Management Column: Manager Well-being

by Maureen McGarvey

In the previous edition of the IH journal, my column looked at teacher well-being. At the end of that column, I suggested that next time, we could look at manager well-being. And now it is ‘next time’, so I guess I should do what I said I would! 


Prior to writing this column, I did a bit of Googling on the topic of well-being. The first shock was to discover 2,500 jobs related to manager well-being on LinkedIn. ‘How exciting’, I thought; ‘2,500 people are looking after manager well-being!’ Alas, no; that figure meant 2.500 people were employed as a ‘well-being manager’. I didn’t even know such a job existed; I am so 20th century. Reading a little further, I discovered this article from AXA/PPP Healthcare, about the importance of line managers’ well-being and performance.  Alas, however, the article actually doesn’t give any guidance on how to support managers’ well-being. Instead it talks about how middle managers are vital in ensuring and protecting their staff’s well-being. The article begins: “Line managers are central to the successful implementation of a wellbeing strategy. They also have a crucial part to play in creating the culture necessary to support a healthy organisation.” Well, of course it’s lovely to hear that we are ‘central’, and that we ‘have a crucial part to play’. But what happens to our well-being when we are supporting the well-being of others?  

This is, I think, one of our key issues. We put a great deal of time and energy into supporting and helping our staff, and that doesn’t leave very much time for us to support ourselves. I don’t need to list the pressure channels that we all work within; we all know them too well. In my experience, the areas which take a lot of our time and emotional energy are those which involve dealing with difficult situations of one sort or another, or meeting deadlines, often imposed from somewhere else. In the case of difficult situations, it’s not the actual dealing with the situation which affects me; it’s the identification of it, the preparation for dealing with it, the dealing with it, and the brooding afterwards of whether I dealt with it properly, and what I could have done better/differently. This could be why my daughter calls me ‘The Queen of Brood’…..But brooding aside, are there actual steps we can take to support our own well-being? 

Lack of Training 

Firstly, I think this is an organisational issue more than a purely personal one. The AXA/PPP article [op cit.] has six indicators of a healthy workplace, and the first one is: “Line managers are confident and trained in people skills”. How many Language Teaching Organisations (LTOs) provide this kind of training for their academic managers; indeed, how many LTOs provide any kind of training for their academic managers? IHWO has the online DoS course, while IH London has the online Certificate and Diploma in Academic Management [#ShamelessPlug]. It makes sense to provide academic managers with this type of training and support, and for this to be ongoing rather than a one-off.  Our training and development of academic staff is longitudinal, why not of our academic management?  

A Sense of Control 

One step we can take is that of identifying where our work comes from. Does it come from ourselves, from students, from teachers, from our Director? Can we plot any of the deadlines so they don’t all pile on us with a crash? One of the things which affects our well-being is, I think, the fact that our role is often reactive/fire-fighting, and we can often feel that we are at the mercy of circumstances. If we can exert some measure of control over some of those circumstances, then we are likely to feel less stressed, and our well-being will improve.  

Following on from this is the need to set ourselves boundaries that we feel happy with and can keep. If you answer emails out of work hours/at the weekends, for example, then it’s not much good complaining about the fact that you answer emails out of work hours/at the weekends! You are choosing to do it, and you can choose not to do it. Either is fine, but you have to live with what you choose, and it is your choice. I say this because I’ve caught myself complaining about things which I do which no-one is making me do, and it only makes me feel aggrieved. If I don’t like it, then I need to either stop it or change it.  

Working hours are another thing that contribute to well-being. As academic managers, we need to be around when our teachers/students are around, and that can lead to some difficult working hours. If you need to have an early start and a late finish, then you need a break in the middle. That’s what you would tell your teachers, so why ignore this when it comes to you? That’s right, because you think ‘I can get X, Y and Z done in that time’. Yes, and end up working lots of additional hours in the process, which is not good. I’m not advocating clock-watching, but I am advocating watching your hours and being reasonable with yourself about this. 

Emotional Distance 

You can see that I think getting some measure of control is one thing that will support your well-being as a manager, and that’s because being permanently at the mercy of circumstances is stressful. I’m not suggesting the normal strategies such as taking exercise, drinking water, taking screen breaks, eating well etc., partly because I have no interest in exercise and would always rather reach for chocolate, so I can’t comment on how well those strategies work. However, I have colleagues who swear by swimming/yoga/exercise [I work with a healthy bunch!] and they do say this helps them to unwind. In the end, we have to realise that to be effective, we need to retain some emotional distance from work issues, and that solving them is not always solely our responsibility. My motto is; “It’s only ELT. Nobody dies!”. Supportive colleagues help, a happy staff helps. Being realistic about what you can and can’t do help, as you are not setting unrealistic expectations for yourself that you can’t meet. Learning how to say ‘no’ helps, as does realising/accepting that you can’t do everything, and it’s wrong to think that you should. If you have read Bruno Bettelheim’s book, ‘A Good Enough Parent’, you will be familiar with the concept of ‘good enough’. Striving for perfection is admirable, but sometimes, ‘good enough’ is – well, good enough! 

Author’s Bio: Maureen is Programme Manager eLearning at IH London. She has been involved in online training and management training for the past 15 years, running a range of distance, face to face, and online training programmes for academic managers. She wrote the management module for the MSc in TESOL offered by Aston University, and was subject tutor and dissertation supervisor for that module for several years. She has also tutored the management module for the MA in TESOL offered by Westminster University. She is a frequent conference speaker on topics related to academic management and online training.
Maureen has worked in ELT for longer than she cares to remember, and has taught in the UK, Spain and Hungary as well as on short training contracts in other locations. She has been a committee member on the Leadership and Management Special Interest Group for IATEFL, and is Co-ordinator for the IATEFL Scholarship Working Party, responsible for managing the IATEFL scholarship scheme. She line manages academic staff in IH London and also manage a team of online tutors working remotely in a variety of locations. She lives in North London with her daughter and their dog. She has a guilty addiction to reality TV programmes. Her email is