Stress hits middle managers the hardest

14% of middle managers have been signed off sick with stress - compared to just 7% of their bosses...

by Dave Waller
Last Updated: 07 Feb 2011
And it seems the pressure is manifesting itself in plenty of other unpleasant ways at that mid-level. Mental health charity Mind found that 16% of middle managers have called in sick thanks to stress, 29% have lost their tempers with colleagues, and 25% have even cried at work.
 
So is this evidence that managers at that level simply can’t cut it? Or is there something unique to their role that makes their life such a pressure-cooker? Clearly it can’t be any fun being the meat in a management sandwich, lying between thick slices of troublesome problems both above and below. But there are other issues. One of the key triggers of stress is the British culture of long working hours. Mind’s report found that managers do almost twice as much unpaid overtime as their junior counterparts (42% to 24%), with one in 20 doing more than 20 hours a week. That’d drive even the hardiest of bosses to tears.
 
And it goes the other way too: while 41% of managers say they’re expected to do unpaid overtime, fewer than 17% of directors say the same (perhaps they feel they’ve earned the privilege of heading off to the golf course while someone else gets their hands dirty). No surprise, then, that middle managers are also twice as likely to feel they don’t have enough free time compared with their bosses (24% to 12%).
 
Stress is obviously a real problem for the individual. But it also has a knock-on effect across the business. If senior managers fail to deal with their stress, they could end up venting their frustrations on those below. What's more, with lots of businesses still finding times very tough, you can’t imagine the pressures alleviating anytime soon. And the more businesses struggle, the more of a problem this is likely to be.
 
Mind’s solution is to work with business leaders to promote a campaign to improve the mental health of UK workplaces, called – wait for it – ‘Taking Care of Business’. ‘Admitting to stress is still too readily interpreted as a sign of weakness,’ says Mind’s Paul Farmer, ‘which is not only counterproductive, but puts many at risk of long-term mental health issues.’ The result? A middle layer becoming ‘increasingly squeezed and finding it difficult to cope'.
 
Tips include managing expectations and workloads among staff, training managers to spot stress, and encouraging communication and mentoring. Basically, anything to take the pressure from that one set of shoulders and spread it across the many. Sounds to us like they might need some time off too. Good job Christmas is coming.

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