Many professionals strive to demonstrate their leadership ability and move to positions of authority in their organization. When you’re the boss, you enjoy perks such as presenting your ideas and working with people who want your approval. You get to decide which projects go forward and which are killed, and you’re in charge of promoting employees to strengthen your team.
But being the boss also comes with some challenges. Bosses experience stress, hardships and pressure. There’s a reason managers, CEOs and small business owners generally get paid more than individual contributors.
We’ll explore the downsides of being a boss and how you can reduce the stress of managing people and businesses.
The downsides of being the boss
We’ve identified seven downsides of being in charge. These challenges can raise your stress levels, hurt your personal life and cause enormous frustration.
1. You have to fire people.
It’s very likely that a boss will have to let people go for one reason or another. You may have to lay people off due to finances or restructuring. In some cases, you’re forced to lay off an excellent employee or even a friend, yanking their income and self-esteem out from under them.
It’s also painful to terminate an employee because of poor performance. In some cases, the employee is trying very hard to keep their job and working with a performance improvement plan, but they’re ultimately ineffective – and then it’s your job to let them go.
Firing decisions might be easier if an employee commits gross misconduct, like stealing or harassment. Still, you’ll have to deal with a stressful situation and take pains to avoid any wrongful termination criteria. You may even feel guilty about taking away someone’s job (even if it’s their fault), and you may question your management skills.
2. You have to hire people.
The hiring process can be enjoyable. If you’re a new manager, you can choose your team for the first time, hire for cultural fit within the company and find people with critical skills.
This all sounds great, except that hiring can be challenging. You might receive 100 applicants and still not find one with the skills you envision, so you have to compromise.
Even if you ask all the right interview questions to fill a position, a good talker can pull the wool over your eyes, and you may end up with someone who’s not a great fit. And making a bad hire creates even more headaches and stress.
In a ZenBusiness survey, managers in businesses with 25 to 99 employees were the most likely to experience productivity-sapping workplace stress.
3. You get the blame.
When you’re the big boss (whether you’re the CEO or a department head), everything comes down to you. You have the final say. You’re the one who signs off on strategies, programs and plans.
When the finances go awry, it’s your fault. Blaming your staff is out of the question because their actions and overall operations are ultimately your responsibility. As the boss, you’ll get praised when things go well, but when they don’t, the buck stops with you. You’ll have to answer to your higher-ups or the board of directors.
4. The workday doesn’t end when you leave work.
Gone are the days of 9-to-5 workdays when you could leave work and head home. When you’re the boss, you’re always thinking about what has to be done next, and after-hours emergencies are your problem.
When the big picture is your responsibility, it can weigh heavily on your mind.
5. You have to deal with bureaucracy.
No matter your organization or industry, the boss must be aware of regulations related to finance, human resources, business structure, taxes and more.
For example, bosses must understand OSHA compliance and address workplace safety concerns, and they have to comply with financial regulations brought on by the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. If you’re the boss, you’ll likely navigate rules from the FDA, EPA, IRS and a host of other government agencies.
In addition, bosses often must fight bureaucracy in their own organizations to get things done, including dealing with the HR department when they want to hire people and working with the finance department if they need budget changes.
6. Employees deserve your attention.
When you’re the boss, you’re responsible for managing employees and paying attention to their needs while ensuring the overall operation’s seamless continuity. You’ll need to navigate employees’ life events – including illness, parental leave and other leaves of absence – and it’s essential to monitor and support employee mental health.
You’ll need to navigate personnel management, support employees’ professional growth and measure employee performance to gauge salary increases and promotions.
Maintaining a diverse and inclusive company culture should be a top priority; the business you’re in charge of should be a safe place for all employees, and you need to ensure you’re not violating employee rights.
Your employees are the lifeblood of the business. Supporting their needs is a huge part of the job, but dealing with everyone’s needs and emotions can be exhausting.
To improve manager-employee relations, build good communication skills among workers, find ways to bring your team together, and listen to employees’ input and feedback.
7. Someone can always come for your job.
Being the boss can be lonely, especially when you look around at talented team members who are eyeing your position.
“Someone is always vying for your employment,” said Brian Case, director of e-commerce and retail at Selkirk. “As a manager, you can have a number of team members that actively seek the opportunity to prove they are better than you at your job.”
When you think someone is gunning for your job – whether they work for you or are someone outside the firm – you may feel uneasy and on edge if you make a mistake that leaves you vulnerable to rivals.
“They may try to use the fact that you truly made the wrong choice as leverage to get rid of you,” Case said. “There are fewer opportunities at higher levels in any company, which increases rivalry for those positions.”
