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I’m sure like me you have been asked “who’s the best manager you’ve ever had?” and “what made them so good?”

Managers can be empowering, encouraging, supportive and inspiring or ……. not!  In my experience as a Wellbeing professional, darting around the UK, working with different organisations there is one definitive thing I can say;  Managers often become managers because they were great at what they did, not necessarily because they are great at dealing with people.

You might have a manager who is empathetic and genuinely cares about your wellbeing or you may have a manager who is cynical of stress, personal issues and considers them as trivial excuses.  I’m writing about this as this is the divide I see every week when I run manager training courses.  It’s almost a lottery.  We know that managers can be a huge cause of workplace stress but they can also be our saviour, depending on the one you get!

A big part of my job on a training day is to take a cynical, unsympathetic manager and open their eyes to the causes and effects of stress.  Ultimately helping them to understand the support needs of their teams.  We’re not all born with high levels of empathy but its definitely something we can build on.

I often find Managers say things like “I have more responsibility than my staff, how can they be stress when I’m not?”  It all comes down to perception, resilience and self awareness.  For example, some of you reading this may think that public speaking is your worst nightmare while others like me actually really enjoy it.  One persons stressor is another persons thriver.

So what can we do?  First of all, don’t blame the Managers! Most of them haven’t been trained in dealing with employee wellbeing relations and may find it really difficult to have sensitive conversations.  The reasons an employee may be stress can be something quite simple or very sensitive, it’s important to train managers in understanding stress i.e. how it works, how to recognise the signs and where to signpost for further support.

The signs of stress can be physical, emotional or behavioural:

Physical Signs:

  • Low Energy
  • Aches & Pains
  • Chest Pain or Palpitations
  • Blurred Vision
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Sickness
  • Headaches
  • Sexual Problems
  • Panic Attacks

Emotional Signs: 

  • Anxious
  • Easily Upset
  • Disinterested
  • Distracted
  • Unmotivated
  • Lack of Enjoyment
  • Over Burdened

Behavioural Signs:

  • Nail Biting
  • Aggressive Outbursts
  • Avoidance
  • Poor Concentration
  • Indecisive
  • Humorless
  • Poor Coping Strategies

As you can see this is quite an extensive list of things for a manager to observe, add all the signs and symptoms of anxiety, depression and PTSD to the mix and you have one very confused Manager.  My recommendation is to get to know your team, build rapport and overtime gain a better understanding of how they act.  Then, if they suddenly begin acting differently you can identify a change or sign.

Personally I feel it shouldn’t be about spotting signs it should be about regular and open communication.  Mangers should build rapport and invoke confidence in their people to open up when times get tough.  If organisations do one single thing to improve workplace wellbeing that thing should be better conversations.

Content & Delivery Director at Hero Wellbeing