Lonely at the top: looking after your own mental health as well as your teams’

The office can be a demanding environment. A good manager is continually on the lookout for signs that their staff might be suffering, or in need of additional support. This may come in the guise of advice and guidance, amendment of duties to relieve pressure, or even extra coaching to improve performance. However, the manager is also an intrinsic part of the workforce, and must also consider their own emotional needs. If they are not looking out for themselves, who will?

A manager’s role is one of high pressure and intensity. You are the very top of the chain of command, the ‘here’ where the buck stops. You have ultimate responsibility for the glorious triumph or catastrophic demise on any given project, and this can take its toll. If you ignore the symptoms, and class your own self-care as low priority, you may find that you encounter problems that are more difficult to solve. By having some awareness of what is happening internally, you may be able to avoid spiralling or having long-term external issues to deal with over and above your day-to-day obligations.

There is much emphasis on making opportunities to spend time with your employees, to listen to and address their concerns and queries. However, it is also essential for the manager to take time for themselves. Take stock of your working hours and examine how you are balancing the office time, or indeed the virtual office time, with your real life. You may find that you’re working hours of unpaid overtime checking your emails at the dinner table or interrupting your precious sleep to make that vital international call. The body needs time to relax and rejuvenate, otherwise it is unable to cope with the everyday pressures of the office. You must schedule yourself that time with the same priority given to your most favoured client.

As a manager, you could be brimming with a confidence that is inspiring to your employees. You might be the very image of the fierce lion, protecting the your pride from any rogue predators, rather than the meek kitten waiting for guidance and succour. Endeavour to observe yourself from the outside occasionally to ensure your behaviour is not disclosing hidden concerns. For example, has your confidence tipped into aggression? Do you find that you are snapping frequently at your employees when they approach you for help or if they have made an error? If you struggle to observe yourself, you could raise this with a trusted and honest colleague. The choices that you make as a manager on a daily basis can make you unpopular, regardless of how necessary they are. If you begin to alienate your staff through your attitude as well, this could lead to deeper, more concerning issues in the long run.

Job satisfaction is a key element to one’s positive mental health. As a coach, I’m acutely aware that there are certain factors that make a job role more satisfying, one of which is personal development. If you feel that you are stuck in a rut, this may cause you to feel less positive about the quality of your work, and in turn, about yourself. There is a quote attributed to Albert Einstein, “Once you stop learning, you start dying.” As a manager, you may assume you have gone as far as you can, but we all have room for development. Enquire about a training course you could attend, or look at investing in some business coaching or mentoring for yourself. Alternatively, you could look at working with a younger member of your team as a ‘reverse mentor’ to acquire millennial-centric skills, such as social networking or multimedia management. This will open new and interesting avenues for your development, and strengthen your interpersonal relationships within your team.

As human beings, we have a tendency to focus on the negative aspects of our lives. We are quick to recoil from compliments, bushing them off with a blush and a mumbled apology. In business, it is easy to emphasise negative events, as they can potentially have disastrous consequences for our very livelihoods. The lost client, the missed deadline, the botched report – all approached with apocalyptic significance. However, it is important not to spend the entirety of our lives with the spotlight on such traumas, otherwise the joy will be drained from the working day and you will find a sickening feeling of dread creeping over you during your commute to the office. Celebrate the successes, yours, your teams’; any win you can share should be given as much prominence as the losses, perhaps even more so. In doing so, you will be leading by example, and creating a happier environment not only to manage in, but to be present in.

In these times of extended working hours and high expectations, it is vital that we exercise a certain amount of common sense when it comes to our mental health. When ensuring your team is supported and cared for, don’t leave out the person expected to do the caring. Everyone needs support from time to time.