Manager burnout

Un homme tient son visage dans ses mains

Pressure, work overload, stress… all these roads lead to SMB manager burnout. That was the finding of Relief research chair in mental health, self-management and work, powered by Beneva and based at University Laval.

The stats are undeniable, and employers must take them into account. Are there solutions to remedy the situation and see to the well-being of managers? Of course.

But let’s talk numbers first

The study was conducted on 2,500 SMB employees in Quebec and Canada.

The goal was to document the mental health of SMB workers.

In this group, 45.6% were managers with employees under their direct supervision.

Here are some of the major findings:

  • More than half of SMB managers experience some self-reported mental health or addiction issues, which is significantly higher than the percentage of employees.
  • More than 1 manager in 5 experiences mild or severe clinical insomnia which is, again, significantly higher than with employees.
  • About 1 in 5 managers fall into the threshold of those who experience clinical depression or anxiety.
  • Nearly 30% of women live with anxiety that reaches the clinical threshold compared to 20% of men. 
  • Female managers report a higher level of burnout, distress and insomnia than men, and they typically have a greater workload.
  • Managers with mental health or addiction problems say they’re concerned about divulging these difficulties at work. 41% think it could hinder their career (as opposed to 33% of employees).

Compared to employees, the portrait of managers' mental health is concerning. Insomnia, anxiety, depression...

But both genders agree: talking about mental health issues remains taboo. They worry about the repercussions it can have on their reputation, how much trust will be placed in them after and whether it will impact their professional advancement.

Next, the theories

Why are SMB managers more impacted by burnout than other employees?

The study provided the following observations:

  • Technostress (stress linked to the use of technologies) and workload. More common among managers, these elements may cause insomnia and presenteeism (which means working, but with lower performance levels due to health problems). These two psychosocial risks affect the quantity and/or quality of life.
  • Psychological attachment to work. Compared to employees, statistics show that managers find it harder to detach or disconnect from work after office hours. According to the study, detaching is a positive prevention factor. It helps to reduce symptoms of insomnia, depression, anxiety, burnout and presenteeism, too.
  • Lack of resources for the workload. Not having enough staff members to complete tasks is a psychosocial risk factor. Managers feel like they have too much on their shoulders and the work overload can lead to presenteeism or absenteeism (sick leave).

Work overload by the numbers

59% of managers say they’re asked to do too much (versus 39% of employees).

Over 57% say they receive contradictory requests at work (versus 45% of employees).

Nearly 67% of managers say their work is emotionally demanding (versus 50% of employees).

Some reasons for the managers’ situation can be explained by the many changes that have occurred in the workplace since the pandemic. Trouble finding qualified people, employee turnover, absenteeism, sick leaves, telework (hybrid or full-time), tight deadlines, lack of support... managing a team becomes a real challenge. One that comes with a lot of stress and fatigue and that could be made worse by a psychosocial environment in which employees are also experiencing their own problems.

And finally, recommendations

How to support mental health and prevent problems for managers in a SMB? Fear not, there is no shortage of ideas and strategies:

  • Encourage manager recognition and professional autonomy
  • Identify methods for managers to psychologically detach themselves from work
  • Consult managers to implement effective methods to reduce their workload (provide additional human resources, spread out tasks differently...)
  • Identify the risks, protection factors and support needs of managers in the organization
  • Implement health and wellness programs that meet the needs of managers in an equitable, diverse and inclusive manner
  • Promote awareness campaigns to combat taboos and stigmas linked to mental health
  • Encourage managers to ask for help and support from within their organization
  • Offer managers access to prevention and psychological health assistance programs
  • Provide management training and coaching with experts in organizational health

Destigmatization: the first step toward a solution

A manager in psychological distress is more likely to leave the company than take a sick leave. It is therefore essential to get rid of the stigma and keep the skilled labour, experience and expertise within the organization.

Managers play a vital role in SMBs. That’s why health and wellness programs must increase their efforts when taking their realities and specific needs into account.

Our action plan

Our team of organizational health experts will support employees by: 

  • Implementing a health culture that focuses on an integrated approach in prevention, promoting health and managing workplace attendance
  • Providing support for groups is done one step at a time, allowing for implementation of a sustainable health culture. The changes focus on management practices, manager behaviours and support measures

This study allowed us to prepare a portrait of mental health for managers in our SMBs.

The implementation of concrete actions is added value for SMBs that typically have fewer resources in organizational health than larger companies. With prevention and health promotion programs, specific training for managers and support in implementing a health culture, we should see an improvement in organizational health policies and practices.

Employers, it’s time to take action! Managers really need your support.