Looking After your Leaders: How leader stress can stifle staff wellbeing
Updated: Apr 13
How ‘well’ is your organisation? Perhaps you have conducted a wellbeing survey recently. Maybe you have developed a staff wellbeing strategy or provided some training for staff? You may feel things are moving in the right direction. But have you done enough to initiate and maintain a culture of wellbeing? Here we discuss how leader stress can stifle staff wellbeing and be a barrier to positive culture change.
The need for culture change
The challenges to employee mental health and wellbeing that have emerged through the global pandemic have forced many organisations to think differently about how they support staff.
This signals a new era for staff wellbeing, which has all too often been overlooked while other priorities have taken centre stage. But now employers are recognising the inextricable link between wellbeing and crucial factors such as staff retention and business performance.
As a result, many organisations are starting to take a more systematic approach by developing a clear staff wellbeing strategy. This involves more than just providing training for staff or creating some wellbeing champions. It requires those working in people-supporting roles – leaders and HR professionals – to promote and support a culture of wellbeing.
How leader stress can stifle staff wellbeing
Prioritising staff wellbeing can be a challenge for many in leadership roles, who are often under the most intense pressure to deliver on key business imperatives.
Indeed, data shows that many leaders and HR professionals are struggling with their own high levels of stress. Recent figures highlight that stress related absence among HR professionals has increased significantly over recent years. And in a BUPA survey 77% business leaders reported experiencing at least one symptom of poor mental health in the last year.
Research published in 2022 further highlights the negative impact of high work demands and poor support on leader wellbeing. But of particular concern is research which shows that leader resilience and wellbeing are key factors in staff wellbeing within an organisation.
When under pressure themselves, and with little outlet or support, leaders find it hard to respond effectively to others who are struggling. They may not feel they have the time or emotional energy to check-in with staff, to listen to their concerns or offer support. They may also fail to recognise any unhelpful coping strategies, such as overworking, that can undermine their own resilience and also negatively impact relationships with staff. And most importantly, leaders who are over working and overwhelmed are often not modelling good wellbeing behaviours to their staff.
Looking after your leaders
Providing psychological support to leaders and HR professionals in the form of resilience supervision or coaching will help them manage the demands of their roles. But this is easier said than done. Often there is nobody in the organisation with the skills or impartiality to provide such support. And stigma can make it hard for leaders to acknowledge and recognise when they need to ask for help.
Despite this, impartial, professional and boundaried support can hugely benefit leaders. Similar to clinical supervision for healthcare professionals, resilience supervision provides a psychologically safe space to explore difficult feelings or experiences. In so doing it allows leaders to offload feelings of uncertainty or self-doubt, to build resilience skills and reduce their risk of burnout.
Space for reflection allows leaders to contemplate the personal and professional challenges that impact their functioning at work. This support helps to raise their awareness of their own mental health and wellbeing. It facilitates them to recognise and limit unhelpful coping and gives them permission to prioritise self-care.
Further, the experience of accessing professional support models the core skills leaders need to support staff. These skills include the ability to actively listen, to respond with empathy and compassion, to develop prosocial behaviours and kindness and to establish psychological safety in their teams and networks.
Regular psychological support will ensure that your leaders are equipped to contribute to your company’s wellbeing agenda and actively promote culture change. Investing in resilience supervision or other support initiatives are an investment not only in your leaders but also in staff wellbeing and the creation of a wider culture of wellbeing.