Positive employee wellbeing is good for the individuals and businesses alike. Even though we must take responsibility for our own wellbeing, a core part of employee wellbeing falls to managers and leaders – it is their responsibility to create the culture and environment where employees feel safe and happy. In turn, a happy and healthy workforce leads to higher productivity and engagement. In fact, in a recent experiment, employees who felt ‘psychologically safe’ (those in an environment where candid feedback, openly admitting mistakes and learning from one another were actively encouraged) outperformed targets by 17%, whilst those with low levels missed targets by an average of 19% .
With such huge benefits, you’d think most businesses would view employee wellbeing as a priority. Yet, in 2018/19, British businesses lost 23.5 million working days due to work-related ill health, with 12.8 million of those lost due to stress, depression and anxiety . Worryingly, the CIPD has found that the number of respondents attributing work-related stress to ‘management style’ increased from 32% in 2018 to 43% in 2019 .
A survey revealed that more than 6 in 10 managers have put the interests of their organisation above staff wellbeing either sometimes, regularly or every day . From an employees’ perspective, this is likely to appear as though the manager ‘doesn’t care’ about their health and wellbeing – according to studies, as many as 1 in 4 people believe this is true of their own boss .
When it comes to managing people, communication is key. When it appears a manager is putting the business first, it’s likely that employees feel undervalued when there may be perfectly reasonable and commercial reasons behind a manager’s decisions. What is really failing is the communication between managers and their reports. Poor communication skills in managers is more common than most people realise. In another survey, 91% of employees said their leaders lacked good communication skills. Among these responses, the top ways in which this is manifested include:
Not recognising employee achievements
Not giving clear directions
Not having time to meet with employees
Refusing to talk to subordinates
Taking credit for others' ideas
Not offering constructive criticism 
As the figures around managers having poor management skills increase, there is also an increase in the trend of ‘accidental managers’. 73% of employers have experienced difficulty hiring for Management and Leadership roles in the past 12 months ; these ‘accidental managers’ are a result of trying to plug the gaps. According to the OECD, the UK currently has an estimated 2.4 million untrained ‘accidental managers’ – it’s no surprise then that poor management is costing employers around £84 billion a year .
The worrying part is that these people are ‘untrained’. When it comes to managing people, learning on the job isn’t enough. Mistakes made by a ‘manager in training’ can’t just be brushed under the carpet for them to ‘have another go’ – they have very real consequences for the people they are managing and, ultimately, the business they work for.
It’s unsurprising that our management population aren’t equipped to reap the rewards of boosting employee wellbeing; only 50% of organisations currently train managers on how to manage stress, and less than a third of organisations think their managers are confident in having sensitive discussions around mental health issues and signposting expert sources to support their employees .
65% of HR managers believe that their organisation would benefit from more management training at all levels. But this isn’t a quick-fix situation .
To become an effective manager, individuals must start with themselves. How self-aware are they? How good is their emotional intelligence? How good are they at adapting their style for different employees? This process of ‘looking in the mirror’ (often with open and honest feedback from others), helps to identify the skills that managers need to develop for success. Without these skills, a manager will be ineffective at best, and damaging to your business and employees at worst.
Without taking action, McKinsey predicts that, by 2030, more than 10 million people could be underskilled in leadership, communication, and decision making . If we don’t take action now, how will employee wellbeing fare in the future?
Are you ready to improve your workforce?