How stressful is it to be a manager?
Image: © master1305/

How stressful is it to be a manager?

9 Jul 2021

Being a manager is more stressful than it looks, especially since non-managers seem to have trouble sympathising when their boss is stressed.

We are used to managers being painted as workplace villains, but what we don’t often see is that our bosses are often under a lot of stress, which they feel obliged to conceal from their similarly stressed subordinates.

In a 2018 poll carried out in the US by jobs site, a whopping 76pc of respondents said their boss was “toxic”.

Only 19pc thought of their boss as a mentor and a tiny fraction – 5pc – said they were actually friendly with their boss outside of the office.

To get management’s side of the story, ZenBusiness, an online business formation service provider, asked 1,000 US employees and their bosses how well they understood each other.

The findings are interesting, and tell of a fractious workplace culture in which neither party’s stress levels benefit from the stiff upper lip that’s often mandatory in corporate environments.

For instance, did you know that almost a quarter of managers are extremely stressed? Probably not, as just 14pc of non-managers noticed their bosses were stressed at work, with stress levels rising the more employees working under them.

Infographic: ZenBusiness

Managers in charge of more than 30 people reported the highest levels of stress at 44pc, while managers of small teams of five people or less tended to be the least stressed. Unsurprisingly, their stress levels impacted their job satisfaction rates.

Moderately and severely stressed managers were less likely to feel satisfied with their job, salary and even work-life balance compared to those who were only slightly stressed.

Maintaining a work-life balance was the most stressful thing for a manager – 45pc of managers felt stressed by this – but only 32pc of non-managers guessed the issue might be causing their bosses stress.

Bosses said they felt it necessary to hide their feelings at work. This is unsurprising when you consider the concept of stress transference, a topic editor Elaine Burke discussed last year in the early weeks of the pandemic.

“It’s very easy to become a vector of stress and I can’t say I’ve mastered the art of constant cool when it comes to workplace management myself. But I have had teammates advise me on their stress triggers and how my behaviours as a manager might set them off, and I do try to take these things into account,” she said.

Infographic: ZenBusiness

According to the ZenBusiness survey, there was a 10pc gap between the amount of women (89pc) and the amount of men (79pc) who felt it necessary to hide their feelings at work.

Less than a quarter of managers felt their employees were cognisant of their stress levels.

Infographic: ZenBusiness

Luckily, there is a fairly simple way for managers to alleviate some of the stress of their work lives, and it’s something we all enjoy: holidays.

Infographic: ZenBusiness

And according to respondents, a holiday doesn’t necessarily mean a week in Las Vegas; it can be as inexpensive as going for a walk. 27pc of managers said they found taking a short break or going for a breath of air was the most effective way of taking their mind off work-related stress.

Recently, companies have taken the need for a break one step further, offering an extra week of paid leave to all employees.

Blathnaid O’Dea
By Blathnaid O’Dea

Blathnaid O’Dea worked as a Careers reporter until 2024, coming from a background in the Humanities. She likes people, pranking, pictures of puffins – and apparently alliteration.

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