"It is impossible for ideas to
compete in the marketplace if no forum for
their presentation is provided or available."
Thomas Mann, 1896
The Business Forum
By Henry H. Goldman
Job-related stress on
managers is caused by different factors in different countries,
according to a ten-country study by Professor of Organizational
Management, Dr. Gary Cooper of the University of Manchester, United
Professor Cooper found, that in the
United States, managers are more often stressed when they have little or no
influence over their work, or must work for an incompetent supervisor. Swedish
managers suffer stress when their work encroaches on their private lives, and
when they must deal with strong labor unions. Causes of stress for German
executives are most likely deadline pressures and working with poorly trained
subordinates. Stress related factors in Japan include working with high
technology and having too much work with too little time in which to accomplish
it. British managers complained of the necessity of having to stay current with
technology and excessive away-from-home travel.
The greatest amount of stress occurs
in jobs where the worker faces heavy demands, yet has little control over how
the job is to be accomplished. In certain kinds of jobs, it appears that the
technology controls the worker, instead of the worker controlling the
technology. It now appears that having access to one or more social networks
also creates stress, particularly if the network is not job oriented, or causes
the worker to become a slave to their network.
Certain service company jobs are
high in stress where the worker has little control over how to relate to the
client. Probably, the best current example are air traffic controllers. Others
include cashiers, 911 dispatchers and airline customer service agents working in
high volume, but bad weather airports. Workers who are embedded in large
organizations with very restrictive work rules that prevent them from responding
to client needs in the way that they would like (large HMOs are examples) suffer
a good deal of on-the-job stress.
In those cases where the individual
has a good deal of control over how to do the job, some demands can be quite
positive. Where the employee is given a sense of empowerment, the stress level
drops dramatically. These can seem like challenges and new initatives. The
engineer or chemist, as examples, never knows where the new trend of discovery
But what about the level of stress
on managers, and, particularly, on middle managers? Managers often face high
demands, but they also generally have a high degree of control over their work.
Managerial and professional employment is generally associated with only average
levels of stress. These individuals often set their own pace and are frequently
very much in charge of selecting those procedures that best carry out their
Managers are usually able to
determine with whom they are they are going to work and to have influence over
broad decisions that may affect job security and promotion. Moreover, they can
grow and develop new skills in their work, unlike those in high-stress
positions. This helps them to build self-confidence.
Sources of Stress for Managers
Problems in plant modernization and
efficiency, engineering, design, production standards, machine capability, raw
materials, suppliers' input, production runs, unit costs, shift requirements,
supervision, inspection, quality requirements, re-work and salvage, production
planning and control, robotics, safety issues, etc. Add to the above, social
networking and its outside influences, and you have reason for stress at all
Budgeting, risk return, cash flow,
capitalization, funding, allocation, managerial accounting, cost control and
containment, labor wage demands, currency fluctuations, European problems,
Return on Assets, Return on Equity, net profit after tax, taxation, government
regulations, etc. All of these can place stress on the middle manager.
These kinds of issues are seen as
problems in representing the company in the trade or industry, the community,
with sub-contractors, with prime contractors, with investors, in government
relations, litigation, mediation, public relations, customer relations (internal
as well as external), image building, etc.
These are rooted in such
stress-causing concerns as plant engineering and maintenance, warehousing
capacity, safety standards, building layout, workflow, reinsurance, security,
flexibility for expansion, access in emergencies, materials handling capacity,
hazardous material disposal, and, since September 11, 2001, a heightened view of
These are made up of issues such as
lowered employee productivity, workplace conflict, skills availability, union
representation, motivation, absenteeism, staffing (particularly, selection and
placement), incentives and rewards (financial and non-financial), job design,
training and development, slowdown tactics, morale (or the lack thereof),
transfer and replacement, discipline, succession planning, cooperation,
technology and displacement of human labor (moving from labor intensive to
capital intensive environments), high turnover, and, today, more likely social
issues: workplace diversity, social networking, gender issues, racial concerns,
single mothers, etc. Companies must deal with the economic realities of the
marketplace and, since 2008, deep recession and extremely slow recovery,
together with high unemployment and, at the same time, the lack of highly
skilled labor. All of this requires adjusting staffing levels to agree with the
fluctuations in the economy, i.e., if sales are down, layoffs will be up.
