Taking the strain: a survey of managers and workplace stress

Leadership & Organization Development Journal

ISSN: 0143-7739

Article publication date: 1 August 2000




(2000), "Taking the strain: a survey of managers and workplace stress", Leadership & Organization Development Journal, Vol. 21 No. 5. https://doi.org/10.1108/lodj.2000.02221eab.002



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited

Taking the strain: a survey of managers and workplace stress

Taking the strain: a survey of managers and workplace stress

Keywords Stress, Organizational change, Health

The Institute of Management (IM) supported by PPP Healthcare, has recently undertaken research into stress management issues. The objective of the research was to explore the impact of job-related stress among managers and to assess the extent of change or continuation from the earlier IM research studies into stress of 1993 and 1996. Research for the project was conducted in September 1999, when the views of 819 managers were obtained from a postal questionnaire sent to a random sample of 3,000 individual IM members. This represents a response rate of 27 per cent.

The report paints a picture of executives, who for the large part enjoy and feel challenged in their work, but do not always have the resources they need to do their jobs and frequently take the strain themselves.

Most managers look forward to going to work (only 18 per cent say they do not), 43 per cent say they are happy in their job and almost nine out of ten (89 per cent) know what they want to achieve at work. However, they are often unhappy with their workplace culture (43 per cent), feel unable to cope with their workloads (42 per cent) and struggle to meet goals and targets (40 per cent).

Executives identify a range of workplace pressure points that can be linked to the way their organisations work as well as their own working styles. The top ten pressure points – those highlighted in the high pressure zone (see Figure 1) – cover organisational problems such as poor communication, office politics and poor senior management. They also pinpoint factors in the way that individuals work, such as handling change, dealing with time pressures and new technologies.

Figure 1 The management pressure-o-meter

So what are the underlying reasons for workplace pressure and stress?

In today's organisations, constant change is a way of life, posing major challenges for the way we work. In the past year, almost a quarter of executives say their organisations have been involved in mergers and acquisitions and nearly a third report expanding into new markets. Nearly four out of ten managers say their organisations have changed the focus of their activities or company culture and technology has driven change in almost half of organisations.

Workplace change and restructuring have led to the loss of people in key positions in organisations and two-thirds of executives say they now handle increased responsibilities. Equally, almost seven out of ten report heavier workloads in the past year, with this figure rising significantly in organisations that have undergone delayering (77 per cent) or introduced new technology (76 per cent).

Managers flag up the top five factors which have caused them unreasonable pressure, and therefore, at times boiled over into stress – meeting deadlines, constant interruptions, lack of support, incompetent senior managers, and poor internal communication. Bullying is a further source of stress with one in ten executives saying they have experienced bullying and intimidation on a regular basis.

Nearly three-quarters of managers say stress adversely affects their performance at work, as well as their home life, health and enjoyment of life in general. Yet in today's "macho" work cultures few admit to being unable to cope with their stress levels and are even guilty of transferring their stress to other colleagues.

Most managers experience a range of symptoms, which are often seen as signs of stress, including excessive tiredness (81 per cent), disturbed sleep (78 per cent), loss of temper (71 per cent), headaches (63 per cent) and lowered sex drive (55 per cent). The most popular ways of coping with stress are physical exercise, talking to friends or family, drinking alcohol and shopping.

Mary Chapman, director-general, Institute of Management, commented: "Today's executives find work enjoyable and satisfying but, for many, unmanaged workplace pressures are leading to stress with serious implications for the health and wealth of individuals and organisations. Leaders of organisations need to work with individuals to identify and deal with the root causes of stress, develop a healthier workplace culture and equip people with up-to-date skills. For individuals, it means learning to recognise and manage their own pressure points before they turn to stress".

Dudley Lusted, director of corporate health-care development, PPP Healthcare, said: "The prevalence of stress amongst British managers indicates a serious failure of corporate governance. Organisational stress is essentially a risk management issue and, as tools to address it are now to hand, employers who neglect it are clearly breaking the law with potentially expensive consequences. Managers too must be brave in tackling organisational stress and do their part to challenge the misguided notion that taking excessive pressure without complaining is just part of the job".

The report, Taking the Strain, includes recommendations on dealing with stress at an individual and organisational level. It costs £40 (£20 IM members) and is available from the IM public affairs department, on +44 (0)20 7421 2704.

For further information, a press copy of the report, or details of case studies contact: Karen Dale/Sherylin Thompson, IM press office. Tel: +44 (0)20 7 497 0496 (outside office hours, +44 (0)20 8 540 9815).

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