Leader stressed out at work

3 Things Stressing Leaders Out and The One Thing That Keeps Them Going

It’s no secret that employee burnout and fatigue are plaguing employees.  There is understandable concern about high turnover, quiet quitting, and employee engagement.  But what about the enormous pressure on people leaders – specifically frontline leaders and leaders of teams – who are dealing with the fallout from several converging issues?  While being a people leader has always come with its fair share of challenges, the past few years have been particularly trying.  Much has been made of the wellness issues and career angst employees face in a highly uncertain world.  But leaders are people too and they are stressed out.  What are some of the most pressing stressors for today’s leader?

Let’s Unpack Leaders’ Stressors

  • Stressor #1 – Talent Crisis – Leaders are at the epicenter of the talent crisis – simultaneously blamed for unprecedented resignations and responsible for backfilling during massive talent shortages.  A survey by Randstad found that 60% of workers have left a job, or would leave a job, due to a bad boss or manager1 and Gallup found that 50% of employees left their job “to get away from their manager to improve their overall life.”2  While each employee’s reason for leaving is unique, it’s not hard to see why leaders get sidelong glances as turnover climbs.  Leaders not only feel the sting of the departure but also the pain of the effort required to backfill the vacancy combined with the challenge of getting work done until the position is filled.
  • Stressor #2 – Hybrid Policies – People leaders, particularly those on the frontline, are the unenviably implementors of some unpopular hybrid policies – policies that they themselves are often not thrilled about.  Many organizations have loosely established guardrails around when employees need to be in the office but it’s up to people leaders to put those guardrails in place.  Like most organizational rules, the policing of that policy rests with the leaders.  But hybrid policies are different.  Why?  First, many hybrid  policies are still unproven, the kinks haven’t been worked out and there is no clear approach when employees choose not to follow it.  The reaction to mandatory in person days can range from acceptance to silent rejection to an outright visceral rejection and people leaders bear the brunt of those reactions.  What’s more, the repercussions for not following the policies are unclear.  It’s hard to push back on employees who are doing their jobs and producing the way you need them to.  And it’s hard to dispute the downside of a lengthy commute.  Take a hard stance?  You could –  but see stressor #1 and then consider the wisdom of that decision.
  • Stressor #3 – Career development and development of others – People leaders need to ensure their people are contributing to the organization and are satisfied by the work that they do.   A survey by McKinsey & Company found that 87% of executives say they are experiencing skill gaps in the workforce, and 62% say these gaps are hampering their company’s performance.3  Often the best way to fill those gaps is by reskilling or upskilling existing team members.  But development for contribution is only one half of the engagement equation.  To truly motivate and retain employees, it’s incumbent upon people leaders to have career conversations – conversations that focus on each employees’ values and goals.  Leaders need to be tuned in to each employee’s unique values, goals, and aspirations.  Only then can they align a development approach that will engage and retain.  That kind of effort requires time and resources – something in short supply for leaders and the folks they lead.  And the leader’s own development?  Likely put on the back burner as they juggle what others need from them.

The motivating factor

However, while the stress of being a people leader is very real, when it comes to developing and supporting others, leaders are precisely where they want to be.  In a study done by GP Strategies, 72% of respondents indicated that developing others was one of the primary factors in their decision to become a people leader.4  Despite the heightened scrutiny on turnover and regardless of the shaky hybrid strategies, many people leaders are motivated by the opportunity to guide, coach, help, support – to lead.  They understand and appreciate the opportunity even as the wrestle with the day-to-day.  Being a people leader is, in fact, a tremendous responsibility and one leaders take seriously.  It’s what keeps them up at night, and it’s also what gets them out of bed in the morning.



3 https://www.mckinsey.com/capabilities/people-and-organizational-performance/our-insights/beyond-hiring-how-companies-are-reskilling-to-address-talent-gaps

4 https://www.gpstrategies.com/resource/reinventing-leadership/

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