Get some training or external support
“If you get somebody disclosing [mental health issues] to you, and you haven't been trained to deal with mental health issues, that could be really nerve-wracking.” - Rachel Suff, Employee Relations Adviser, CIPD
Training and support is so important. There are free resources out there to get you started and help you figure out what else you might need. Mind, the mental health charity, has some excellent resources designed to improve wellbeing in the workplace, including:
- An introduction to mentally healthy workplaces
- People managers' guide to mental health
- How to promote wellbeing and tackle the causes of work-related mental health problems
We’ve also written about improving workplace mental health in an earlier article in this blog series: Improving mental health support for shift-based workers
There is industry-specific support available too, which may prove invaluable because of its relevance. The Burnt Chef Project, for example, was created in response to reports that ‘4 out of 5 hospitality professionals’ experience ‘at least one mental health issue’ during their career. A not-for-profit social enterprise, it provides training for owners, line managers and employees in the hospitality sector. They even have a podcast which you can listen to as you work or travel.
Streamline your business processes
Working smarter is a hugely effective way of reducing your stress. So many of us get stuck in a work rut: doing the same thing we’ve always done and somehow hoping for a different result.
But you need to step off the treadmill and take the time to review how you’re working in order to assess whether you could be doing something more efficiently. Not giving yourself the space to do this is what typically prevents any positive change happening at all. And then we just retain all the ways of working that aren’t any good for us.
Constructively reviewing the way you work will pay you back big dividends though. Streamlining your business processes will reduce stress, give you back time to do other things in your business, make you more productive, and enhance enjoyment all at the same time. In other words, it’s really worth doing.
You can start this process by asking yourself some simple questions:
- What tasks take me the most time?
- Can I attribute a cost to the time it takes me to do them?
- Are there solutions out there to help me reduce the time and the attributed cost?
Another way to quickly assess what tasks can be streamlined is to attribute emotion to them:
What do I love doing? / What do I hate doing?
Typically, anything that you dread and is overly arduous is a good candidate for streamlining.
Harness the power of technology
When it comes to working smarter, technology is there to help.
Stressors at work are often the (seemingly endless) repetitive administrative tasks that are necessary for the business to function. And they can be the thing that tips you over the edge when you’re feeling mentally drained. The good thing is that these are usually things we can change, and once you have a smart and simple solution in place, the tasks become much faster and easier, and not nearly so frustrating.
There’s a tech solution for almost every business problem you can think of. Good software will transform recurring headaches into less stressful processes for managers and employees alike.
For example, you can improve internal communications as well as your administrative processes through the use of software like RotaCloud. RotaCloud connects you and your team to essential things like rotas, timesheets and leave management, and streamlines the communication around them — everything is in one place, and the app sends alerts directly to you and your employees. It also means that you don’t need to send emails and messages at odd times of day, because everything is updated and communicated via the software.
So, tech will save you time, can save you money (as it frees you up to do other stuff), and will likely make communication less stressful for everyone involved.
Delegate (and promote)
Failing to delegate tasks is a common managerial pitfall. Your staff are here to do a job, so trust them to do it. Your team needs your expertise, support and guidance, not you to do their work for them.
And if someone is showing obvious signs of being able to step up, promote them. They can share the load and free you up to focus on those jobs you keep pushing to the wayside, as well as developing in their own career at the same time.
Swap ‘junk miles’ for miles that matter
Junk miles is an athletic term for putting in the miles but with little or no purpose, so you exhaust yourself without actually achieving a goal.
Aim to only spend productive hours at your business. Don’t work late just for the sake of it, as you’ll only feel tired and resentful if you do. Plus, you’ll feel better able to handle those times when you do have to drop everything in order to get something done.
Spend time away from your business
Just like staff, managers need regular breaks.
It can be hard to book leave when you feel like everyone depends on you, but it’s as important for your own development as it is for that of your staff. They get the opportunity to step up and show their capability, and you get to take a step back to reset and come back firing on all cylinders.
What’s more, many of the world’s most successful business people regularly talk about getting their best ideas when they’re away from work. So taking a break may actually be better for your business, as well as your mental health.
So there you have it — simple but effective steps to improve and support your own mental health, and make a positive difference to your business at the same time. If this article has inspired you to make a change, please tell us about it on Twitter and LinkedIn.
“If you want to improve the organisation, you have to improve yourself and the organisation gets pulled up with you.” - Indra Nooyi, Chairperson and CEO, PepsiCo