Too little attention paid to managers’ mental health

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Employees’ mental health receives considerable attention from companies and academics but both are guilty of neglecting the psychological wellbeing of organizational leaders – it’s time for a change, says one expert.

Julian Barling, professor of organizational behaviour at Queen’s School of Business, says organizations too often assume that their leaders enjoy perfect mental health when in reality, that’s far from the truth.

“These assumptions are wrong,” he asserts. “It’s time we pay as much attention to the mental health of organizational leaders as we do their employees – if not more.”

“Mental illness is often seen as synonymous with depression and anxiety,” explains Barling. “Our own research in both the U.S. and Canada shows that even sub-clinical levels of depression are enough to detract from leadership.”

Studies show that sub-clinical levels of both depression and anxiety are linked with higher levels of abuse supervision.

According to a recent study, managers are also more likely to consume alcohol at work, be under the influence of alcohol at work or to be suffering from a hangover at work – all of which negatively affect a person’s ability to lead.

Research also shows that depression and anxiety are worsened by frequent alcohol consumption, further impacting a manager’s ability.

Barling says organizations should be scrutinising the mental health of their senior execs because it has a significant impact on the both the company itself and the employees within it.

“This will raise concerns about rights to privacy,” acknowledges Barling, “but given the high stakes involved, the time has come to both support and scrutinize the mental health of organizational leaders in the same way we do the people they are expected to lead.”

Has a high level exec suffering from a mental illness ever had a negative impact on your organization? Share your stories below.

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