by Paula on February 15, 2013

This last few weeks I have watched a close friend suffer as a result of work. A situation of huge pressure, a boss whose management style is to berate and belittle, long working hours into the night and weekends and no time to rest and recharge. Add this to the decreasing self-confidence and increasing stress & they reached the inevitable conclusion of a mental and emotional breakdown.

Those of you who know and/or work with me will know that I am a strong advocate for trained and educated managers, not just people promoted to management roles because they’re good at their job, or have been with the company for ages.

I could therefore write a blog about all the things that went wrong that lead to this sad situation. I could lay blame, I could rant and rage, but that helps no-one. I know there are many of you who will read this who are suffering (or seeing) situations like this in your own work and therefore I want to educate how the people at all levels could do things differently in order that situations like that may be reduced.

The Employee

There will always be pressure, deadlines and difficult bosses and yet they affect people in different ways. If all employees were armed with strong self worth, skills in managing confrontation and the confidence to speak up when treated unacceptably, stress in the workplace would be reduced. But the negative impact of intimidating management, not knowing who to turn to, and the inability to say the right thing without turning into a quivering wreck is HOW SOME PEOPLE ARE. This is not a failing or a weakness, it’s a personality trait.

Through coaching and training, individuals can learn the tools and techniques needed to manage situations and the self-confidence to deal with unacceptable situations in a calm and controlled way.

The Manager

Yes, the poor treatment of staff members is unacceptable and it would be easy to lay the blame here. However, in the UK, particularly in the service industry it has become normal for people who are good at their jobs, or who the company want to pay more and keep, to be promoted to managers. They are put in these situations with no training, no experience, and no idea how to support and bring out the best in a team. So they cope. They develop a “one size fits all” approach to everyone and it doesn’t work.

A manager, like a teacher, needs to:

  • Understand and assess the personalities in his team
  • Know their weaknesses, their strengths, what motivates them and their different working styles
  • Be aware of what’s going on outside work in order to spot signs of change or stress
  • Manage people differently in order to bring out the best in the individuals
  • Understand relationships between staff in teams to reduce conflict and encourage positive partnerships
  • Encourage, care, support, discipline, educate, lead, listen, make decisions…

Not easy is it?! Not at all – that’s why Management is not just an upgrade of any job, it is a job, a career and a responsibility in itself. Training, support and coaching can help managers to perform the important role they have been given. For some, management is just not for them. Recognition of this and role adjustments to deal with this are vital. Poor management = broken staff.

The Directors

However large the company, however many tiers of management, the buck stops somewhere. As a Director I have confidence you envisioned a company with happy clients, a great product or service, motivated and committed staff. It’s a big responsibility isn’t it? While you run that company the lives of the people in it are your responsibility. Knowing what’s going on, communicating and listening, and appointing managers who are trained and experienced not only in leading a great team, but also in managing upwards – managing you. Knowing when to involve you and when not to, not being afraid to share when there’s a problem, and never fearful of the consequence if they are unable to handle a situation.

Being a Director is a big job but each manager, each employee, each family member of each employee is affected by the way you choose to run your business. Be aware, be educated and seek support where needed.

The colleagues

It’s heart-warming at the support from colleagues when one of them breaks with stress.

  • “I saw it coming”
  • “It’s no surprise it happened with how you were treated”
  • “Everyone knows what that manager’s like, it’s not acceptable”.
  • “I’m suffering too…”

Yet each and everyone of these people who saw what was going on had the opportunity to step in. As individuals we have empathy, we care and we are witness to what’s happening around us. It doesn’t stop there though. We have a responsibility to our colleagues and friends to speak up for someone if they are struggling so much they seem unable to do that for themselves.

Look around you today – are there people who are suffering? Are there people that would have you saying “I saw that coming” if tomorrow they suffered a stress breakdown? Is there anyone you can talk to? Is there anything you can do?

Work / Life Balance

I discussed this term with a friend this week. WORK / LIFE BALANCE. The implication being that when you are at work this is not life. How ridiculous. We should not be seeking to balance the happy out of work life, against the misery that is being in work. We spend a large amount of time at work, but we are not robots, we are individuals, husbands, wives, parents, children, friends. However we react, whatever pressure we are under, we need to know how to help ourselves and help each other.

Do you recognise yourself in any of these descriptions? Is there something you can do today to make a change for the better?

After all, it’s time businesses woke up to the bottom line.

If you break your people, you break your business.


Paula White is a qualified and experienced manager of projects and people who specialises in getting people working better together. She is also a human being with a warm heart who cares immensely. Don’t suffer, talk to someone. 


Alice February 21, 2013 at 5:38 am

Dear Paula

Excellent article well done for bringing this all too common, yet skirted issue to the fore. The article cover points managers should be aware of if a company doesn’t wish to break its people.
I’m a great advocate of work/life balance and have work successfully for 10years with a work/life balance coach who specialises in working with professionals in construction

I would be pleased to share my experience on how I took steps to get practical so do get in touch.

Steven Maslin looking forward to reading your article.