7 tips to reduce the stress of being the boss
Don’t let the stress of being the boss cause you to lose sight of your personal goals and a healthy, happy life. Follow these seven tips to lower your stress levels:
1. Don’t nickel-and-dime every decision.
You’re likely responsible for finances and profit margins, but try to relax your focus enough to consider your employees and vendors as people.
“When you first start, all you can focus on is the number and what you can do to increase revenue and increase margins,” said Jeff Neal, operations manager at The Critter Depot. “You may get good at this, but you’ll get pushback from staff and vendors if they realize you’re viewing them as numbers as well.”
Neal said it’s essential to realize the job isn’t just about numbers but also the people. “Once you realize how important the human factor is, you worry less about the increased margins and more about sharing margins so that you can maintain a long-term, positive relationship with your staff and vendors. And this ultimately yields a longer, stronger business.”
2. Take a few minutes to organize your week.
Taking a few minutes on the weekend or waking up early in the morning to get yourself organized and on top of your tasks can go a long way toward reducing your overall stress levels.
“Some people frown on it, but I always put in a few minutes on the weekend to organize my plan for the week ahead,” said Ian Ferrell, IT director at Global Vacation Rentals and Global Florida Realty. “Then, come Monday, we put things into action and regroup midweek to see how things are progressing.”
3. Learn how to delegate.
Delegating is a way to reduce your stress while empowering your staff and establishing trust.
“Delegating is one of the major avenues to reducing the stress of leadership,” said Grace Baena, director of branding at Kaiyo, a buying and selling platform for pre-owned furniture. “Not only does delegating tasks among your team show your trust and respect for them, it also helps leadership deal with less stress on a day-to-day basis, leaving them available to focus on higher-level work.”
4. Build a strong team.
Because you are most likely in charge of – or at least have some say in – who becomes part of the team, you get to build the team you want to work with. Add people with skills you don’t have so you can not only learn from them but lean on them to accomplish certain tasks. Also add people with emotional intelligence and strong collaboration skills so your team can work together and figure out problems without needing to come to you for everything.
“Put the time, effort and budget into building a strong team; then empower those individuals to have as much responsibility and agency as possible,” said Archie Payne, president of CalTek Staffing. “When you have a well-trained and highly skilled team, you can trust them to take care of whatever work you delegate to them. You’ll also spend less of your time putting out fires and can instead devote your time to the high-level tasks that only you as the business leader can do.”
5. Know yourself and your boundaries.
As the boss, you need to set clear expectations for yourself and your employees.
“This means knowing when to say no, how to say no, and how much work is reasonable in a given day or week,” said Marty Ford, president of BulletpRoof Roof Systems. “Don’t micromanage or overwork yourself or others. While it’s important to set clear expectations and boundaries, it’s also important not to overdo things by trying too hard to do everything yourself. It’s OK if your employees don’t always follow your directions perfectly; that just means they need more training.”
6. Develop a working relationship with other employees.
“When managers have positive working connections with their staff, they are much less stressed,” according to Steve Wilson, founder of Bankdash.
Wilson offered a few suggestions for building these relationships. “Avoid being patronizing, spend time getting to know employees, encourage subordinates in good and bad times, and set clear objectives and accountability for job performance,” Wilson said.
This doesn’t mean you have to be best friends with the people you manage, but it does mean you can learn about them, how they like to work, and how to best work together to get optimal results from each employee.
If your team members aren’t getting along, your stress levels will suffer. Part of managing workplace conflict is proactively identifying areas of potential friction and intervening before any problems occur.
7. Focus on your work-life balance.
Creating a positive work-life balance is essential for a healthy, happy life.
“The stress of being the boss is almost unbearable if you do not manage it well,” said Victoria Mendoza, CEO of MediaPeanut. “To address this, I often emphasize working hours and personal time. I often do not work beyond office hours, in order to maintain a good work-life balance.”
Ford agreed that it’s important to take time for yourself. “It’s easy to forget that we need to take care of ourselves too, but we do. That might mean taking some time off from work – even if it’s just an hour or two – or it could mean getting into a routine that helps you relax. For me, this means taking exercise classes at a local gym after work on Tuesdays and Thursdays. It clears my head, makes me feel more productive during the day and helps me sleep better at night.”
Mendoza noted that if you don’t work well under pressure and fail to see the role stress plays in your life, it will take advantage of you. “Most of the CEOs I know would probably concede that the majority of the pressure they face does not originate from outside sources. It’s a self-inflicted wound, and I must agree. We are our own harsh critics, and usually, it’s the self-pressure that kills us.”
As such, it’s important for bosses at all levels to find ways to moderate that pressure.
Suzanne Lucas contributed to the writing and reporting in this article.