Courtesy Gallup

Managers are increasingly burned out, according to new data released this week by Gallup. Their levels of stress, physical wellbeing, and work-life balance have been worse than those of the people they manage—and the new Gallup data show that gap widening even further.

Some 35% of managers report being burned out “very often” or “always,” compared to roughly 27% for individual contributors. Interestingly, just about 22% of leaders of organizations report such burnout.

Only about 25% of managers strongly agree that they are able to keep a healthy balance between work and personal life.

For more on what’s behind these data, we spoke with Jim Harter, chief scientist for Gallup’s workplace management practice. Here are excerpts from our conversation, edited for space and clarity:

Why is manager burnout rising while it's not for other people?

Some of the factors we've seen that relate to burnout in the past—leading indicators—are unmanageable workload and lack of role clarity. From looking at the data in this case, it's not workload as much as it's all the things coming at managers right now that affect their role clarity, including a lack of communication and support from their own managers.

Another thing that can contribute to burnout is unreasonable time pressure. Combine all the things that are happening now for managers, from trying to manage health concerns through this pandemic, vaccine mandates, ongoing transitions in where people are working and where they'll work in the future, trying to match what leadership says they want to do and what employees say their preferences are. And then the increases in quit rates. All those things have probably contributed to that increase in manager burnout.

I assumed manager burnout was already bad and am almost surprised that it's getting worse, given some of the areas of progress, including vaccines and schools operating....

There's just a lot coming at managers in this transition that we're going through. I wouldn't discount the quit rates, which started in the spring. These data go through August. So that would have included everything that we saw this summer. It's a very unique set of challenges that managers are facing. Even though we are getting vaccines, you still have the tension of the people that are and aren't and what kind of mandates we will have in our workplaces, who can come in, who can't. There's a lot of opinions that they have to manage around.

How can organizations best address manager burnout?

I've got three things on my list that are important. One is—and this can't be emphasized enough—clear ongoing communication from leadership. Managers are in positions where they have to navigate the implementation of leadership decisions while they're still trying to motivate their teams to get their regular work done. So the complications of their jobs are heightened with all these things we've been talking about that are happening right now. Just really keeping managers informed on organizational priorities on an ongoing basis is a really important one. So clarity from leadership.

The second is managers need to make sure they don't forget to manage their managers. Just like their employees, frontline managers and supervisors need to feel they're developing in both their work and their overall lives. Team leaders need to be having coaching conversations with their manager, just like we expect them to be having coaching conversations with the people that they manage. That helps to clarify expectations. It helps people make adjustments when they need to be made on the fly and creates some accountability. Part of managing managers is thinking about their wellbeing and those five elements that I mentioned earlier. If managers are more burned out, we need to think about them as a whole person, not just as a worker.

The third one is that organizations need to do a better job of upskilling their managers so their jobs aren't as difficult. They don't need to be as difficult as they are. It's a tough job because they're trying to manage a lot of lives around them. But we can up-skill managers through their own strengths. Part of that is helping managers know who they are from an innate perspective, and then how they can leverage that. And up-skill them to have the right kinds of conversations with people so that it feels more natural. And it doesn't feel like a burden to give people feedback and to make decisions and change priorities when needed and get people involved in that, as opposed to feeling like they're just being delegated to. Upscaling managers so they can be coaches makes their job easier and more effective in the long run.

The handbook for this new era of business doesn’t exist. We’re all drafting our own as we go along—and now we’d like to start doing so together. You can sign up here to receive interviews like this and other briefings by email.