Experts Say More Money Won’t Alleviate Work Stress, But Your Manager Can Affect Your Mental Health as Much As Your Spouse

Office colleagues having casual discussion during meeting in conference room.
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You might be familiar with the phrase, “Happy wife, happy life.” But a new study from The Workforce Institute at UKG implies that another accurate expression might be, “Happy boss, happy life.”

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Although it doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, research shows that managers at work play as much of a role in an employee’s mental health as their spouse does — and more than their doctor or therapist.

The UKG study of more than 2,200 workers in 10 countries revealed that 69% said their managers impact their mental health. That’s the same number who said their spouse and partner impact their mental health. Only 51% and 41%, respectively, said their doctors and therapists played a big role in their mental health.  

“Going into the study, we had the general hypothesis that managers play a critical role in employees’ overall health, especially mental health. But I don’t think we really predicted just how much of a role they play — even more than our doctors,” said Dr. Jarik Conrad, executive director of The Workforce Institute at UKG and vice president of the UKG Human Insights team.

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Perhaps even more surprisingly, the study showed that money doesn’t necessarily alleviate work-related stress.

“I think a lot of people assume that, if you have a high-paying job, you can’t possibly feel stressed. But that’s just not the case,” Conrad told GOBankingRates in an exclusive interview. “More than 80% of employees would rather have good mental health than a high-paying job, and two-thirds of employees would even take a pay cut for a job that better supports their mental wellness — including 70% of managers. These results suggest mental health is more important today than money.”

Many people don’t have the option to trade a pay cut for a less stressful position, however. Or, in many cases, a cut in pay won’t necessarily lead to less workplace stress.

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Fortunately, just as there are steps you can take to alleviate stress in a marriage or partnership, employees can take an active role in managing stress in the workplace.

Conrad offered some tips for ways managers and employees can work together to create a less stressful environment at work.

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Determine Your Stress Tolerance

“People can start by being introspective and figuring out where they are when it comes to stress,” Conrad said. He noted that there are two factors related to how people deal with stress: their tolerance and their impulse control.  By understanding how much stress you can tolerate and how you react when you reach that limit, you may be able to better manage stressors.

You can work to increase your tolerance through meditation, mindfulness, and finding healthy outlets for stress, such as exercise or hobbies. Recognizing factors you can and can’t control can also help.

Advocate for Workplace Flexibility

Obviously, it is always desirable to remove yourself from stressful situations. But that’s not always possible, Conrad acknowledged. If you have to, speak with a supervisor about working from home, taking breaks during the day, or even taking mental health days off from work.

In extreme cases, you may need to consider a leave of absence or short- or long-term disability.

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Talk to Your Manager About the Causes of Your Stress

The survey revealed that 40% of people – from front-line employees to managers – are “often” or “always” stressed about work. Yet, 38% of employees say they “rarely” or “never” talked with their manager about their stress.

“Talking with your manager about your stress can actually help improve the situation,” Conrad advised.

A manager might be able to reduce your workload, or re-shuffle it. Perhaps delegating tasks that cause you stress would give your co-workers opportunities to shine.

“Ask your manager to help you prioritize what really needs to get done, and when. Prioritizing deadlines and the actual importance of the work you’re doing for the business can help you reduce stress,” Conrad said.

Understand Many People Are In the Same Situation

Conversations with management should take place to uncover solutions, but also to seek out empathy regarding the situation. “By having that conversation with your manager — who’s probably feeling similar feelings — you learn that it’s OK to not be OK,” Conrad said. “Don’t wait for the stress to build to where it’s too late. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, schedule some time with your manager today to chat.”

Look to Your Employers for Resources

Beyond taking practical steps to re-adjust your workload, your manager and c-suite is in a unique position to give you the support you need, ranging from wellness classes at work to a healthcare plan that covers mental health. But your bosses can’t provide the tools you need if they don’t know what they are. Once again, and an open dialogue can help ensure your needs are being met as long as your employer has your best interests at heart.

“Employers need to prioritize taking care of their people, actively listen to what employees are saying, and work on creating a greater sense of belonging and inclusion, which promote positive mental health in the workplace,” Conrad said.

If this isn’t happening at your job, it may be time to update your resume and start looking for a company that prioritizes employee wellness at every level.

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About the Author

Dawn Allcot is a full-time freelance writer and content marketing specialist who geeks out about finance, e-commerce, technology, and real estate. Her lengthy list of publishing credits include Bankrate, Lending Tree, and Chase Bank. She is the founder and owner of GeekTravelGuide.net, a travel, technology, and entertainment website. She lives on Long Island, New York, with a veritable menagerie that includes 2 cats, a rambunctious kitten, and three lizards of varying sizes and personalities – plus her two kids and husband. Find her on Twitter, @DawnAllcot.
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