Are you the boss?

It’s the Easter Weekend as people take time off from work, many of us are looking forward to the long weekend! Sadly, some of us are carrying tremendous stress and probably worrying about wide ranging issues from our workplace and boss to our kids and bodies. Some of us will go back to work feeling refreshed, yet there will be those wishing that the weekend never ends. With the Mental Health Awareness Week coming up the other side of the Easter break, I thought why don’t we take a moment to reflect on the impact of bosses on workplace stress and most importantly, how we can change this.

On Women’s Day, I wrote about worries related to body image ((Link) and today, we will zone in on generic work scenarios. My content is drawn from my multiple conversations and reflections from my career of over 20 years so please bear in mind that my only aim is to provoke thought so we can  nurture joyful workplaces.

So on that note, what do we as bosses, have to do with mental health?

A lot more than we think. Studies suggest that workplace depression is related to bosses and team culture a lot more than to the task or the wages. That is very telling and concerning so let’s take a moment to reflect on two key things.

  • What is the impact that a boss can have on mental health at work place?
  • How can we make that shift from talking the talk to walking the walk?

First, how can a boss be responsible for people’s mental health?

Personally, I don’t think that anyone can be totally accountable for someone else’s situation. The way I see his, my wellbeing is my priority and I make it my business to look after myself on any given day. Yet, we must acknowledge that we are all cut differently and what one perceives as an exciting challenge might be the cause of worry for another. So as bosses, we need to be mindful of this spectrum.

Workplace anxiety is often associated with issues such as work environment, acceptance and sadly, relationships with co-workers and the boss. Speaking of the work itself, key themes relate to unrealistic timelines, disengagement during change or just basic lack of understanding of the work and its value to the business.

Then there are softer aspects and even basics like a sense of belonging and fairness. And I mean really basic stuff – like flexible working or flexible seating. I fully understand and appreciate that broadly speaking, an increasing number of organisations are seeking societal purpose and broadly moving in the right direction and that this is a journey. I get it. As we do so though, one thing to watch out for is uneven adoption which results in patchy change and could eventually drive sub-cultures and anxiety in the team. For those who have the courage to brave the truth, often, a little walk will do the trick.

Let’s take a little lesson from Emperor Ashoka here! Ashoka was a fine leader and as such not a ‘boss’ and while the two are totally different, honing our leadership skills would certainly make us better bosses.

So Ashoka, also called ‘Ashoka the Great’, was a highly respected Indian emperor of the Maurya Dynasty. He was also called the emperor in disguise because he often visited towns dressed as a commoner. If you wish to read further on this, there is a link at the end about how one such visit resulted in the creation of the Sanchi Stupa.

If not Ashoka, then take a lesson from the Japanese and in true Gemba style, take that walk. Gemba is part of the lean philosophy and refers to the practice of ‘walking the place’ and actually interacting with people. While there will always be varying levels of embracement and privilege, take a moment to prepare because the stark juxtapositions might be too loud to ignore. 

As they often say, your actions speak so loud that I cannot hear what you saying. Getting real close to the action requires grit not effort. 

That brings me to the next point – How can we help?

I am not suggesting that we all become an emperor in disguise, although I think there is a place for that at least once in your career. For now, small intentional change will be a good start.

First, the mindset. JRD Tata was a pioneer in this space when he began truly looking after his employees and their families as far back as 1960. He deemed success to be material only if it served the needs of people. Austerity and humility go a long way. Even Warren Buffet lives the same kind of life he lived before he acquired his wealth!

So what are some little things in our gift that can help alleviate workplace stress?

Since our situations are quite unique, I’ve made this little self-assessment in the hope that as you work though the questions, you will get a good sense of what needs to change.

  • When was the last time you walked up to the café with your team? Do you know who drinks what coffee? Do they even have coffee?
  • How many days does your team need to wait to be able to discuss a thought with you?
  • Are any of them at risk of losing their jobs and worrying themselves silly without being able to discuss this with anyone?
  • When was the last time you asked if they are happy? Would you know if they are going through a lot in general e.g. divorce, health concerns etc?
  • What are their long-term career aspirations? Do you make an effort to understand or support?
  • If you want to stretch this really far, then perhaps think of a time you nominated your team for an award?

There’s no pass or fail, just food for thought in my hope that a small changes on our part might change the way work is perceived.

If you wish to chat through your next steps, feel free to reach out via my website.

Finally, just a humble request.

Let’s stop counting mental health in terms of numbers of groups and likes on posts and instead focus on nurturing it in little moments and gestures. This needs no funding – just conscientiousness, sensitivity and some deliberate practice. It’s also great for productivity! If this is not a good business case, what is?

Have a great Easter Weekend!

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Click here for Ashoka’s Story.

Professional Speaking Association


EMCC – Senior Practitioner Coach

Accredited Coach



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