If you have worked with a demanding or bullying manager, you know how stressful this experience can be. The simple idea of going to work can become so dreadful that you are unhappy most of the time. Unfortunately, many organisations fail to realise that the pursuit of better mental health at work starts with more flexible leadership styles. What is the link between various leadership approaches and workplace mental health, and how can leaders create a more supportive work environment?
The role of leadership in employee wellbeing
There is already some substantial research done on the impact of leadership styles on employee productivity, satisfaction, and wellbeing. Fortunately, companies already know that the quality of a relationship between managers and employees directly influences the type of work climate and the attraction & retention of future talent.
There are many examples in which leaders are agents of positive change within workplace mental health. Similarly, there are also plenty of cases where leaders are the cause of mental health problems. The way people are led in the workplace matters – toxic leadership is likely to be a driver of mental illness, which is why it should be changed.
We can’t promote mental health in the workplace and employee wellbeing without talking about leadership styles. As data shows, work-related stress is already a reason for poor mental health and depression. Deadlines, work pressure, lack of support, and many other factors are already leading people to develop mental health problems like depression, stress, and anxiety. If we add in a toxic leadership style, the chances of creating a supportive work environment are drastically decreasing.
How are some leadership styles detrimental to mental health?
There are some leadership styles that are particularly detrimental to employee mental health. For example, autocratic or authoritative leadership is characterised by individual control over all decisions and little input from team members. Leaders who work with this approach might offer little opportunities to employees to voice their opinions.
As a result of this, employees might feel that they aren’t trusted and heard in the workplace. Since all control goes to the leader, many will feel powerless within an organisation, which can be detrimental to their mental health in the long term.
Similarly, transactional leadership works by offering rewards only in return for the completion of required tasks. This leadership style views the leader-follower relationship as a transaction: the follower (employee) obeys and follows orders, while the leader provides monetary compensation.
However, one of the downsides of this leadership style is that it discourages creativity and out-of-the-box thinking. Employees might also feel that their ideas are not valuable enough, which can lead to lower self-esteem. Similarly, creating an environment where people are solely rewarded for adhering to set tasks can inhibit creative growth and personal development.
On the other hand, more flexible leadership approaches – such as transformative leadership – can be a lot more effective and promote better mental health. Transformative leaders work alongside employees to find solutions to core problems within the company. They also encourage their self-expression and make room for their input and vision. Research has shown that this leadership style leads to higher performance in the workplace and improved group satisfaction.