Do accidental managers threaten workplace wellbeing?

Over two thirds of managers (68%) categorise themselves as ‘accidental managers’, and they can damage staff retention, employee mental health and productivity.

Accidental managers are managers who are promoted on their service record, rather than a history of people management or soft skills.

Insight gathered from the Lumien platform over the past 18 months has revealed that poor management was the top reason employees left their jobs, with 50% of employees citing it as their reason for leaving a job. As a trickle-down effect, poor management will also have a significant impact on workplace productivity.  

Additional data has also found that untrained managers can cause a 16% drop in productivity, which is equal to a financial hit of over £5,000 per employee.[i]

However, this damaging skills gap isn’t the fault of managers, as 71% of employers in the UK admit they don’t train their first-time managers.[ii]

Rising through the ranks

In some organisations, the myth that leaders are ‘born’ rather than made, and that charisma is all you need, persists. These ideas have been disregarded by many experts in the field.[iii]

Managers can be extremely knowledgeable in the business and skilled within their role but are unaware of how to lead. Often, they can rely on their superior job title and position to drive through good and bad decisions, without understanding the complexities of management.

This can cause many employees to quit.

So, how does working for an accidental manager make you feel?

  • Insecure – unsure of your role and goals
  • Exhausting – long hours, with poor work/life balance
  • Stressful – lack of adequate support
  • Lonely or isolated
  • Disinterested – low engagement
  • Distracted
  • Misalignment with values – unsure of where you fit in
  • No recognition or reward
  • Poor career development – what’s next?
  • Bullying/harassment
  • Poor relationships and morale
  • Lack of job security.

These emotions create serious barriers to good mental health and workplace wellbeing, which can cause productivity to reduce by as much as 15.6%. Our research shows that there is a 9% productivity loss due to stress, a 13% productivity loss due to low engagement and a 18% productivity loss due to distractions.[iv] Once applied to the average UK salary of £31,461, this equates to almost £5,000 lost each year for every individual.


The impact of the pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has tested managers’ skills to maintain a resilient workforce.

Lumien data shows:

  • 27% of people are significantly impacted by their financial worries
  • 33% of people have shown the indicators of depression
  • 46% of people showed signs of significant stress
  • 78% of people’s sleep has been impacted
  • 52% of people showed signs of loneliness.


The cost to your company

Managing staff wellbeing poorly costs companies and there can be an impact on reputation as well as the bottom line.  

By supporting workers, UK business could avoid losing £45 billion a year. For every £1 invested into supporting the mental health of employees, employers will see £5 returned from reduced presenteeism, absenteeism and staff turnover.[v]

Companies need to prioritise measuring and reporting on staff wellbeing, and team morale needs a place on boardroom agendas with regular review. There is a duty for senior leaders to provide their managers with the tools and training to effectively monitor and respond to wellbeing issues.

As many businesses are currently struggling to fill posts, the stakes are high. Job vacancies are at a record number, with many companies struggling to recruit even with higher salary offers.[vi]

Looking for a ‘quick fix’?

The reality is – all too often – companies only begin to think about employees’ mental health when things are already going wrong. This then leads to a quick fix, often turning to Mental Health First Aid or Employee Assistance Programmes. However, these are reactive decisions, rather than proactively tackling the issues. These will then have little impact if management issues aren’t addressed.

Businesses will often put tools into place to manage mental health – including subscriptions to mindfulness apps or programmes – without a mechanism to measure their impact.

Tailored measurement and reporting are essential. Leaders need to know where issues lie to create an effective strategy to address them before valuable team members start to leave.

There aren’t any quick fixes when it comes to workforce wellbeing because there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution. Wellbeing isn’t a ‘fad’, it directly impacts the performance of a business.


Evidence-based approach

Top leaders should develop an evidence-based strategy with a plan that addresses how their whole business works, eg considering: any activity peaks, facilities, shift working, remote working and their skills development training.

A wellbeing strategy that’s led by data not only supports people, but also helps to improve the culture and overall effectiveness of the business.

Competing with businesses worldwide means you need to be able to recruit and retain the best people who are trained to performed at world-class levels for productivity and innovation.

Taking care of employees should be the cornerstone of that ambition.


If your business needs a data-led wellbeing strategy, find out more or get in touch to book a demo with Lumien.


[i] Based on an average UK salary of £31,461.

[ii] Investors in People, Accidental Managers,

[iii] “The most dangerous leadership myth is that leaders are born … The myth asserts that people simply either have certain charismatic qualities or not. That’s nonsense … Leaders are made rather than born.” – Warren Bennis (1925–2014) American academic, management consultant and an influential writer about leadership.

[iv] Research from Lumien platform (Apr 2020 – Aug 2021) aimed to evaluate the change in self-reported corporate wellbeing at work across the Covid-19 pandemic.  Lumien distributes pulse surveys to corporate employees, called ‘check-ins’. Employees can choose how regularly they check-in, but always move through a full cycle of areas tracked every 12 check-ins completed.  Sample:  24 UK companies ranging from 5 to 1000 headcount, n = 871 participants, 12,023 check-ins with no bias as all quantitative measures using a purpose-built automated platform.