Managers Feel Anxious and Isolated. The Surprising Cure is Gratitude.

When you’re promoted to a managerial position, your first response is most likely pride and excitement. But after the initial thrill of updating your LinkedIn profile wears off, you might find yourself feeling something else: lonely, anxious, and even depressed.

If you’re a manager struggling with these feelings, you’re not alone. Plenty of managers struggle with the psychological toll of their position, and there’s research to prove it. A 2015 study published in Sociology of Health & Illness found that managers and supervisors had higher rates of depression and anxiety than owners or workers.

There’s no doubt that being a manager is a responsibility that comes with a lot of mental and emotional challenges. You’re accountable to every member of your team and to your superiors, and it’s impossible to make everyone happy all the time. But there are some strategies that can help you look at managerial challenges in a different light and feel more connected to your work and your team.

Communicate Your Way Out of Self-Doubt

There’s just no way around it: managers are faced with tough decisions and uncomfortable situations all the time. You bear responsibility for your team’s success, and you hold their careers in your hands, and that kind of pressure can make anybody doubt themselves.

The solution is to communicate thoroughly—when things are going well, and when they aren’t—and keep a record of that communication to support you when you’re faced with hard choices.

Alison Green’s invaluable Ask a Manager column is full of managers who are unsure of how to handle difficult but common situations, such as addressing employee lateness, managing one’s former peers, delivering critical feedback. Her advice is nearly always to have a direct, up-front conversation with the team member in question. Tiptoeing around big issues isn’t doing an employee any favors if those issues later cost them their job.

Just as you shouldn’t shy away from candid conversations, you also shouldn’t wait until things are bad to establish strong lines of communication with your team. Build a foundation of trust and honesty from the beginning of your working relationship. You can do this by taking time in one-on-ones to celebrate victories, identify potential roadblocks, and do a holistic check-in on an employee’s state of mind.

Having these conversations is imperative, but the key to using them to conquer your own self-doubt is to document these one-on-ones. That way, when you’re unsure about how to handle a situation with a team member, you can look at the evidence you collected yourself.

If someone’s performance is going through a slump, you can refer to your notes and see that they disclosed a personal problem, and you might choose to give them a break. Conversely, if an employee keeps repeating the same mistake, you’ll have documentation of every time you asked them to correct the issue. Deep, well-documented communication is there to back you up when doubt starts to creep in.

Aside from communicating with your team, you should also reach out to other resources when you’re unsure of a decision. You can talk out issues in one-on-ones with your superior, reach out to other managers on social media, contact HR, or process your anxiety with a counselor. Recognizing that you’re not the first person to deal with these situations will go a long way toward helping yourself feel equipped to deal with them.

Find Meaning in Your Team’s Success

We’ve written before about how jarring it can be to transition from working on the front lines of an organization to managing a team. Where you once had concrete ways of measuring your progress, now you have the somewhat more nebulous goal of keeping a team on track. That can make it hard to get that crucial feeling of professional accomplishment and leave managers feeling adrift and demotivated.

Loving the work of management means embracing the fact that your wins are now the wins you help your team to score. Sometimes that means leading them to meet quarterly goals or pushing projects through the pipeline. But the richer reward comes in helping each individual team member grow into (and sometimes out of) their roles. Helping individuals learn new skills, gain confidence in their own abilities, and even move into other roles is the side of management that can help you find real meaning in your job.

Again, one-on-ones are the best opportunity to dig into this side of your role. Design your one-on-one agendas to learn about your reports’ long-term professional goals; each time you meet, you can collaborate on moving them forward. When you’re genuinely invested in your team’s progress, you’ll earn a sense of achievement from watching them grow.

Finally, don’t think that just because you’re managing a team, you’ll never get to dig into projects! If there’s an element of the work you particularly enjoy or excel at (whether that’s talking to customers or making epic spreadsheets), find ways that you can still incorporate it into your position, but without stepping on your team’s toes.

Use Gratitude to Cultivate Strong Relationships

Perhaps the most isolating thing about becoming a manager is losing the feeling of camaraderie you had when you were a member of the team instead of its leader. The happy-hour invitations dry up, as do the opportunities for lighthearted jokes about management, because, well, you are management. Your reports will inevitably treat you differently, presenting the version of themselves (and their work) they think will get them ahead, and this shift is particularly challenging if you’re managing your former peers.

You can’t erase the power dynamics inherent in your position, and it would be a mistake to try. But in most organizations, managers must lead by permission and not by mandate. In other words, your team members ALLOW you to lead, and without that permission, the “manager” title means very little. Once you understand that your team’s permission is a form of closeness all its own, management starts to feel less isolating.

You can still maintain close and positive workplace connections, even as you maintain the boundaries necessary to function as an authority figure. The key to showing your team you care is expressing gratitude.

LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner called gratitude “the highest ROI management tool I know.” His advice to managers is to be thoughtful (a handwritten note or a small gift), genuine (give deep praise instead of an off-the-cuff “good job”), and judicious (don’t praise so much that your praise becomes meaningless).

So how does all this gratitude help your managerial anxiety? Well, in a Gallup poll, 95% of respondents reported that expressing gratitude made them happy. The very act of demonstrating thankfulness takes you out of “checklist mode” and reminds you that you are fortunate to be in your position. It connects you to the members of your team by proving your investment in them, and it takes you back to the excitement and pride of the first day you got promoted.

Manage Yourself First

Becoming a manager means taking on a host of new responsibilities, and the occasional bout of anxiety or self-doubt means you’re taking those responsibilities seriously. But to thrive in your role and do the best job for your company and your team, you have to learn to find joy in your work, meaning in your relationships, and trust in yourself. It all starts with a change in mind-set.

Ready to start having better one-on-one conversations?

Learn how with our free guide to improving your one-on-ones.

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