This family of stress causing
problems centers around the availability of information, its accuracy and
timeliness, and utility of ideas. Along with these, managers are concerned with
standards, statistics, trends, forecasts and projections, proposals, surveys,
studies, and other kinds of general and/or specific "intelligence."
These will include evaluation of
unit performance (department, division, plant, etc.) and profit center
performance, assessment of functions and their contributions, feedback, adequacy
of controls, individual work appraisal, recommendations for possible
reorganization and their overall impact.
Problems, issues and overall
concerns about the organization itself, can cause particularly high levels of
stress among middle managers. These include, but are not limited to: chain of
command and reporting relationships, changes in allocation of authority,
misalignment of organizational units, disputes between line and staff,
decentralization vs. centralization, committee structure, span of control,
delegation, obsolescence, organization and communication difficulties and
interdepartmental coordination and cooperation.
Here, the stress causing issues deal
with how things are or are not getting done. These include efficiency,
workflows, systems analyses, feasibility, paperwork, speed, accuracy, utility,
changes in procedures: change in general, economics, etc.
Managers' stress levels are affected
by the very products manufactured by their companies. These include product
styling, pricing and product promotion. There are also ongoing issues dealing
with customer care, product safety, life cycle, marketing strategies,
competition, consumer preference, etc.
These include, but are not limited
to issues of order handling, customer relations and customer service, customer
specifications, warranties and special services.
Certain companies distinguish
themselves by the lack of leadership and managerial acumen. These issues cause
a great deal of stress among middle managers. The issues related to problems of
leadership include the caliber of management performance at the senior level,
quality of expertise in staff and line functions, professionalism and behavior
of managers (inconsistent leadership styles) and seeing management as role
models. Recent activities in various federal agencies about the lack of
management at the line level (Secret Service, General Services Administration,
etc.) has caused grave concern in Congress and with the electorate.
A related set of issues and concerns
causing stress among middle managers are those that revolve around problems of
overcoming competition. These include market penetration, research,
goal-setting, strategic and tactical planning, expression of management
philosophy, new product development, risk (not only financial risk but reputational risk, as well), growth strategies (acquisition, diversification.
opening of new markets, etc.), program development, updating of old policies and
the formulation of new ones, changes to company procedures, expanded or
contracted resources, business ethics and social responsibility.
These concerns are largely imposed
upon the company from the outside. These include compliance with laws governing
safety, diversity, employees and customers with disabilities, sexual harassment,
as well as environmental standards, taxation, licensing, collective bargaining
and other regulatory requirements.
Each of the concerns listed above
must be dealt with so as to mitigate the amount of stress undergone by middle
managers. Executives may suffer even greater amounts of stress and may even
have less capability of dealing with it.
Managers, at all levels, and in all
firms, must understand the nature of their stress and develop ways of handling
the stress. More and more companies are seeing workplace stress as illness that
can be cured. Understanding the cause of stress can go a long way toward
Henry H. Goldman
a Fellow of The Business Forum Institute and is the Managing Director of the Goldman Nelson Group. Henry got
his Masters Degree at the University of Iowa and did his Doctoral
Studies at the University of Southern California. He is a
Certified Professional Consultant to Management (CPCM); and has
published numerous articles in trade journals and was Associate
Editor of Taking Stock: A Survey on the Practice and Future of
Change Management (Berlin, Germany). He is a member of the
American Society for Training and Development (ASTD); Association of
Professional Consultants (APC) and the Institute of Management
Consultants (IMC). Henry has consulted and/or offered training in
South Africa, Tanzania, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Macau,
Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Barbados, Georgia, Kosovo,
Tajikistan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and of
course North America. He has also taught at Baker University:
Lee’s Summit, MO, 2008, Adjunct Professor of International Business;
National Graduate School: Falmouth, MA, 2004-2008, Adjunct Professor
of Quality Management; California State University: Fullerton,
2005-2006, Lecturer on Taxation; University of California: Berkeley,
2002, Adjunct Professor of Management; University of Macau (China),
Adjunct Professor of Management, 2001-2003.
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