From burnout to balance: tips for supporting stressed managers

The world has changed, whether we like it or not – and it’s time for businesses to change with it. But at least one old adage remains true: “People join a company, and they leave a boss”.

As a business owner, effective leadership from your managers is key to cultivating a positive workplace culture that fosters growth and innovation. However, with manager burnout on the rise, it's important to provide targeted leadership assistance that helps managers inspire and support their teams, especially in light of Stress Awareness Month this April.

Stress is often a normal part of a manager’s working life, however, when it becomes pervasive and chronic it leads to burnout. This burnout creates a variety of personal and professional impacts such as decreased job satisfaction, poor mental and physical health, lower productivity, decreased morale, high turnover and even a negative impact on the organisation’s bottom line.

What’s needed are strategies for creating a culture of support and balance. By prioritising the well-being of managers, organisations can cultivate a positive work environment that benefits everyone.

Identifying burnout in managers

O.C. Tanner’s 2023 Global Culture Report shared that almost half of UK managers reported an increase in their responsibilities after COVID, with over a quarter struggling to remain positive at work. Many managers have more to do but the same or fewer resources available to them. As the expectations of managers escalate, burnout is becoming more common. In fact, 39% of UK employees reported that their direct managers seem stressed.

As managerial roles have evolved into coaching roles, managers are no longer just grading homework but instead helping their teams achieve the highest possible grades. However, there is often a lag in providing managers with the necessary training to improve their coaching skills.

Managers must support their team members in dealing with stress, but they too can become overworked. From a senior leadership perspective, it’s vital to coach managers too as poor management is often linked to high turnover rates. O.C. Tanner’s report also states that in the UK, 18% of managers find it challenging to receive support from senior leaders.

Key signs and symptoms of burnout in managers include poor performance and low job satisfaction, absenteeism, elevated stress levels, irritability, and feeling a lack of social support from colleagues which can lead to a sense of isolation.

Strategies for supporting stressed managers

Workplace mental health initiatives have put significant emphasis on burnout, particularly in the technology sector where its fast-paced environment and high turnover rate have resulted in heightened levels of burnout.

However, the most crucial ingredient for a happy workforce is a positive and understanding culture. This means treating people as people rather than as cogs in the wheel. Culture flows in all directions of an organisation and should be built around putting people first.

People want to control or at least influence their destinies more than anything else. They want autonomy in their jobs and purpose in their lives. So, your entire culture must rest on empowering your people to have autonomy and freedom.

It's also crucial to adopt a flexible approach that accommodates individuals. Leaders should allocate resources towards stress management, mental health, and wellness programs. However, it's not enough to simply provide these resources, leaders must also foster a culture that encourages employees to utilise them. Equipping managers with additional leadership and training skills are also critical to ensure that they feel empowered and capable of fulfilling their roles effectively.

Creating a culture of collaboration, not coercion

Embracing vulnerability must start at the top and trickle down. If managers cannot communicate that they are stressed the problem will only worsen. As a business leader, I try to lead by example and be open and honest to create a culture where people feel supported. This approach has meant that others feel more comfortable sharing their worries and uncertainties.

I believe in practising what you preach. To promote workplace wellbeing and handle stress effectively, I ensure I have my ‘Jeff Time’ which involves being undisturbed watching the sunset daily and going for a walk at my local beach which really clears my mind. Since benefiting greatly from this, I introduced two paid hours per week for my employees to practise mindfulness, giving them time to reflect. While not everyone has clear prompts like the sunset, I encourage my team to ritualise activities that feel peaceful.

Since the pandemic, I have avoided back-to-back calls and only run them for 40 minutes. Additionally, I enforce an hour gap between each meeting for myself and my team and encourage walking to meetings to get the blood flowing.

Burnout is a serious issue that affects managers and can harm the company as a whole. By identifying the signs and symptoms of burnout, recognising the factors that contribute to it, and implementing strategies to support stressed managers, you can contribute to a healthier workplace culture. By leading by example and fostering a culture of collaboration and support from the top down, managers will feel safe setting boundaries and communicating these upward and downward. Prioritising the wellbeing of managers is not only the right thing to do, but it's also good for business.