Stress: The Proverbial Straw that Broke the Managers Back?

We wrote an article, Are SME Managers Neglected?, which asked the question, are Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) placing too much pressure on their managers? Whilst the focus of the article was on SME, the issues affect larger organisations as well, and may be manifesting more and more in increased occurrences of stress related illnesses.

We are all aware of the mounting pressure to perform within our businesses, the larger workloads, and our increasingly target led culture to outperform our competitors. With the ever growing expectation to do more for less, and the increase of other worked related stressors affecting our managers, we have created a culture which is pushing them into a state of depression according to research undertaken by Bupa.

With a culture that is heading the table for some of the longest working hours in Europe, we need to be mindful that issues such as stress, anxiety and depression are behind 1-in-5 visits to a GP, according to the National Health Service (NHS). In addition, research from Bupa, shows that 2-in-5 managers are succumbing to depression due to the stresses of work. The research also found that 23% of middle managers have felt stressed for the past year, and more than 1-in-10 (12%) admitted to being close to breaking point.

Obviously, managers are not the only ones affected; stress, anxiety and depression are a wider workplace issue. Statistics show that stress accounts for 40% of cases of workplace sickness in the UK alone.

To help understand the psychological problems outlined herein, we must identify what we mean by stress, as this is often the catalyst for the work related mental health issue. According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), stress is ‘the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other demands placed on them’. The NHS in their article Beat stress at work, state ‘stress symptoms include a pounding heart or palpitations, a dry mouth, headaches, odd aches and pains and loss of appetite for food and sex’. They go on to say that ‘work stress can be sparked by things such as a formal warning, bullying, victimisation, increased work pressure, deadlines and management changes’.

Due to the nature of stress we should also be mindful that we have a legal responsibility in regard to health, safety and welfare of our employees, including managers, under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, which states the requirement to conduct a risk assessments for work-related stress.

Whilst there has been a change in society’s acceptance and understanding of mental health issues, there is still a stigma attached to it. Due to our lack of empathy, intolerance and lack of patience, we do not give mental illness the attention it needs and deserves, and have little sympathy for the stressors that create the environment for it to thrive in.

Training and development offers one way to combat stressors for mental health issues in the workplace, developing staffs understanding of the issues and catalysts is always useful, as well as providing managers with appropriate management and leadership training in regards to prioritisation, planning, implementation and self-reflection, for example. It is also critical that, as an individual, you know your own limitations, how much work you can realistically take on, and how long you will need to deal with your current workload. Also having the confidence to say “no” to your boss, which is often difficult, is an important control mechanism. However, you must outline your reasons in a specific and measurable way, and it is best practice to offer a solution.

We need to be more aware of the early signs and symptoms of mental health issues, and be mindful of the culture which we are creating in our workplace. Managers and leaders have a duty not only to their colleagues, but to themselves, to try and create a healthy working environment, where work pressure can be used as a motivator rather than an indicator of possible mental health issues.