It's tough in the middle: managerial stress today


Lane4’s 2019 Resilience Tracker reveals that half of UK workers are feeling strained by their jobs, but under the hood it paints a more complex picture. The group that feels the most squeezed by stress are those with management responsibilities: almost three quarters (70%) of managers feel stretched, compared to 47% who don’t have management duties. They are also the most likely to have felt overwhelmed at 49%, 13% higher than the people they manage. This is a worrying trend given the integral role managers play in supporting both their teams and the smooth running of any business.

To try and better understand what might cause this difference, we spoke to several managers at Lane4 about what makes them stressed and how they handle the varied demands of supporting a team.

Adam Stuart, Head of Business Development, has been a manager for four years and has a team of five beneath him. Matt Kaye is the Head of Marketing leading a team of seven, having been a manager for three years. Katie Luff became Programme Manager ten months ago and manages three people.

Adam Stuart, Matt Kaye & Katie Luff

What causes you the most stress at work?

Our managers described two main factors as root causes of stress: workload and uncertainty. When she first became a manager, the sheer number of tasks meant that Katie was regularly working late:

Katie: Having a high workload, much of it with a rapid turnaround, was causing me a lot of stress, especially alongside learning how to be a manager. Compounding it was the fact that work was encroaching on my personal time. My outlets are going to the gym and seeing friends, and because I had less time for that it was causing me to be agitated towards the people around me. I was struggling to prove myself and make the good first impression that I wanted.

Feeling stretched by her own work also exacerbated Katie’s anxieties about supporting her team:

Katie: Managing people can be a source of stress because I feel my responsibility for them acutely. Obviously, you want to help them develop and improve as best as they possibly can, and at the start I didn’t really have time to support that growth. I wanted to do a good job, but with all my responsibilities I was overwhelmed. It wasn’t until I went on Lane4’s internal management course that I fully got a grasp on the role of manager.

For Matt, being a leader means being the first to grapple with a change when it occurs, sometimes requiring an ability to adapt and act very rapidly:

Matt: Personally, I would say I get affected when there are lots of changes to existing plans. In Marketing for instance, we might put a plan in place but then all of a sudden the demands of the business shift, or a project becomes much more important than it had been. That means those plans need to change quite a lot, and that gives me quite a high level of stress because it’s going to impact on my team.

What is the biggest challenge of being a manager?

Managing time and your own personal development were raised as challenges, but Adam described what all three of our managers pointed to as the real challenge of leading a team:

Adam: Something I come up against a lot is trying to get the right balance of support and challenge for the people I manage. Making sure that they have a job that excites them whilst also challenging them is important or else people leave. This is a huge challenge as a manager because it can take at least 6 months to get someone up to speed, so if I don’t get the balance right it can be a costly one.

How do you go about providing that support to a team of unique individuals?

All three managers agreed that having one-to-one meetings with team members is vital:

Adam: I like to meet regularly with the team as a whole, but more importantly I have regular conversations with individual team members as I think these meetings are necessary for people to feel engaged in their role. I’m lucky that I manage a lot of high-performing individuals and I see my role as helping them achieve their personal goals and aspirations which in turn help us achieve our team goals. I always try to make myself as available as I can to support people without trying to interfere unnecessarily. That said, I’m very aware that it’s crucial to let them sort out their own problems and find their own answers. I’m always aware of the risk of just doing things for people, rather than supporting them to achieve themselves. It’s a difficult balance.

What can you do for team members when they get stressed?

Stress at work is inevitable, so a key responsibility of any manager is to support their team through the challenging times. However, the Resilience Tracker shows that 25% of employees want more support from managers to reduce stress. Our interviewees all expressed views on how best this could be done, from sharing out workloads to sending them on coaching programmes, but Matt pointed out that everyone has different needs:

Matt: Finding out from them is the key; it’s not necessarily my responsibility to tell them what will help, it’s about asking them what they feel would be beneficial. A lot of the time it can come down to workload, so it’s about thinking, OK can we prioritise anything differently here, or is there anything I can help with? As a manager you need to be aware of the pressure on your whole team, so you can work out if the workload of one person can be effectively shared across the team. Ultimately it comes down to listening to your team about why they’re stressed rather than prescribing them something. They will know better than you why they’re feeling that and what they need.

What one piece of advice would you give to a new manager?

Katie: I would say that early on you should have a really honest conversation with each member of your team to work out what works for them. What I’ve really noticed is that, even in the structure of a one-to-one, everyone has a different format they prefer. I’ve learnt to adapt how I run the meetings to fit the individual, because there’s nothing worse than sitting down for half an hour but neither party getting anything out of it.


What advice would you give to a new manager? Let us know in the comments below!

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