Research released by Mind this week has found that work is the most stressful factor in people’s lives. No surprises there, perhaps, in an uncertain economic climate.

What was interesting to me is that it’s actually frustration with poor management that is the top cause of work-related stress. Excessive workload came in as the second most stressful factor, followed by not enough support from managers and unrealistic targets. Given how much stress-related absences and under performance costs businesses every year, it seems to me that companies could really benefit from taking a close look at the way they manage their people – and how they help them cope.

I’ll be signing up for one of Mind’s forthcoming webinars for businesses on how to promote mental well-being in tough times and will share their advice in a future blog (details via if you’d like to listen in yourself).

But in the meantime, I was fascinated by a discussion thread that’s been running on one of my professional networks this week – which possibly contains a few clues as to why managers seem to be getting it so badly wrong. A question about what advice members would give a manager who asked how they could be a better boss prompted a flood of responses and some interesting insights from people who’d clearly been frustrated by their managers in the past.

So what are the key things you as a manager can do if you want to improve the way you lead your people and ensure you are not inadvertently causing them unnecessary stress and frustration?


Managers are often so busy talking and telling people what to do that they forget to listen. Taking the time to listen to people not only makes them feel valued – it can also have a real impact on performance and productivity. Someone may be trying to tell you about a way to approach a task more efficiently or cost-effectively, for example, or they may have a brilliant, creative idea that could help you solve a long-standing problem. Of course listening carefully can also alert you to an employee who may be sinking under a heavy workload or struggling with a personal issue and needs more support. Make sure you take time to step back from the hubbub and really take in what your people are telling you …. as well as what they may not be telling you.

Be available

Are you an open or closed door type of manager? Yes of course we are all busy and there are times when we need to shut ourselves away from interruptions and distractions so we can get on with an important piece of work or ensure we meet a pressing deadline. But as a manager, supporting your staff isn’t an add-on the day job, it is the day job – and you can only do it effectively if you are both available and approachable. Make sure people know it’s OK for them to ask questions or seek your advice if they’re unsure about something. And if your diary means you are often out or in meetings, let your team know your movements so they can plan the best time to catch you. Five minutes spent answering a quick question from someone not only gives them reassurance and lets them get on with the job, it can also save trouble further down the line if it turns out they are headed in the wrong direction.

Be open and direct

Uncertainty is the cause of an untold amount of stress and anxiety in organisations. If you don’t tell people what’s happening they will gossip, speculate and often wind themselves up into a frenzy over a rumour which is completely untrue. If change is afoot, tell people what you know – and if you haven’t yet got the full picture yourself, tell them when you expect to know more. Open and honest feedback on performance is also vital. People actively want to know how they are doing and if you need them to be doing anything different. Don’t wait for the annual appraisal to come around. If you give people feedback on an ongoing basis they will be clear about their priorities, secure in the knowledge they are approaching tasks in the right way and that you will support them in any areas where they may need further development.

Show empathy

Be human. Yes you are in charge of your team and you need to make sure they get the right results – but that doesn’t mean you can’t show kindness and sympathy where appropriate. Many managers are uncomfortable displaying any kind of ‘emotion’ in the workplace and shy away from difficult or personal conversations with employees. Stepping outside of your professional persona and communicating with people on a personal level will, however, help you build a much more motivated and engaged team. Be as flexible as possible when people are dealing with difficult personal issues – and if someone’s performance is not up to scratch, make sure you look a bit more deeply into what may be lying behind the issue.

Be trustworthy

Make sure you walk your own talk and that your team know they can trust you. If people are afraid they will be unfairly blamed for anything that goes wrong they will be constantly operating in a state of anxiety and won’t do a good job. Make sure your team know you will have their backs if things don’t go according to plan. Equally, make sure credit is given where it’s due and that you acknowledge the work of your team when things go right. Don’t make promises to people if you’re not sure you will be able to deliver. If you operate with honesty and integrity, then others in your team will do the same.

Who was your best boss… and what did they do make work a positive place where everyone could be the best? We look forward to hearing your views.

See more information about how a people management software can help.

Erika Lucas author image

Erika Lucas

Writer and Communications Consultant

Erika Lucas is a writer and communications consultant with a special interest in HR, leadership, management and personal development. Her career has spanned journalism and PR, with previous roles in regional press, BBC Radio, PR consultancy, charities and business schools.