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How Your Leadership Style Affects Employee Mental Health

leadership mental health May 05, 2023
how your leadership style affects employee mental health


Despite many organizations’ commitment to mental health, employees are still experiencing a high rate of burnout, reports McKinsey & Company. In their Employee Mental Health and Wellbeing Survey 2022, it was reported that an average of 25% of employees are experiencing burnout.1 While the implementation of wellness programs is a great first step, McKinsey suggests that these efforts often focus on relieving symptoms on an individual level rather than solving the root cause of burnout.

The link between leadership and wellbeing could be the missing part of the puzzle for many organizations when it comes to investing in mental health. Interesting data shows that managers have just as much of an impact on people’s mental health as their spouse — and even more of an impact than their doctor or therapist.2

Managers ultimately must take responsibility for how they impact employees’ mental health and success at work. Understanding positive and negative leadership styles can help organizations find where they need their managers to improve to make the biggest difference.


Positive and Negative Leadership Styles

A study by the Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies identifies seven leadership styles. Of the seven, “transformational leadership” and “destructive leadership” were shown to have the most significant impact on employee wellbeing, with the former having the biggest positive impact and the latter the biggest negative impact.3

Transformational leaders are defined as those who “influence followers through charisma, inspire them through vision, stimulate them to engage in creative thinking, and consider the needs of each follower.” Other traits employees associate with positive mental wellbeing include showing respectful and supportive behaviours, building trust within the team, and clearly defining work tasks and goals.4

Destructive leadership is “aggressive and potentially harmful behavior of the leader towards the followers, as well as encouragement of followers to contravene the interests of the organization.” Other traits that employees associate with negative mental wellbeing include neglecting team members, being absent, mocking or teasing, telling offensive jokes, and making people feel small.5

The study on leadership styles also revealed that increasing positive management tactics is just as powerful as reducing negative management tactics. Eliminating toxic manager behaviours remains as important as ever, but spending the time to help average managers become “transformational” should also be a high priority for organizations. Investing in manager coaching and training can be just as effective or more effective than implementing wellness programs because it addresses the root of many employees’ mental health problems: managers who are destructive or have weak leadership abilities.


Five Mental Health Strategies for Transformational Leaders

Transformational leaders are those who inspire, coach, support, and listen to employees. Here are five mental health strategies leaders can use to support this new style of leadership in their organizations.


  1.  Build a culture of mental health awareness and support.

Building awareness around mental health and a culture of respect and civility is the first step towards creating a positive impact. Managers should create a culture where employees feel like they can speak about their mental health concerns without fear of judgement or repercussions. Leaders can show that they are willing to support employees by being flexible and actively seeking to reduce stigma in the workplace.

While some employees may still feel uneasy about speaking up about their concerns, managers can learn the signs of distress and notice changes in behaviour in order to initiate conversations. Taking training such as Manager Mental Health Training and Psychological Safety at Work Training can help managers build the skills they need to notice the signs, communicate effectively, and manage relationships in the workplace.


  1. Examine work expectations.

Some factors that have been shown to influence feelings of stress in the workplace include unclear work expectations, high workloads, and work-life balance conflicts. Managers can speak to employees to learn what part of their role is causing stress and involve them in problem solving and decision making to find solutions. To make sure work expectations are clear, leaders should communicate to employees what they need to do, how their role contributes to the organization, and any changes to their role.  A solution for employees who may be struggling with balancing work and life is to provide flexibility. Adapting to employees’ unique schedules give employees autonomy of their work and shows trust that they’ll perform well in their job and meet expectations.


  1. Develop organizational resiliency

Developing a resilient team can help employees work together through challenges, look for opportunities for growth, feel safe to take risks, and feel safe to open up when they are struggling. Leaders should consider promoting wellness and resiliency activities that promote inclusivity, optimism, problem-solving, compassion and respect, and psychological safety. Remember, the onus should not only be on the employee to build their skills. Organizational resiliency should be considered to reduce negative workplace factors creating the feelings of stress and burnout.


  1. Consider your employees’ unique needs.

Being a transformational leader means recognizing that employees need more than a cookie cutter approach. Depending on the type of mental health concern, employees may require different strategies and levels of support.

Employees who are dealing with change, challenge, and difficult experiences may need strategies and tools to learn healthy behaviours during times of stress. Leaders can provide training on stress, mental health, and burnout or refer employees to coaching from an Occupational Therapist. Employees with mental health concerns impacting their productivity and quality of work may benefit from accommodations. With an accommodation assessment, many employees with mental health concerns and disabilities can stay at work and have meaningful and engaging occupations. Assistance can also be provided to employees in the form of benefits. Leaders should examine their benefits programs to ensure there is adequate coverage for and access to mental health care.


  1. Help employees know their value in the organization.

Leaders who are coaches understand that employees work not only to help the organization achieve its vision, but to reach their own goals. People are at the core of every business, and success is built through the accomplishments and aspirations of employees. Providing recognition and reward for those accomplishments builds trust with employees and motivates them to continue to succeed and innovate. Working closely with employees to support them in achieving their professional development goals helps them to learn, grow, and excel. Employees who know the importance of their work and are challenged to grow demonstrate greater satisfaction and wellbeing, and ultimately, the business reaps the reward of these valuable employees.


How Can Gowan Consulting Help?

Gowan Consulting’s Success Coaching program helps coach managers to become transformational leaders and reduce toxic behaviours in the workplace. Success coaching is a process whereby a trained coach works with an individual or group to help them identify, set, and achieve their personal or professional goals. It involves the use of various strategies and techniques to help develop self-awareness, clarify values, and overcome any limiting beliefs or obstacles that may be hindering progress. Success coaching is not therapy or counseling, but rather a focused, action-oriented process designed to empower individuals or groups to achieve their goals, improve their performance, and enhance their overall quality of life.

Contact us to learn more about implementing success coaching in your organization.



[1] McKinsey & Company. (2022, May 27). Addressing employee burnout: Are you solving the right problem? McKinsey & Company.

[2] UKG. (n.d.). Mental health at work: Managers and money.

[3] Montano, D., Schleu, J. E., & Hüffmeier, J. (2023). A Meta-Analysis of the Relative Contribution of Leadership Styles to Followers’ Mental Health. Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies30(1), 90–107.

[4] Putnam, Laura. (2023, April 23). The future of work calls for a new kind of leader.