Healthy Managers, Healthy Workplaces: Strategies for Enhancing Managers’ Wellbeing

Sunday 28 April marks the World Day for Safety and Health at Work, highlighting the growing concern for workplace wellbeing within Australian organisations.

Chia-Yen (Chad) Chiu

A recent CEDA report estimates  mental health issues among employees cost the Australian economy between $12.2 and $39.9 billion annually, significantly impacting productivity and engagement. The report also highlights that enhancing workplace wellbeing relies heavily on effective organisational leadership, where skilled and empathetic managers play a vital role. Consequently, numerous leadership training programs and business school courses focus on developing managers' health-oriented leadership skills to promote the physical and mental wellbeing of their teams.

However, managers in modern organisations also face significant wellbeing challenges, which can limit their ability to support their teams effectively. A large-scale 2023 survey conducted across 23 countries found 68% of managers experienced burnout in the past year, marking an 8% increase compared to non-managers. Another survey revealed that among 16,000 Australian school leaders surveyed, approximately one-third reported experiencing frequent burnout within the past year.

Due to the significant pressures managers typically face and the lack of support from their organisations, people become less motivated to take leadership roles. One survey found only 38% of participants expressed aspirations to become managers at work, largely due to concerns about increased stress, pressure, and hours. Despite the expectation for managers to serve as role models of wellbeing in the workplace, only 35% of employees perceived this quality in their managers.

If managers are expected to be the critical drivers of workplace wellbeing, it is essential to ensure these managers are also physically and mentally well.

In a recent published study, my colleagues, including Dr Edilene Lopes McInnes, and I identified specific self-care actions  managers can take both in and outside of work. We named these self-care actions "oxygen masks for leadership," as they help managers to retain and recharge their work energy, after which they are more effective at leading others:  

Leaders’ oxygen masks



Enhancing physical wellbeing

  • Immediate wellbeing solutions at work (eg: drink enough water throughout the day; take a few small breaks away from your desk throughout the day)
  • Afterwork activities (eg: walking the dog; cooking)
  • Long-term lifestyle considerations (eg: regular exercise, food diet and sleep habits).

Being physically healthy is a critical step for building effective leadership.  

Improving emotional, spiritual, and social wellbeing 

  • Emotional/spiritual regulation (eg: draw on your faith or values)
  • Social interactions (eg: seeking support from your family members or community)
  • Leisure activity engagement (eg: spend time on activities not related to work).

Leaders’  energy at work is  largely determined by their social lives.

Fulfilling managerial roles

  • Self-management (eg: set work boundaries and say no to others when necessary)
  • Help and mentoring others (eg: assist workers and clients; help to establish a two-way feedback loop between you and your subordinates)
  • Leisure activity engagement (eg: spend time on activities not related to work).

Leaders need to be effective managers first, then they can pay more attention to assist others.

Seek collegial and organisational support

  • Support from peers and teammates (eg: proactively asking for work-related information and assistance from colleagues)
  • Support from supervisors and management (eg: formal HR support to emphasise the importance of self-care; clear expressed values from management)
  • Learning opportunities (eg: learning from the team, peers, and supervisors to improve your work efficiency)


Leaders need helps from others too.

Based on our findings, we have several recommendations to enhance managers' wellbeing.

Suggestions for managers: Managers may assume they must maintain a strong and tough image to earn respect. However, it's crucial for them to realise this misconception can be toxic and harmful to their own energy levels. In order to maintain leadership effectiveness while fostering a positive and supportive work environment, prioritising self-care is essential for managers.

Suggestions for HR professionals: HR professionals should focus on raising managers' awareness of and emphasising the importance of self-care. Additionally, HR professionals need to provide regular reminders and appropriate training to top executives, as they serve as pivotal role models for self-care among other managers.

Suggestions for local communities: Local leadership and professional communities play a crucial role in providing peer mentorship and guidance. For example, healthcare leadership communities can organise seminars and workshops where leaders share personal experiences regarding self-care practices, such as using oxygen masks, to raise general awareness among organizational leaders. Additionally, these communities can offer consultation services to assist members in negotiating with their organisations for improved self-care practices.

Chia-Yen (Chad) Chiu is an Associate Professor in Leadership at the Adelaide Business School 

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