Managers facing mental health crisis, warns report

Long hours and increased demands creating ‘pressure sandwich’, as unpaid overtime and stress absences soar

Long hours and the challenges of constant communication mean Britain’s managers are facing specific mental health issues their organisations are likely to be overlooking, according to a report published today (17 January).

The study from the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) revealed that an increased tendency to work unpaid overtime, and the ‘always on’ digital culture in workplaces, is negatively affecting managers’ wellbeing. 

One in 10 of the 1,037 managers surveyed took time off work for mental health issues in the past year, for an average of 12 days.

They worked 44 days on average beyond their contracted hours each year – equating to 7.5 hours of unpaid overtime each week, 5 per cent more than the CMI’s previous survey three years ago.

And more than half (59 per cent) of managers admitted they frequently checked their emails outside working hours – an increase of 5 per cent on 2015. 

Brexit was specifically named by the survey as a source of stress. One in four (25 per cent) reported that uncertainty over Brexit had diminished their sense of job security. Similar figures also felt that Brexit had affected workplace morale and overall psychological wellbeing (23 and 22 per cent respectively), while 14 per cent said it reduced their motivation.

The increased stress managers experience as they balance managing a team with their daily workload and pressure from their own bosses leaves many “trapped in a pressure sandwich where they experience demands from all directions and are expected to keep everyone informed in all directions”, said occupational psychologist Gordon Tinline, co-author of The Outstanding Middle Manager. “Brexit just adds another layer of uncertainty that is likely to erode most managers’ feeling of being in control of their work demands.”

While UK workplaces’ ongoing challenges around wellbeing and presenteeism are well documented, the specific issues managers face are less well understood. Petra Wilton, director of strategy at the CMI, said leaders often did not consider managers’ needs. 

She added that the sheer number of “accidental managers” – employees who have been promoted based on technical skill rather than managerial qualities – means many lack the necessary skills to lead and delegate to a team. “Managers need management support and training to help manage their team, delegate to others and engage their teams to achieve their goals. Without this, they will continue to struggle,” Wilton said. 

Laurence Davies, external training manager at mental health charity Rethink Mental Illness, said the “significant pace of change” with regards to technology is negatively affecting managers’ mental health. “This reduces the time managers feel they can spend away from work, taking breaks and being offline,” he told People Management.

To support managers’ mental and physical health, HR professionals should play a role in ensuring organisational culture places no stigma on getting support for mental health issues, added Tinline.

Emma Mamo, head of workplace wellbeing at mental health charity Mind, called the findings “concerning”, and encouraged HR professionals to help create workplaces where “overtime is the exception rather than the norm, with senior staff and managers setting good examples by leaving their work at work and discouraging staff from sending work emails outside of their working hours”.

Mental health at work has become a governmental priority in recent months, with prime minister Theresa May announcing plans to increase the level of support and resources available to employees suffering mental ill-health. May revealed the proposals on 9 January, as part of a raft of wider measures to address what she called the “hidden injustice” that has seen mental health treated as a “secondary issue” by society.