Paula February 21, 2013 at 1:01 pm

Dear Alice

Many thanks for your kind comments. I have a lot of experience myself in the construction industry and without doubt this is one of the service industries where problems like this regularly arise. It is natural to take good architects and keep them within the business by promoting to management. However without equipping them with the skills to deal with it, the inevitable fallout are situations of stress, bad management and lower productivity, leading to missed deadlines, higher costs and more stress!

I specialise on working with individuals in the businesses who are in those management roles and help equip them with the specific tools and ways of working that they need in order to successfully manage people in their own environment. This works well as often these individuals don’t want to go away and study on a generic management course as their passion is the architecture or other creative skill they are so good at. It is also necessary to understand the teams who work for them and the people they work for in order to ensure that they are getting the support they need.

I think it’s great you are working with a coach Alice, it is a really positive way of getting the another perspective on a situation and helping making it manageable and hopefully even enjoyable :-)

Very best wishes to you in your ongoing endeavours.

Sharon Beardshaw February 19, 2013 at 8:33 pm

Hi Paula, I have read your post and feel it’s very true in many respects. I have one slight criticism regarding colleagues though. If the colleagues were also under the same duress then it would make it more difficult to gauge at what level of stress the colleagues is at. I have been in this situation and felt dreadfully sorry for a colleague in this position.

Paula February 20, 2013 at 10:03 am

Dear Sharon

Many thanks for reading and taking the time to reply. I absolutely agree. The blog was intended to be generic but in every business things are different. Often when the problem lies with a difficult manager (whatever the reasons behind that) then colleagues will be struggling to handle things themselves. Keeping going when things are tough takes all of their focus, or simply they don’t recognise the signs of stress, or don’t know how to reach out.

If some of the issues raised are present in a business then it affects everyone either emotionally (worry, stress, exhaustion) or financially (loss of productivity). The important part is opening the door to awareness and starting to talk about it. As long as the people who can make a change are able to accept that there is a problem, there is guidance, support & training available to start making improvements.

I hope that things become brighter for you and your colleagues and I know that having individuals like yourself in a team, who care, is a great starting point.

Best wishes. x

Steve Maslin February 19, 2013 at 5:34 pm

Paula, Good to see a blog addressing such an important subject. There is potentially more to this subject and that is the actual working environment and the contribution this has to workplace stress. You may be interested to tknow that I have been developing thoughts towards guidance on this subject for the BSI, which I refer to as “Design for the Mind.” An article on the subject is is soon to be published by the Centre for Accessible Environments in their journal Access by Design, of which a shorterened version is likely to be issued as a blog by me in due course.

Paula February 19, 2013 at 6:27 pm

Thank you Steve. I think that sounds interesting. There’s certainly a higher incidence of stress at work than ever before & in such an educated society it should not be so. I take employee well-being very seriously in my work & am always interested in new perspectives. Do let me know when your blog is available as I’d be interested to read and share it. Best wishes.

Steve King February 17, 2013 at 10:47 pm

Wise words, written with the authority of an expert and the feeling of someone who cares. I agree with all you’ve written Paula.

Paula February 17, 2013 at 11:21 pm

Thank you Steve. That means a lot.

Sam February 15, 2013 at 6:05 pm

Great blog.

Thankfully personal development and in-house support is improving but some businesses still need to catch up and realise the importance of happy and balanced staff.
In our society of convenience and with the media inducing fear of job loss, too many people have convinced themselves that they can’t say no… let’s hope the switch to a more conscious society happens sooner rather than later.

“Through coaching and training, individuals can learn the tools and techniques needed to manage situations and the self-confidence to deal with unacceptable situations in a calm and controlled way.” Couldn’t agree more!

I hope your friend gets back to her old self and realises how important she really is soon.

Paula February 16, 2013 at 4:27 pm

Hi Sam. Many thanks for your comment.

You’re right that it’s the media-portrayed fear that you should just be grateful for having a job that makes people feel trapped. It’s also the case that poor treatment in a job can lead to low self esteem which makes the idea of going and representing yourself well elsewhere seem like a step too far.

Many thanks for the good wishes. I will pass them on. Onwards and upwards :-)

Kevin Leighton February 15, 2013 at 2:02 pm

This sounds like a sad story and one which should have never been allowed to happen. In my experience people management is a difficult job and often it’s one you’re promoted to because you did something else right. Whilst you might receive training and mentoring for many roles learning to manage people is sadly low on the list of training requirements for many businesses despite their people being their most valuable asset.

It also begs the question of who is managing the manger and whether the attitude is one of company culture or an oversight in the management of that one individual manager.

I hope your friend battles through and manages to find the work / life balance that makes them happy.

Paula February 15, 2013 at 2:17 pm

Thanks for reading and your comment Kevin. It’s sad, it’s upsetting but sadly it’s not uncommon. Until management is recognised as the huge responsibility it is, and trained accordingly, this will keep happening. Through my work and through my blog I aim to reach as many as possible and if I can make a difference in just a few situations then it’s worth it. Best wishes.

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