Managers’ increasingly long hours behind rise in stress and mental ill health

Managers' increasingly long hour resulting in stress and mental ill healthManagers are working an extra 44 days a year over and above their contracted hours, up from 40 days in 2015. These long hours are taking their toll, causing a surge in sick leave amongst managers suffering from stress and mental ill health, claims the Chartered Management Institute (CMI), which is calling on UK employers to provide greater support. Long hours and constant communication are having a detrimental effect on the wellbeing of managers it argues resulting in one in ten managers taking time off for mental health in the last year, and for those who do take time out, it’s for an average of 12 days. Of the 1,037 managers surveyed for the report, the average boss puts in an extra day each week.  This is an extra 7.5 hours beyond their contracted weekly hours (44.4 hours actual compared to 37.3 contracted), adding up to an extra 43.8 days over the course of the year. This is up from 39.6 days in 2015. The rising gap between contracted and actual hours of work is in addition to an ‘always on’ digital culture, with 59 percent of managers saying they ‘frequently’ check their emails outside of work – up from 54 percent in 2015.

The OECD has previously estimated the cost of mental health to the UK economy as some £70bn, or 4.5 percent of GDP in lost productivity, benefits and business costs. At a time when UK productivity remains 22.3 percent lower than France and 25.6 percent lower than Germany*, CMI is calling on employers to do far more in 2018 to manage the impact of rising hours and digital technology.

The survey also reveals that the lead-up to Brexit is causing work-related headaches for a significant number of managers. One in four (25 percent) report that it has decreased their sense of job security. Similar numbers highlight a decrease in morale and overall psychological wellbeing (23 percent and 22 percent respectively), with 14 percent directly attributing a rise in working hours to Brexit, and saying that it has reduced their motivation at work.

Petra Wilton, director of strategy at the CMI, says: “The impact of Brexit and the continuing political uncertainty is clearly contributing to managers’ workplace woes.  Not only are they facing longer working weeks and the ‘always-on’ culture that new technologies enable, but the uncertainties of Brexit are clearly starting to undermine their job security and sense of well-being.  It’s hardly surprising that mental health problems and workplace stress is rising as a consequence.

“Despite the jump in hours, we remain a lot less productive than our European counterparts in France and Germany, where they work shorter weeks. Improving managers’ quality of working life should be every employer’s New Year’s resolution to boost productivity. This means encouraging managers to switch-off, helping them to deal with the pressure, and giving them the training and support they need to perform.”

Prof. Sir Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology and health at Manchester Business School, says: “The UK’s long hours culture is detrimental to the wellbeing of managers, and it’s bashing national productivity. The lean and mean structure of business means there are too few workers to deal with mounting workloads.

“Long office hours combined with the always-on expectation to answer emails is eating into home life, leaving managers with little chance of respite and increasing stress levels. Improving the quality of working life for managers will be a major step forward to solving our productivity crisis.”

CMI’s four tips for improving managers’ quality of working life, and that of their team:

  1. Empower your people – Give employees autonomy, recognise values-based behaviour and reward accordingly, and support their personal and professional development. This will promote productivity.
  2. Switch off – Avoid developing a culture of digital presenteeism. Encourage staff to switch off, reduce unnecessary emails and set expectations about working hours.
  3. Develop better line managers – You need to develop managers who empower and engage. Ensure they receive colleague feedback on their management style and avoid the accidental manager syndrome – make sure new managers have the appropriate training to learn how to lead.
  4. Prioritise wellbeing in work – for many managers, long hours and work pressure can affect their personal life. Tackle taboos about the discussion of health issues and take steps to change the factors that employees identify as causing problems – and don’t leave it all to HR.

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