Yes, how you communicate does affect the mental health of your team | Learning & Development | Primeast

How managers can avoid mental duress in the workplace

Mental duress in the workplace. It sounds serious, and it is. For leaders and managers, the way you communicate could lead to mental duress – whether intended or not.

In this article, you’ll learn how to communicate with employees to avoid mental duress and help the employee’s mental well-being.

What is mental duress in the workplace?

Mental duress is defined as “the use of threats or other forms of psychological coercion, done to induce another to act against his or her will.” 

While you may consider this abnormal, studies by Sandy Hershcovis, professor of business administration at the University of Manitoba, say that 41% of American workers have been psychologically harassed at work. Competitive environments are where workers are most likely to suffer mental duress – often from their manager.

Are your managers creating a toxic workplace?

Can managers create such a toxic environment that their employees feel psychologically harassed? Empirical evidence suggests so. A 2015 Gallup survey found that half of those who leave their jobs do so because they want to get away from a bad manager.

Bad management harms the workplace. People feel less motivated to work to their potential, performance and productivity suffers, and customers are managed less effectively. The effect on the bottom line can be devastating, especially when the costs of high staff turnover are included.

Good managers don’t intend to be toxic

Poor leadership skills are not normally intentional. They are, however, usually a result of poor communication skills. This is often a consequence of a lack of training given to managers. 

In many organizations, the best performers are rewarded with promotion into management positions with little or no training. Prior to their promotion, communication with colleagues will have been as peer to peer. Suddenly, new managers are expected to know how to communicate effectively to influence and engage employees. They are expected to communicate with a wide range of people, and with people at different emotional levels.

The link between miscommunication and mental health

Miscommunication can cause stress. Examples include:

Not listening

If employees feel their views or concerns are not being listened to. The employee may feel undervalued, or that they are wasting their time. Often, inexperienced managers make people feel this way when they need to get tasks done to tight deadlines.

Managers must use active listening strategies, ensuring that the employee knows that their views and concerns are heard and taken seriously.


This communication manifests in many ways. For example, the manager may agree to do something, and then not follow through. Or, the manager may agree with a point of view, and then say the opposite in public. Indeed, such disagreement in front of others is demoralizing and has a direct negative impact on mental health.

Managers should listen actively and communicate directly. It is important that managers show empathy and share their own feelings honestly. Differences in opinion may appear to be conflict, but in an honest and open environment such conflict can create innovation.


Aggressive communication may include criticism, commanding, speaking loudly, making demands, playing the blame game, or overt threats. Aggressive communicators don’t allow other points of view to be heard, lean toward emotional arguments, and lack empathy.

People on the receiving end of aggressive communication feel attacked and that their feelings are not considered or understood. This develops internal conflict. Managers who pursue this type of communication lack the ability to promote healthy conflict and increase engagement.

Managers who find themselves communicating aggressively must learn how to communicate effectively, to influence outcomes rather than demand them. They must take a step back, and show a deeper understanding of others.

Don’t let poor communication lead to mental health issues in the workplace

Poor communication techniques can lead to toxic workplaces, in which the mental health of workers is affected. It is imperative that organizations ensure their managers and future leaders are equipped with the communication skills that avoid accusations of mental duress, and that they are equipped to communicate with those employees who are suffering mental health issues.

Contact us today, and discover how we could help your leaders and managers improve their communication practices and strategies, and how this can feed through to improving mental health in the workplace.

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