Managers Are the Problem and the Solution

There’s work to be done to develop manager soft skills and improve employee mental well-being, Calm research shows. Here are a few resources to get started.

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The Calm Team

6 min read

Toxic. Cliquey. Tumultuous. These are the last words you’d want to see splashed in online reviews of your organization by former or current employees. But when we asked more than 4,000 adults around the world to describe their workplaces, 52% of respondents used these negative words among others. US employees feel the worst on average about their employers, with 58% describing their organization in negative terms.

Rather than hoping these words don’t show up online (in bold, all caps, with multiple exclamation points), making it even harder to attract and retain talent, you can take steps to address one of the primary influences on employee sentiment: managers. 

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Managers play a major role in employee sentiment

You’ve heard that people leave managers, not jobs. The survey responses we received support that idea: 65% of employees said that managers significantly influence their mental health. A calm and supportive manager can improve their mental health, while a stress-inducing manager can have a negative impact. In fact, relationships with managers are the number one factor in employee job satisfaction, according to analysts.  

How employees rate their managers in key behaviors

If you have a “glass half full” perspective, there’s some good news from our survey: About half of employees said their manager:

  • Shows care and empathy (53%)
  • Has my back and continues to support me if I make a mistake at work (51%)
  • Handles emotions well, maintaining a calm and respectful manager (50%)
  • Genuinely cares about my well-being (49%)

But from a glass half empty viewpoint, there’s a lot of room for improvement. Indeed, about one-third of workers said they wish their manager would do those things. On top of that, employees felt less positive about managers in several areas they deemed important to their mental health:

  • Only 38% of workers said their manager adjusts their workload for better work-life balance and fosters a low-stress work environment.
  • Only 36% said their manager allows them to take mental health breaks throughout the day.
  • Just 32% of workers said their manager openly discusses and shares their own mental health experiences.
  • A meager 29% of employees said their manager refers them to mental health resources or benefits when needed.

What’s holding managers back from supporting employee mental health?

What’s keeping managers from doing more to support employee mental health? Above all, they’re worried about saying the wrong thing (37%) or unsure about how to approach the topic and think they might be ineffective or awkward if they attempt to have a discussion about mental health (33%). 

But beyond their own worries, additional factors stand in the way of managers doing more to improve employee mental health, analysts say. According to research from Deloitte, some of these factors are beyond managers’ control, including company policies around scheduling, heavy workloads, an unsupportive workplace culture, and a lack of training. Only 42% of managers Deloitte surveyed said they feel empowered and capable of helping the organization reach its goals related to employee well-being.

Employers are evolving their manager strategies

The good news? Employers increasingly recognize that they need to empower managers and make manager training an important part of their mental health strategy. A blind survey of more than 150 HR leaders conducted by Arizent/EBN on behalf of Calm found that more than 90% of HR/benefits leaders agree that developing caring managers is key to developing a mentally healthy workplace.

In the next two years, HR leaders plan to implement manager strategies that could be part of your mental health workplace strategy. These strategies include:

  • Helping managers to learn how to regulate their emotions and create less-stressful work environments
  • Training managers to recognize mental distress 
  • Training managers to speak openly about mental health
  • Developing caring managers who lead with empathy and high emotional intelligence (EQ)

For example, Calm Workshops offer practical “how-to” guidance for teaching managers mindful leadership skills, including better regulation of emotions and leading with empathy. Calm also offers in-app resources to help managers reduce their stress and become more self-aware as a leader. These resources have been proven to result in more positive moods, such as feeling grateful or happy, and fewer negative moods, such as feeling anxious or angry.  

Leaders also need to become more transparent about their well-being if they want managers and employees to start opening up about theirs, says Deloitte. “Whether or not they recognize this, the C-suite sets the example for everyone else.”

Resources you and your managers can use today to improve employee well-being

Managing people is a hard job, so it’s important to empower and encourage your managers in a variety of ways. Here are a few resources we’ve put together to support you and your managers as you embark on the path toward more empathetic and effective management throughout your organization.

1. Mindful Manager’s Checklist: 5 Steps to Becoming a Mindful Manager

We share recommendations based on research from Megan Reitz, Professor of Leadership and Dialogue at Hult International Business School. The checklist will give managers tips for developing self-awareness and choosing their response, adopting a daily mindfulness practice and changing habits, improving conversations, and avoiding common workplace traps. Download the checklist.

2. A Manager’s Guide to Mental Health Literacy

For you and the managers in your organization, the guide provides an assessment tool to rate your managers’ mental health literacy level, actionable tips to improve manager support of employee mental well-being based on their mental health literacy level, and best practices to help managers create a psychologically safe work environment. Download the guide.

3. Speaking Up & Listening Up: How Mindful Leaders are Driving the Future of Work (webinar)

In this webinar, Professor Megan Reitz shares: 

  • Key research findings about how a workplace that listens up and speaks up creates a more nurturing environment for both mental health and innovation.
  • How mindful managers can become more self-aware and disrupt habits that aren’t serving them or their employees
  • How building mindful managers can help increase employee productivity, engagement, and retention
  • Tips for you to build mindful managers as part of your future-of-work strategy. Watch the webinar.

We’ve also outlined some ideas to help you tackle overwork and create a healthier workplace culture. Download “Workforce Well-being Checklist: 5 Tips for Establishing Healthy Workloads.”   

For more information on how to create a safer, healthier, and more productive work environment, connect with our Calm specialist today

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