By Kedge Martin, CEO, Rutbusters
The last decade has brought about monumental change in how employers manage the mental health and wellbeing of their employers.
We have seen businesses put increasing emphasis on work/life balance initiatives with the aim of alleviating some of the pressures of modern working and keeping their people engaged and productive.
While this is to be welcomed, research shows that those at the top of an organisation, ambitious and career-minded leaders, are just as motivated by earning respect as they are by more time away from the office.
Keeping your leaders and managers happy matters because a disgruntled executive can have damaging repercussions for a business, affecting everyone from staff to investors. If a company CEO begins to feel work malaise, the strengths and values which propelled them to the top of an organisation can quickly turn toxic, putting them at risk of serious mental health issues.
When Lloyds banking chief Antonio Horta-Osorio announced he was taking a leave of absence due to fatigue in 2011, for instance, it prompted headlines.
Speaking publicly about the stress-induced insomnia which led him to check in to the Priory, Horta-Osario was quoted as saying, “Leadership is a lonely thing. When you have to make tough decisions in relation to strategy or very important issues you have to take them in the end alone.” It shows that while most managers will thrive under the pressure that comes with a senior role, even the seemingly toughest may actually need support to help manage the stress and avoid burnout.
Horta-Osario’s unscheduled leave of absence raised questions about working practices in the banking sector, but also highlighted the vulnerability of those in the most senior positions. These are people who have often been coached along the career path by colleagues and supported by friends and family. It can be lonely at the top, making it even more challenging to seek out help.
Yet it isn’t just the stress of running a business that can tip managers into a rut at work. In fact, being stuck in a repetitive job which you loathe can be just as damaging for a leader’s mental health and wellbeing as stress and burnout from being overworked – no matter how senior and well paid the job.
We spoke to 1,000 managers, executives and professionals about their work happiness levels to find out what keeps them motivated and engaged. The research found over 14% of Britain’s executives and managers (aged 40+) reported they “very often felt…stuck in a rut for quite a period of time”, with a further 10%+ who persistently felt “very demotivated” (12%), “low energy” (11%), “unfulfilled” (13%); and/or “trapped here” (13%).
Compliance driven sectors such as IT and telecoms and finance are much more likely to have unhappy managers than creative sectors and the professions (legal and accounting). The latter tend to be more customer focused, showing that leaders are motivated when they can see how their work is benefitting others.
Our research underlines this, with 72% of respondents citing earning respect or being held in esteem as their top motivator at work. More flexibility to work from home was the second biggest motivator (66%), while being given a challenging project was rewarding for 64% of respondents.
So, the irony is that for all the efforts of making work more balanced, homeworking is no more appealing to managers than bit of respect and more challenge.
The challenge for employers is to come up with a project that is aligned to the individual’s skillset and interests, and you can only do this by taking the time to get to know your leaders again. The Head of HR or Talent, together with the individual should explore what possibilities there might be – it may be a mentoring role internally or an external business development role. It may be that the task is outside the current job spec but it’s the additional responsibility and interest that is attractive to the manager.
Be warned: handing out a project to a leader who doesn’t feel they have the time or support to able to commit to it will do little to boost morale, in fact it could have the opposite effect of further isolating them. Project work will only keep business leaders engaged if they have the support they need from the organisation to do it properly and, for some, this could mean ongoing training.
Yet, while we know that employers see training as a way to boost productivity and engagement, respondents to our survey said training programmes tend to be focused on the next generation rather than managers.
More than a third of respondents (34%) said their organisations had no training programmes in place for senior executives, while 41% said training budgets tended to be focused on the younger generations. This is in stark contrast with training for younger employers, with 62% of respondents reporting that “the training programme for younger employees (such as apprentices) is generally very thorough”.
The problem is that while businesses may offer an extensive menu of training options, their relevance to the leadership team may be patchy at best. If take up from managers has been slow or non-existent, it’s worth considering whether this is because the training on offer is not suitable, or whether it because they don’t have the time to commit to it. Only by understanding the reasons for low take-up will you be able to make changes to improve it.
And for all the efforts employers make to keep their leaders happy, there will always remain a core of people who have lost their work mojo and have no desire to find it. When this happens no amount of training or support will help them out of the work rut, instead look for alternative strategies to help them.
Prevention Solutions and Pro-active HR: Mid-life audit and life coaching
We have seen more organisations beginning to use independent ‘mid-life audits’ as a way of boosting retention and re-invigorating its middle-aged workforce; such audits could also benefit company leaders.
They are designed to help clarify the individual’s personal and professional life pressure points and put in place solutions to address them. This may include a training programme or other activities (or not) that might boost the their work satisfaction levels whilst showing that employers care for their leaders holistically, not just their work output.
Audit participants need to trust that any review will have no impact on work performance reviews, so it’s always best to use an independent professional. Providing a safe place for a manager to voice any concerns, without fear if repercussions, can do wonders to lift morale.
Pep up or push off?
And finally, our research showed that a core element of managers feel stuck in a job they hate because they see no other option. Having managers who are wholly disengaged can put the entire business at risk. Giving your top team access to an unbiased and independent coach, is invaluable in helping them explore options and solutions before inertia sets in.
An organisations top team is often is most valuable asset. Organisations which foster an inclusive culture and show they care for a person holistically rather than just their work output, will keep their top team engaged and happy.