"It's Utter Madness": Why it's Time to Start Supporting Managers Through COVID-19

Right now, the manager’s role has never been more difficult, or more critical.

As the pandemic has unfolded, managers have watched their roles shift and evolve in response. To lead their teams effectively during the pandemic and beyond, managers have needed to adapt how they communicate, innovate processes, and really lean into their compassion on a new level.

Above all, they’ve needed to become more resilient in order to provide the support their teams need during this time.

But how have these changes impacted how managers have experienced COVID-19? And what toll is the pandemic taking on their wellbeing? We analysed almost 50,000 comments made by managers globally since 1st March to find out.

Managers are 2x more likely to leave a comment on wellbeing during COVID-19

Since 1st March, managers have left a total of 49,457 survey comments on the Peakon platform. Early in the pandemic, these comments largely included topics such as manager, opportunity, role and culture — terms which appear in Peakon survey comments on a regular basis. 

By April, manager commenting language began to shift as anxiety grew and governments implemented lockdown procedures across the world. COVID became the second-most-discussed topic by managers globally, and from March to April, the term’s popularity grew 680%.

But the most-discussed topic in manager comments by far was wellbeing. From March to May, 35% of all manager comments were on this topic.

The global average for employee comments on this topic during the same period was 16% — meaning that managers are two times more likely to leave a comment on the topic of wellbeing as compared with the global workforce.

Managers globally are feeling pressured, stressed and alone

It’s only when we dive deeper into what managers are saying in their survey comments on wellbeing that we can see the full scale of the pandemic’s impact on manager mental wellbeing.

When we analysed the top 20 wellbeing terms discussed by managers from March to April, the term ‘utter madness’ appeared as a top-ranking term for May — revealing just how severely the pandemic has impacted manager mental wellbeing.

Managers also discussed terms including old way, old work, WFH and remote work, revealing the difficulty of adapting to their changing roles and working context.

Terms such as furlough and job security highlight the financial stressors caused by the pandemic, while references to pressure and workload hint at how managers are struggling to make work work for them during this time.

Meanwhile, comment topics such as family, children and work life expose the uneasy blending of personal and professional lives, and life balance has become the most-used comment term by managers globally in April and May.

These terms all contribute to a growing picture of how the pandemic is having a destructive impact on manager mental wellbeing. In May, loneliness, mental health, mental wellbeing and stress were among the top 20 terms used in manager comments. These have increased in prevalence 121% since March.

Why supporting employee wellbeing starts with managers — during the pandemic and beyond

During this time, many organisations have been focused on building operational resilience to ensure business continuity. However, developing human resilience has not been a primary priority — and much of the advice during this period has focused on how managers can support their employees and their wellbeing.

Our data shows that managers globally are struggling with their own mental wellbeing right now. They’re worried about their workload, their working environment and their health — and this burden is magnified as they do the same for their teams.

Looking forward, organisations must remember that the wellbeing of their managers is also at risk. Managers are the critical communication link between your organisation and your people. 

During this time — and as we transition back to work — managers cannot deliver this crucial support without support from their organisations. They need the insights, guidance and training, so that your people feel trusted, supported and safe. It’s not enough to communicate superficially as an organisation; as we return to work, businesses must have transparent conversations with their managers about their wellbeing, and support them to support their teams.

After all, it’s just as poet Maya Angelou said: “At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.”