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Bosses can sway our mental health as much as our spouse

By Jack Campbell | |6 minute read

Managers have a major influence over how we work. New research suggests that they also have as much impact on mental health as partners do.

In fact, 60 per cent of employees noted work as the biggest influence on their mental health, according to UKG’s Mental Health at Work: Managers and Money report.

The global study also revealed that managers have just as much of an impact on people’s mental health as their spouse (both 69 per cent), and even more of an impact than their doctor (51 per cent) or therapist (41 per cent).


“The chronic anxiety that comes from working through one global crisis after another is wearing on employees. Being overwhelmed consumes human energy and impacts retention, performance, innovation, and culture. Employers can be the anchor of stability for their people by giving them the support and resources they need – not just what we think they need,” commented Dr Jarik Conrad, executive director of The Workforce Institute at UKG

Mental health is a major factor for people picking a role. In fact, 81 per cent prioritise it over higher pay, and 64 per cent would even take a pay cut in exchange for better mental wellness at work. Younger workers were more likely to make the trade, with 70 per cent of Gen Z agreeing, followed by 69 per cent of Millennials, 56 per cent of Gen X, and 46 per cent of Baby Boomers.

Despite the importance of wellbeing at work, 20 per cent of employees worldwide noted that their job negatively impacts their mental health. Meanwhile, 43 per cent are “often” or “always” exhausted, and 78 per cent said stress negatively impacts their work performance. This stress has negative implications on home life (71 per cent), wellbeing (64 per cent), and relationships (62 per cent).

Pat Wadors, chief people officer at UKG, said: “We talk a lot about mental health in terms of a medical diagnosis or burnout. While those are serious issues, the day-to-day stressors we live with – especially those caused by work – are what we should talk more about as leaders. Life isn’t all milk and honey, and when leaders open up about their own struggles, they acknowledge employees are not alone, and that it’s OK not to be OK.”

When asked what causes the most stress at work, 15 per cent claimed it was their boss. Despite this, managers are burnt out, too. Fifty-seven per cent of managers wish someone had warned them not to take their current job, and 46 per cent said it’s likely they’ll quit their job within the year due to stress. Seventy per cent said they’d take an immediate pay cut to lessen this stress.

So, what can be done to ease this stress and negative mental wellbeing? According to UKG, engagement is key and can lead to better wellness at work. Furthermore, leaders should take charge to create a healthy and thriving workplace.

“Over the course of my career in HR, I’ve learned the best thing a leader can do to support employee mental health is to throw out the script and be human. We set the tone of the entire company, and when we lead with honesty, authenticity, and vulnerability, we create the right conditions for our people to do the same. When our people feel their best, there’s no limit to what we can accomplish together,” explained Wadors.

While leaders are crucial to enacting positive change, it’s important they’re also supported. Thirty-five per cent of C-level leaders are “often” or “always” stressed about work, and 40 per cent said they would likely quit in the coming year due to this stress. By supporting leaders, they’re better able to support employees, having a trickle-down effect on wellbeing.

Dan Schawbel, managing partner at Workplace Intelligence, concluded: “My top advice for companies when it comes to mental health: Don’t leave your leaders behind. Sometimes, it’s hard to muster compassion for the C-suite because they make good money, yet many fail to account for all the pressures they’re faced with, including being responsible for the wellbeing of sometimes thousands of employees. We’re all human and, to lead well, you first need to put your own mask on before helping others.”

Jack Campbell

Jack Campbell

Jack is the editor at HR Leader.