For the past three years, Harris Interactive has conducted a work stress survey in which they polled 1000 Americans from a variety of different industries on the level of stress they relate to a job. Last year’s results showed as much as 73 percent of employees felt work related stress on a regular basis. Not surprisingly, this year’s numbers are even higher, coming in at a staggering 83 percent! What does this mean for managers? More importantly, does it reflect an organizational tendency to ignore the important role managers play in not only receiving and passing work down the organization, but also, ensuring their subordinates have what they need to succeed?
The Role of Management in Allaying Stress
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Despite attempts by academia and management theorists to describe the ongoing duties of managers in organizations, the work of managers is much more fluid and involves a variety of activities related to the most effective management of subordinates. For instance, receiving work and delegating it down the chain is critical, but so is thinking about how employees can best use their time within the department, and for the benefit of the organization overall.
Unless there is a system in place to control the flow of work as it is delegated down the organization, it will pile up in an unfiltered way so that employees receive a totality of tasks, objectives and goals that will be impossible to meet in the amount of time they have available. As a consequence, even the most motivated employees find themselves choosing between a few less than adequate alternatives: donate time from home life to work life to get the job done; try to do everything, which ultimately results in inferior quality; or just continue to do your best and let things pile up as the list builds over time, adding to stress and job dissatisfaction. Obviously, none of the above is healthy and all three options contribute to, and create, work place stress.
Is There Ever “Good” Stress?
At first thought, it may seem contradictory to refer to any stress as “good”. Nevertheless, there is such a thing, and it can actually exist as an important component to organizational success at all levels. For instance, if you know you have to make an important presentation to a client, you should feel some stress in terms of getting prepared, ensuring you have the right messaging, and so on. This is a kind of good stress; an indication that you care about your performance and that you want to do well. With that in mind, there is also negative stress, the kinds of stress that you cannot control because it is externally driven.
Towards a Solution
Given that most organizations do not have a system for how work should be delegated down the organization, it’s not a surprise that work related stress is increasing in the workplace. However, there may be a solution. Managers need to do their own work, but they also need to make a conscious effort to delegate work to subordinates that is actually do-able. A manager who simply keeps adding to the to-do list without providing context around relative priorities is abdicating a critical part of managerial work. By making sure employees have appropriate resources, including time availability to do the work, managers can foster empowered employees with the ability to actually get the most important work done – and that will always ease stress levels.