26 June 2023
The Causes of Middle Manager Burnout
The majority of middle-managers today are burnt out. Reactive interventions only go so far and do not address the underlying causes. For organisations looking to build a healthy, high-performing culture, proactive approaches to managers' mental health are a must.
Over 50% of managers are feeling burnt out. At the same time, our research is telling us that manager resilience is low. This paints a worrying picture of what it means to be a manager today: exhausted and disengaged.
Widespread manager burnout poses a significant risk to organisations. As manager burnout rises, performance collapses, innovation stagnates, and employee turnover increases.
The good news is that organisations can reverse this worrying trend. This means understanding the causes of burnout and putting safeguards in place.
What is Burnout?
Burnout is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion resulting from chronic work-related stress. It’s characterised by feelings of cynicism, depersonalisation, and reduced personal accomplishment. In 2022 alone, 23.3 million working days were lost to stress-related leave or burnout.
- Persistent signs of physical and emotional exhaustion
- Developing a negative, detached or cynical attitude
- A diminished sense of personal achievement and performance
- Difficulty concentrating, memory problems and impaired decision making
- Frequent mood swings and a sense of hopelessness
- A manager becoming more distant, detached or prone to conflict in their interactions leading to breakdowns in teamwork and collaboration.
- More frequent sick leave or time off work to cope with the physical and emotional toll of burnout. There may also be difficulty in finding motivation to come to work.
- Greater reports of burnout-related physical symptoms such as poor sleep, headaches, muscle tensions, and digestive problems.
The Causes of Manager Burnout
Burnout is a complex condition with no single cause. But it is well documented that organisational culture plays a significant role. Considering the severe consequences of burnout, it’s crucial that these systemic factors are understood.
- Role demands
The role of a manager is a constant juggling act. Managers are accountable for team performance and must manage projects effectively. At the same time, they are responsible for team wellbeing and providing adequate support. It’s unsurprising that 46% of managers agree that their workload has increased since the pandemic, and that they are struggling as a result.
When managers feel under pressure to be all things to all people, an inevitable cycle of stress and exhaustion follows.
- Lack of support
Transitioning into management is a significant career milestone. However, the data suggests that 90% of new managers feel unprepared for their new roles. Often, they are lacking two fundamental aspects of support.
Comprehensive training: Management skills such as people management, task management and strategic decision making don’t come automatically. But 57% of managers believe they don’t receive adequate training. Without it, managers will struggle to navigate the complex challenges of their role.
Leadership support: Senior leader support is essential to managers’ success. They provide invaluable mentoring opportunities that assist managers to grow in their roles. Yet, 19% of managers admit they have found it challenging to access this support. When managers feel unsupported a lack of confidence, a loss of self-worth and isolation can all follow.
- Lack of autonomy
Managers find themselves stuck in the middle. They have to implement directives, often without having been involved in the decision-making process. In fact, Harvard Business Review found that 44% of managers felt they lacked autonomy. This leaves managers feeling stifled and disempowered. As a result, they are more likely to disengage and lose confidence.
Supporting Manager Burnout
It can take anywhere from 3 months to 1 year to recover from burnout. This costs businesses up to £56 million per year in lost productivity. Reducing these figures cannot be achieved through reactive interventions alone. Instead, proactive support should be the priority.
Provide training development opportunities:
Investing in well-rounded manager training is tantamount to success. These training opportunities should cover a blend of technical and soft skills that meet today’s needs. Doing so equips managers with the skills and confidence they need to navigate the road ahead.
You can find out more about our programmes for developing human-centric managers here.
Clarify roles and responsibilities:
The role of a manager needs to have clear boundaries and expectations. Where duties and responsibilities change, these must be communicated clearly. Providing this clarity is essential for alleviating ambiguity, reducing overwhelm, and planning effectively.
Foster a supportive community:
Supporting managers’ wellbeing means involving them in the community. Consider creating internal mentoring programmes to pair existing managers with less experienced ones. They can share advice, stories, and concerns in a dedicated space. This can reduce feelings of overwhelm associated with being a new manager and help create a sense of belonging.
Manager burnout is on the rise, and it carries a steep cost. The road to addressing the challenging starts with understanding the systemic factors that contribute to the problem. From there, specific interventions which address the challenge can be implemented. Organisations that succeed in doing so will safeguard their culture, remain competitive and build a lasting culture of healthy performance.
About the author
SANDRA ORDEL is a Chartered Occupational Psychologist at The Wellbeing Project. She has extensive consulting experience within a wide range of organisations and industry sectors.
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See also: Building Resilient Organisations
Explore our manager training programmes