Managers and stress: Cause or solution?


In a fast-paced work environment, stress is a given. Mind-numbing reports, tight deadlines, and angry customers are common in many lines of work, and that means stress management is a key survival skill in the workplace.

Lucky workers have bosses that help ease their stress. But even the best employee can become a bad one if their boss’s management style stresses them out.

“The effects of stress on physical, psychological and general functioning is well documented,” St. Elizabeth Healthcare Employee Assistance Program Manager Dave Welscher said. “Stress creates an overactive response that compromises decision making, energy, mood and health. Chronic exposure to stress without added support or coping skills can have profound and long-lasting, negative effects, such as serious health issues, depression, anxiety, aggressiveness and apathy.”

Those aren’t traits that managers want in their employees. However, managers walk a delicate balance: They have to keep their employees happy, but they also have to keep them on task.

Managers need to be mindful of how employees perceive them. A manager sets the tone in the workplace, and employees are attentive to the manager’s moods, praises and criticisms. Of course, counseling an employee for their performance can create a confrontation, but there are smaller, subtler ways that a manager can sour their employees and cause stress.

“The manager has power over their direct reports in ways they don’t even realize,” Welscher said. “When a manager neglects to say good morning, snaps at an employee or fails to acknowledge or support an employee, it causes stress.  All people want to feel valued and safe.  When managers are disrespectful, inconsistent, show favoritism, etc., it creates an unsafe environment.”

There are plenty of things that can be done if a manager wants to diffuse a stressful work environment:

  • Check in with employees to see how they’re doing, both in group settings and one-on-one. “Empathy is a valuable tool to lessen the impact of stress,” Welscher said;
  • Listen to employee concerns, and acknowledge their validity;
  • Be consistent. An unpredictable boss can make employees feel unsafe; and
  • Hold everyone accountable and to the same standard. Playing favorites is a recipe for trouble.


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