How Managerial Performance Shapes Employee Well-Being: A Psychological Perspective

Oct 26, 2023 | Employee Engagement

In today’s fast-paced workplace, manager performance is often viewed through the lens of financial returns and project outcomes. However, a manager’s performance has profound psychological effects on the collective well-being of the whole team. Drawing insights from social and organizational psychology, we’ll delve into how managerial approach, communication style, and feedback systems affect employees’ mental health, job satisfaction, and overall well-being. In the process, we’ll share best practices for fostering a healthier and more resilient workforce.

Table of Contents

1. How Managerial Performance Affects Employee Well-Being

2. Enhancing Managerial Performance to Boost Well-Being

3. The Role of HR in Boosting Managerial Support for Well-Being

How Managerial Performance Affects Employee Well-Being

Employees seeming discontent at work
Credit: cottonbro studio/ Pexels

Research demonstrates just how significantly managers shape employee well-being and job satisfaction. Let’s examine some key statistics before discussing how manager performance influences well-being.

The Significance of Managers’ Influence on Well-Being

An employee’s job has a profound effect on his or her wellness. In a report by the Workforce Institute, 60% of employees said their job is the biggest factor affecting their mental health. And 1 in 3 says their manager doesn’t realize how she influences their well-being. 

Moreover, nearly 70% of people say their manager has a greater influence on their mental health than their doctor or therapist. In fact, they characterize their manager’s influence as equal to that of their significant other.

Furthermore, half of all U.S. employees are experiencing burnout—and for 76%, stress on the job is harming their personal relationships. Worse yet, high workplace stress leads to $190 billion in avoidable health care costs each year—and hundreds of thousands of early deaths, reports MIT Sloan Management Review. 

Yet most companies don’t realize the negative effects they may be having on employee wellness. In Workforce Institute’s study, 9 of 10 executives and HR leaders felt their company positively affects employee mental health. Meanwhile, just half of employees agreed.

Ways in Which Managers Shape Employee Well-Being

Some management practices are obviously harmful. If managers allow their own biases to guide how they treat employees, for instance, well-being will suffer. But other elements of manager performance also affect employee well-being in various ways. Some of them (and their effects on employees) may be less obvious at first glance.

  • Level of communication. When managers don’t communicate enough, mental health can decline by as much as 23%. Lack of clarity about expectations causes much of this stress.
  • Sensitivity. A manager with strong emotional intelligence tends to notice when employees need extra support or deserve praise. In contrast, an insensitive manager might make hurtful comments or fail to recognize strengths.
  • Degree of autonomy they allow. Micromanagement doesn’t just feel frustrating. Researchers have found that lack of control over how work is done also increases the risk of heart disease while causing employee mental health to decline.
  • Attitude. Managers who tend to be negative rather than optimistic degrade team culture and motivation. Employees’ enthusiasm for their organization declines in turn.
  • Level of support they provide. Acting as a coach who checks in frequently will enhance well-being. Having a hands-off approach tends to decrease it.
  • Relationship-building approach. Growing a genuine rapport with each employee will promote inclusivity and wellness. Managers will learn how to cater to employees’ individual needs. Without strong relationships, employees won’t feel valued and well-being will suffer, along with job satisfaction.

Clearly, increasing managers’ support of employee well-being is one of the most important ways to enhance it. (In fact, when employees feel their manager nurtures their well-being, engagement rises by 38%.) Let’s now dive into how managers can enhance the well-being of everyone on their team.

Enhancing Managerial Performance to Boost Well-Being

Smiling employees looking at a work document together.
Credit: Ivan Samkov/ Pexels

Employees need four essential things from their leaders: trust, compassion, stability, and hope, says Gallup. An effective leader meets these four psychological needs through his approach, communication style, and feedback systems.

Leadership Approach

A manager’s leadership approach strongly influences employees’ experience. Unsurprisingly, aggressive and hostile behaviour on the part of managers most negatively affects employee well-being.

A recent study illustrates which approach works best, writes Daisy Grewal in Scientific American. “Managers who adopted a transformational leadership style had the biggest positive impact on their employees’ mental health,” she explains. “First defined in the early 1970s, transformational leaders inspire others by painting a vision, encouraging team members to engage in creative thinking and tailoring their approach to the individual needs of each employee.”

Transformational leaders increase employees’ motivation by developing strong relationships with them, adds Fil J. Arenas in A Casebook of Transformational and Transactional Leadership. They help employees find fulfillment through the achievement of their highest potential, rather than through external rewards, he emphasizes. In these ways, transformational leaders help employees become more intrinsically motivated to do their best work.

Let’s explore how to embrace a transformational leadership style with employees.

