Managers’ mental health during the pandemic – the good, the bad, and the ugly

The job of a manager is often stressful during normal times. But a pandemic changes everything. Lorenz Graf-Vlachy finds that one of the factors affecting manager’s mental health during the COVID-19 crisis is having to perform tasks that they feel they shouldn’t have to be doing. He discusses how organisations can help managers overcome their distress.

Managing an organisation is usually a stressful job. Leading others and being responsible for others’ work without having a direct impact on the output, is not an easy task in the best of times. In fact, management is one of the occupational groups with the highest rates of suicides. But how does a pandemic affect managers’ mental health? Who is particularly affected and why?

In a recent study, we surveyed more than 600 experienced managers across the globe to assess their mental health, and to understand what influences it. We made several key discoveries.

First, the (kind of) good news. Overall, our survey respondents reported comparably low levels of mental health issues. This might be partially explained by the fact that the people we surveyed were alumni of one of the most selective global management consulting firms. They all first went through an extensive screening process and later doubtlessly experienced gruelling working hours and stressful assignments during their consulting careers. We thus might have had a sample of managers who were particularly resilient to begin with. Of course, this does not mean that the pandemic did not affect them, and that they did not have mental health issues. In fact, about five per cent of the sample reported clinically relevant levels of distress, and about ten per cent reported moderate or severe anxiety or depression

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