United Kingdom

Top tips for boosting resilience in people leaders

Charles Alberts

When it comes to workplace resilience, employees often look to management to model resilient behavioural traits and demonstrate an investment in their own wellbeing. However, leaders themselves are statistically more likely to be struggling when it comes to wellbeing.

We often encounter an assumption that leaders are already resilient, but – in many instances – this is just not the case. Numerous studies have shown that leaders are the least supported in the workplace, and then there is this dichotomy where they’re expected to provide support to their teams too.

Bupa Global’s Executive Wellbeing Index revealed last year that 78 per cent of business leaders have experienced poor mental health during the pandemic, with one in ten UK leaders experiencing burnout.

A separate study from private medical insurer Benenden Health revealed that more than six in ten UK managers have experienced work-related burnout due to the pandemic, while 20 per cent of managers have either considered leaving or did leave their jobs all together. Of those who had experienced burnout, 46 per cent said it was due to anxiety, 34 per cent said it was due to longer working hours, and 28 per cent said it was due to increased demands from senior leadership. Furthermore, 26 per cent said it was due to juggling home schooling with work demands.

Incredibly worrying is a correlated increase in ‘self-medicating’ behaviour; Bupa’s Global Executive Wellbeing Index revealed that two in five UK leaders have turned to alcohol or drugs as coping mechanisms. There is a clear need for employers to provide targeted support to leaders to assist their own wellbeing whilst managing additional responsibilities.

The ‘squeezed middle’

There is a unique dynamic with line managers; they are effectively the squeezed middle. There is pressure from the top as well as pressure to support and motivate teams they manage.

There is often an expectation that line managers will always be fine and perennially resilient.

Leaders face unique challenges which aren’t faced by the wider workforce: performance issues, behavioural issues, task management and delegation, meeting business objectives, stakeholder management… These additional demands will invariably impact their wellbeing; they may face additional stress or find themselves working longer hours in order to meet expectations. This can easily develop into a cycle which becomes difficult to break.

How can employers boost resilience among their leaders?

Resilience is inherently linked to wellbeing, which Aon sees as five key dimensions: Physical, Social, Emotional, Work Life and Financial. Employees and leaders who are in good physical and emotional health, who are financially healthy, with strong support networks and social relationships as well as having opportunities for career development and job satisfaction will be more resilient than others. An organisation which looks after the five dimensions of wellbeing for all its employees – and of course, leaders – will benefit from a resilient workforce.

However, it’s important to recognise that due to the unique role that leaders and line managers have, boosting resilience among this demographic will require a few extra steps – actively addressing the additional pressures managers face:

  • Run a business leader forum to allow leaders to come together to talk about the issues they face
  • Provide specific training to equip leaders with the skills and confidence to support team members
  • Start up a buddy or mentorship programme to encourage peer-to-peer support, facilitated by HR
  • Communicate relevant employee benefits support services available so leaders know where to turn.

If we don’t equip our leaders, they will find it incredibly stressful to deliver on business expectations and it will have a knock-on impact on other employees and, ultimately, business performance

Leaders need to access support too, including confidence and resilience training as well as the more traditional mental health services such as talking therapies. Ultimately, it’s about seeing the bigger picture; take care of your leaders so they can take care of your people.



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