Should We Be Addressing Our Manager’s Mental Health?

Dear HRart Worker,

When speaking on supporting one another emotionally within the workplace, the responsibility often falls on the managers. While having a manager looking out for their team members is vital, one group is not being supported in this equation: 

The managers. 

Over the past few years, the normalization of conversations around mental wellbeing in the workplace has shifted. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) found that over a two year span, employees are more likely to openly discuss their state of mind with their coworkers and supervisors: 

 

  • In 2019, 51% of workers felt that they were comfortable to speak about mental health with their workplace.
  • A shift can be seen in 2021 when it was reported that now 56% of American workers can speak to their coworkers and supervisors about mental health. 

A 5% increase across a two year span may come across as insignificant. Although remember that it only takes one person to create a snowball effect. Stigma is brought out by a lack of understanding. If one more person is talking candidly about mental stability with their coworkers or supervisors, that is one more person working to break down the misconceptions surrounding mental health.

 

Any progress is a good process, no matter how big or small.

 

That being said, the stigma around emotional wellbeing in the workforce is still strongly present. There is still more work to be done to break down the shame towards speaking openly about one’s emotions. For instance, the reluctance to speak up about the pressure one faces is a continuous battle that many still struggle with due to stigma. Despite these continuous challenges, if employees are starting to feel more comfortable to talk openly about their emotions, which is leading to destigmatization, we should work to stay on that trend.

 

 

Compared to rates in early 2020, a study from early 2022 found that symptoms of depression tripled alone from 8.5% to 32.8% in 2021. From the increase of individuals experiencing mental illness symptoms, and employees talking more openly within the workplace, there has been an increase in online attraction around the subject. Many platforms are enlisting managers to support their employees in response to the lowering stigma.

 

Here are a couple articles that I have found useful on workplace mental health:

 

  • 5 Steps Employers Can Take to Ensure Mental Health and Wellbeing in the Workplace, Fisher Phillips
  • 8 Ways Managers Can Support Employees’ Mental Health, Harvard Business Review
  • Workplace Mental Health In 2021: How Can Leaders Build Enduring Change?, Forbes

Even with these necessary conversations about mental health in the workplace, the conversation has been directed to what managers can do and away from what managers need. If the manager is ensuring well-being for their subordinate, who is supporting the manager? At some point, no one is above the supervising managers to look after their needs. The assumption that all managers have healthy mental stability would be a large accusation. Managers are put under large amounts of stress caused from the higher demands and expectations set by the company. This leads to managers having a higher chance of experiencing burnout, which can lead to mental health concerns. In fact, Gallup found that burnout increased significantly between 2020 to 2021. 

 

If managers are more likely to be burnt out and experience mental health concerns, why is all of the responsibility put on the managers?

 

The reason as to why managers are left out of the equation can not come down to one explanation. Although, the fact that managers are supposed to set an example, and define the tone of the team can explain a portion of the reason.

 

Manager’s leadership and communication style towards the employees they manage has an influence on the department team and company culture. If the managers create a hostile environment due to their own mental health, it will affect their employees’ quality of work. Employees do not leave companies, they leave managers. 

 

While I agree that managers have a large impact on the company culture, and the surrounding conversions regarding mental stability, they should not receive all of the responsibility. Support should be a two-way street. Subordinates should be supporting their managers as much as their managers are supporting them. To assist in creating this relationship, a emotional support network can be formed when emotional reinforcement is needed. 

 

What is an emotional support network?

 

Do not confuse the network with workplace friends. An emotional support network provides professional support in a workplace setting. This group can provide different perspectives, insight when one is stuck on a project, and boost one’s confidence. There is a heavy influence on the emotional aspect of the group.These are the people that one can vent to without judgment when stressed. The people in one’s support pod can be supervisors, subordinates, co-workers, or anyone that can form a strong work-related bond with. To learn more about the support network, this article gives a good breakdown. 

 

The hope is that the subordinates are in the supervisor’s support network and visa-versa. This way both parties can support one another’s well being. Even if mental wellness is not specifically discussed, speaking about what one is going through is a good step. It gives the opportunity for people who are working in the same environment to emotionally connect and help each other when needed. 

 

Note: It is important to note that while rates of mental illnesses have increased, conversations surrounding mental wellbeing should focus more on the daily emotional struggles that one faces. For instance, talking openly about how an employee feels burnt out, stressed, angry, sad, without employees going into their mental illness diagnosis. 

 

What to do if managers and subordinates are not in the same emotional support group?

 

There is no secret way to ensure that teams support one another’s mental wellbeing, but the same way companies encourage mental stability to all of their employees:

 

  • Promote empathy – thank each other when speaking candidly

“Thank you for letting me know”

  • Be vulnerable – allow others to feel comfortable in the environment they work in
  • Check in with one another

The key change is that the viewpoint should be broadened to all employees and all of the responsibility should not be placed on managers. Everyone should take responsibility for mental wellbeing strategies. If a manager is encouraging vulnerability and promoting emotional stability, employees should do the same for their manager. But this can only happen when trust in the company culture is built. 

 

In summary, how can we support one another’s mental wellbeing? 

Have more empathy towards others. It goes farther than one may think.

 

Sincerely,

Grace (she/her/hers) 

p.s. This blog post was adapted from the Letters From the HRart fortnightly newsletter. I invite you to subscribe



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