Why managers have more bad days
And what can you do about it
Everyone has such days, when:
You can’t get out of bed
Work is the furthest thing from your mind
Talking to human beings is the last thing you want to do
You just want to be left alone and read a book or listen to some music
This is not unique to being a manager - as a developer, I also had good and bad days. The difference is the intensity of the feelings. Back then, It looked something like this:
A great day was nice. A bad day was… bad. Not super exciting, and not terrible. When I wasn’t at my best, I worked a bit less, or focused on easier tasks.
As a team leader, it looks closer to this:
Some days, and weeks, are damn hard. What makes us stick to our jobs is the highs - which are much higher. Still, that cycle of highs and lows can be exhausting. Fresh team leaders tend to think it’s their fault, that they are not handling the ‘stress’ well, and that the role is not for them.
Yes, it may be so. Being a manager is not for everyone, and it shouldn’t be. If you were pushed to the role, and you suffer through it every day, stop and consider your options.
But for some of us, it passes. The lows become manageable, and the highs no longer sweep you off your feet. We are a very adjustable species.
Why those days are harder for a manager?
Guilt - People depend on you. You usually have meetings you set up, 1:1s with your employees, and you need to be generally available. You cannot just disappear without notice.
More interactions - as you have more meetings, it requires more energy (from most of us). You have many more written interactions in Slack/email, where you need to express yourself and promptly respond. Your day is more ‘active’.
No ‘hiding in the code’ to get your mind off - let’s say there are no meetings, and no interactions. What do you do then? You’ll rarely have a satisfying task you can code and get your mind off.
So what can I do?
If you know your day will look like this:
Take a sick day/day off. Your mental health is more important than pleasing anyone.
In our company, sick days are 100% compensated and you don’t need a doctor’s note to take one. I highly recommend talking about it with your team and advising them to do the same. Obviously, it requires basic trust between you, your manager, and your team.
If your company doesn’t cover the pay for such days, consider doing it ‘under the table’. No matter what, people who feel like shit won’t be productive. Instead of letting them suffer, you can easily help by making it clear they can take a day to recharge. Even in the most selfish sense, in the long term, it will be for the benefit of the company.
For me, having such a day off in the middle of the week, can do wonders.
And if I decided to work?
Each person has their own methods for surviving.
What works for me
On some of those tough days, you’ll just have to work. Maybe you have important meetings, or your team needs you.
My advice is to not take it easy on yourself. It’s tempting to cancel the 1:1s, and swim in self-pity. For me, this makes it worse. You are not recharging, and you are not performing. Saying to everyone you are having a bad day and ‘please excuse me’ just makes it worse.
Going all-in, and doing the best you can, helps me survive the day. daily-meeting-code-lunch-meeting-1:1-meeting-meeting-debug-meeting and BOOM, it’s the end of the day.
Advice from an experienced manager
This is what works for tech lead and manager, ex-Google and Uber, and the writer of .
The hard days of management are real, and the bad news is that there’s more of it to come. Even though some hards are so hard you might want to give up on Tech altogether, your role is absolutely necessary and your impact is bigger than you think. Here are some tips to help you cope with the bad days:
Remember your why
Great managers can change people’s lives and that’s a legacy worth pursuing if you deeply care about people and genuinely want to help. Read this article when you feel low.
Try to see things from another perspective
When you’re in the thick of stress, your brain goes into a black-and-white mindset. I recommend doing whatever you can to create space between you and work. Go for a walk, take a nap, take a mental health day. This will give your brain a break and you’ll be able to see things from a less binary perspective.
Build a self-care toolkit
How do you take care of yourself outside of work? Are you getting good sleep & staying active? Do you have other creative projects? Spending quality time with loved ones?
For me, all of the above are absolutely mandatory habits to stay sane. Additionally, I also like to read fiction books, it calms me down like magic.
Watch out for this
Yes, those stretches of shit times will happen to you. No way to avoid that. The trick is to understand what is normal, and what should be a red flag.
It should get better with time
If after a year or so the situation doesn’t become better, consider a change.
There are lows, but they should pass. If most of the time you feel shitty, what does it worth?
Too frequent highs & lows
Unless you're an adrenaline junkie, this might be a sign that something is not working well. This is what I imagine working for Elon Musk feels like :)
What to do?
If you find yourself in any of those 3 cases, it’s probably because of one (or more) of 5 options:
You are taking too much on yourself. Learn to delegate.
You are not communicating well with your manager / your manager is an asshole.
Your team is not strong enough - low seniors/juniors ratio, or critical skills missing in the team
The company is not a right fit for you, maybe you need a place with a different culture
Management might not be a good fit for you right now (never say never!).
You are not alone in this emotional rollercoaster. Every manager’s beginning is rough. Don’t judge yourself too quickly, be open with manager, and monitor your mood. Still, don’t be too stubborn. If you suffer too much - switch to a different career track, it’s not a shame to admit you don’t want to be a manager right now.