Bosses impact worker mental health more than therapists

If you’re spending thousands of dollars on talking to a professional, yet still feeling stressed after a day in the office, it might be time to turn your attention to your boss. 

According to new research, your manager plays a starring role in your mental health.

The Workforce Institute at UKG surveyed 3,400 people across 10 countries to find out the role managers play in influencing their staffers’ state of mind and found that it’s on par with a spouse or partner. 

In fact, managers impact workers’ mental health more than both doctors and therapists, according to the study.

So it’s not surprising that 60% of those surveyed said that their job is the biggest factor influencing their mental health.

That might paint a rather glum picture, but the research points out that the pendulum swings both ways: Leaders could be influencing their team’s emotional well-being for worse—or, for better. 

Meanwhile, for stressed-out workers, the study highlights that it might be time to search for new pastures.

Work generally impacts mental health for worse

Despite being able to positively impact well-being, work seems to be doing the exact opposite for most employees. A whopping 64% of respondents said that work negatively impacts their well-being.

In this, women seem to have it worse. Almost a quarter of female respondents said that their job impacts their mental health in a negative way. This dropped to 16% for men. 

Coincidentally (and as women statistically take on the lion’s share of household work), there was a direct correlation between feeling unable to balance work and home priorities with poor mental health. 

Meanwhile, almost half of those surveyed reported feeling exhausted by the end of the workday—and “often” or “always” stressed about work. 

According to the research, the stress has a ripple effect on other areas of workers’ lives and is detrimental to their home life, relationships, and work performance. As a result, workers who are stressed out by their manager or workplace are voting with their feet. 

Over 80% of employees worldwide, and 70% of workers in the U.S., would take a pay cut for a job that better supports their mental wellness. But out of all the generations in the workforce, Gen Z and millennial workers are most likely to prioritize good mental health over a high-paying job. 

Worker’s mental health is worse than managers think

When it comes to workplace wellness, it’s clear that employers and employees aren’t on the same page.

An overwhelming majority of HR and C-suite leaders (90%) think that their workplace has a positive impact on workers’ mental health. Yet only half of employees would agree. 

Likewise, while nine in 10 people managers believed they created an environment where employees felt comfortable communicating frustrations, only 64% of employees agreed.

Meanwhile, the feeling that their manager won’t care or is too busy is also keeping employees from airing their stress.

It’s why 38% of workers have “rarely” or “never” talked with their manager about it.

How managers can influence their workers’ mental health for the better

The research highlights that workers’ mental health is a lot bleaker than managers may think—and that employees may be suffering in silence. 

“Leaders need to avoid burying their heads in the sand and instead make mental health a global topic of discussion within their teams,” the report says. 

A good starting point for employers to find out if work is negatively impacting employees’ mental health is through anonymous surveys. 

“From there, HR can increase awareness or access to available resources and help employees better understand the company’s total investment in their health and well-being,” the study says.

It also suggests that managers should be open about their own personal struggles with mental health, to destigmatize the topic and encourage open dialogue. 

The researchers explain that “by expressing vulnerability yourself, you create a safe space for employees to bring their whole selves to work. In turn, this will help you better understand how you can help.” 

Meanwhile, managers should be encouraging workers to take more time off work. The vast majority of workers don’t use up all of their allotted annual leave, despite it being beneficial for their mental well-being. The trouble is, neither does management nor the C-suite. 

“Management should always model good behavior for their people by taking meaningful time off so everyone knows it’s best practice to come back rested, refreshed, and focused,” the report adds.

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