According to a US study, supervisors are more likely to suffer from anxiety or depression than any other employee within an organization. Why?
There certainly is a glamorous side to being promoted to a management position. After all, it signifies progress in one’s career and is often accompanied by a salary increase.
Researchers at Columbia University in the United States show that it is, however, not always as rosy as people may think. They analyzed sociodemographic data across 20,000 full-time workers and cross-referenced these findings with those of psychological or mental illness problems, and finally segmented workers into four groups: owners, managers, supervisors and employees.
The result: the ‘sandwich’ category (managers and supervisors) is most likely to suffer from depression, respectively 16% and 19%, versus 11% for owners and 12% for employees. Similar differences are also observed with anxiety disorders.
Does success “go to the head?”
When it comes to depression, there isn’t just one single attributing factor. It is the combination of several issues placing people in stressful and vulnerable situations.
“Whether the business is in the private or public sector, middle managers have to meet many requirements related to competition, budgeting and performance,” says Jocelyn Bérard, Senior Vice-President, Organizational Psychology at Optimum Talent. This pressure comes just as much from above as it comes from below when you’re in the middle.
For example, if a nurse becomes head nurse overnight, she may not have necessarily controlled budgets or laid off staff in the past. “This change in expectations and rhythm is a contributing factor in the increase of stress,” says Bérard.
Researchers also find that middle managers do not enjoy the same authority or autonomy that owners do when it comes to making decisions, but must still constantly strive to better themselves, which often places them between a rock and a hard place.
“Being a manager also means you are performing through others,” says Bérard. “This loss of control is often a high source of stress for some.” In addition, this type of role prevents them from seeing the tangible results of their efforts as they do not interact with customers, nor do they take part in general business decisions that would allow them to have an overview of the overall strategy.
Personality traits that do not help
Adding to these organizational factors, personal characteristics can create the perfect cocktail that causes depression. “Sensitivity to stress or criticism, a great desire to please, perfectionism, lack of confidence and esteem. All of these ingredients put together exert additional pressure on middle managers,” says the senior VP of Optimum Talent.
Some measures can be taken in order to avoid that people who are not meant to be managers do not becomes so. “The classic mistake is to promote an employee because he or she is the best option from a technical point of view but, once in a management position, that person is no longer in their element,” says Bérard. Human resources can prevent this by passing psychometric tests to detect personality traits.
For their part, the newly appointed manager should inquire into the expectations of the function and the flexibility available to them in making decisions.
If these measures fail to completely eliminate the position’s stress levels, it will at least help to decrease much of the pressure.