  • Share a compelling vision. This helps people tap into their purpose and builds a sense of trust in the leader. Transformational leaders focus on how their team’s work will benefit people beyond their own company, articulating this vision in an inspiring way.
  • Prompt creative thinking. As employees learn to rely on their own thinking, their sense of security and excitement for their work will increase. Plus, they’ll contribute original ideas that benefit the organization.
  • Meet employees’ individual needs. Providing this support conveys compassion, enhances trust, and shapes employees’ growth.

Further, managers should share the rationale for their choices in a compelling way. They should also provide consistent support without micromanaging, helping others take on greater responsibility. They can share tips on how to complete a task while inviting alternative approaches, for instance.

Communication Style

Strong communication practices minimize confusion and stress. Plus, they help people tap into their purpose, finding greater meaning in their work. By following these strategies, managers can enhance their communication on a daily basis.

  • Set clear expectations. Whenever you assign a task, set expectations for the outcomes. For each role, make sure key responsibilities are clear.
  • Ask great questions. The right questions will help others tease out their own ideas and participate more fully. In meetings, good questions can launch productive discussions.
  • Hold coaching conversations frequently. These one-on-one conversations provide a balanced mix of challenge and support. Within them, try to listen more than you speak—and don’t impose solutions. Instead, prompt people to draw from their own experience to solve problems. Through a two-way dialogue, discuss which solutions might be most promising.
  • Read people’s reactions. As you’re speaking, note whether people look bored, confused, or attentive, as the Center for Creative Leadership says. Then adjust accordingly. For example, switch to an engaging story if reciting facts isn’t capturing attention.
  • Repeat your message. Say the same thing more than once, in a slightly different way. Give reminders. This will ensure people retain information, remember instructions, and meet deadlines.

Next, let’s explore how to use great feedback systems to enhance employee well-being.

Feedback Systems

Strong feedback systems benefit employee well-being, along with team productivity. Through regular feedback, managers will give employees a sense of security. They’ll know where they stand, they’ll feel supported, and they’ll be excited to improve. Here are some key ways to implement strong feedback systems.

  • Refer to expectations. Clearly describe how the employee could better meet expectations set for a task or role. Give specific examples of desired behavioural changes.
  • Adopt an empathetic approach. Use positive language and assume that people have the best of intentions. Listen to employee perspectives and affirm your belief in their ability to make the desired changes. This approach will enhance employees’ sense of psychological safety and well-being at work.
  • Be direct. Give tough feedback, when need be, by following the principles of radical candor. Begin by focusing on the intended outcome—how you aim to help the employee improve. Describe the behaviour you want them to change and how it’s affecting the team. Then discuss the desired changes and how to implement them. This future-oriented approach will help employees feel empowered to change.
  • Use intuitive feedback-sharing tools. Such solutions work for both in-office and remote teams. Through instant feedback systems, managers can deliver bite-sized feedback that helps employees make changes right away.
  • Check implicit bias. Ask yourself how your own background may have shaped your perspective. Is the employee simply using a strategy that’s different from yours, or does he genuinely need to correct course?
  • Ask for feedback in turn. How can you improve as a manager, catering to each individual’s needs?
  • Follow up. After you point out a way to improve, check in repeatedly to discuss progress and share praise.
  • Create a strong feedback loop. By scheduling weekly one-on-ones, you’ll deliver continuous feedback that supports ongoing improvement.

By using all of these strategies, managers will more effectively support each direct report’s needs. Now, let’s move on to one final means of supporting employee well-being.

Personal Resilience

To enhance employees’ well-being, managers should first nurture their own resilience. If they’re frazzled and overworked, employees will become stressed out in turn. But if managers use their time off, maintain an appropriate workload, practice strong stress-management techniques, build healthy working relationships, and care for their physical and mental health, employees will follow suit. 

“When a manager is thriving in well-being, their direct reports are 15% more likely to be thriving in well-being six months later,” asserts Gallup.

The Role of HR in Boosting Managerial Support for Well-Being

HR should regularly evaluate how manager performance shapes employee mental health and overall well-being. By doing so, they can spot and address issues early on. Every manager needs consistent coaching to tap into their leadership strengths and build upon them. Here’s how HR can provide this support.

  • Encourage managers to prompt direct reports to set well-being goals. Employees don’t have to share their specific goals, but managers should discuss how to support them in achieving their aims. They can ask specific questions about what types of support would help without prying, as researchers note in HBR.
  • Support every manager in honing their leadership approach, communication style, and feedback practices. In-depth training alongside peers will catalyze lasting growth and job satisfaction within managers.
  • Conduct 360 feedback assessments to evaluate managers’ needs for growth. Then, you’ll better understand their effect on direct reports. Talk through the results with them in a supportive way and make an action plan together.

With the right support for both managers and employees, well-being will increase throughout your organization. In turn, energy and enthusiasm for achieving your mission will grow. By fostering a high level of personal well-being, you’ll also create a culture where employees enjoy working. As a result, you’ll boost job satisfaction and attract other talented people to your organization.

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