5 The demands, constraints and choices of your job
How much freedom do you have to do your job as a manager? What factors place limits on your effectiveness? More importantly, what can you do about such limitations? Rosemary Stewart developed a concept which enables jobs to be examined in three very important ways: the demands of the job, which are what the job-holder must do; the constraints, which limit what the job-holder can do; and the choices, which indicate how much freedom the job-holder has to do the work in the way she or he chooses. Her purpose was to show how dealing appropriately with demands and constraints, and exercising choices, can improve managers’ effectiveness. Consider the following two examples.
Simon manages a team of health and safety training officers in a large chemicals company. Although he has a general responsibility for ensuring that staff receive appropriate training, he has little influence on the content of training sessions as a result of health and safety legislation laid down by country laws and when training takes place, but he can influence how the training is provided and other aspects of it.
Arshia manages a drop-in advice centre for homeless teenagers. She has relative freedom in deciding what, when and how assistance is offered within the range of organisational capability. The management committee has just set out a new strategic direction for the organisation which Arshia believes can be improved on, and which she can influence.
Note the differences between the demands and constraints imposed in each case, and how these demands and constraints will place limitations on the respective choices that Simon and Arshia can make.
Demands of the job
Demands are what anyone in the job must do. They can be ‘performance demands’ requiring the achievement of a certain minimum standard of performance, or they can be ‘behavioural demands’ requiring that you undertake some activity such as attending certain meetings or preparing a budget. Stewart lists the sources of such demands as being:
- Manager-imposed demands – work that your own line manager expects and that you cannot disregard without penalty.
- Peer-imposed demands – requests for services, information or help from others at similar levels in the organisation. Failure to respond personally would produce penalties.
- Externally-imposed demands – requests for information or action from people outside the organisation that cannot be delegated and where there would be penalties for non-response.
- System-imposed demands – reports and budgets that cannot be ignored nor wholly delegated, meetings that must be attended, social functions that cannot be avoided.
- Staff-imposed demands – minimum time that must be spent with your direct reports (for example, guiding or appraising) to avoid penalties.
- Self-imposed demands – these are the expectations that you choose to create in others about what you will do; from the work that you feel you must do because of your personal standards or habits.
Constraints are the factors, within the organisation and outside it, that limit what the job-holder can do. Examples include:
- Resource limitations – the amounts and kinds of resources available.
- Legal regulations.
- Trade union agreements.
- Technological limitations – limitations imposed by the processes and equipment with which the manager has to work.
- Physical location of the manager and his or her unit.
- Organisational policies and procedures.
- People’s attitudes and expectations – their willingness to accept, or tolerate, what the manager wants to do.
To this list for today’s world we would add factors which will impose constraints such as:
- ethics – your own and those to which your organisation adheres
- the environment – climate change and remediation.
Many managerial jobs offer opportunities for choices both in what is done and how it is done, though the amount and nature of choice vary. Managers can also exercise choice by emphasising some aspects of the job and neglecting others. Often they will do so partly unconsciously. The main choices are usually in:
- what work is done
- how the work is done
- when the work is done.
Analysis of your job using these concepts of demands, constraints and choices can be revealing, particularly if it leads to the recognition that one or other aspect needs changing.
Note that demands and constraints also apply to many employees who work in the organisation. Choices, however, often do not apply to employees doing routine jobs.
Activity 2 Demands and constraints
Consider the demands made on you when you carry out your job. Rate each type of demand from 1 (low) to 10 (high), and provide an example in cases where a demand is high. Then consider the factors that place constraints on what you can do. Rate these in the same way and record them. Provide an example in cases where a constraint is high.
Policies and procedures:
Attitudes and expectations:
Activity 2 should provide you with a picture of the demands and constraints you are subject to. The choices you have in your job will be greater when you have few demands and few constraints, although not many managers find themselves in that position. Most managers face substantial demands, but often from only two or three sources. Similarly, most managers have a number of constraints but not in all the areas shown. Activity 4 demonstrates how your context shapes what, how and when your work, and that of your work group, is done. It also has an important purpose in this course too. When you are resolving workplace issues you will always need to consider demands, constraints and choices. You will also need to consider the extent to which you have an influence over some demands and constraints. As you carried out Activity 2, you may have begun thinking about this!
The last four sections of this course all deal with pressure on managers and the stress that can result. They covers the following topics around managing pressure, stress and time:
Your management skills: This section sets out some recognised skills that managers need in order to be effective. Note that if your capabilities don’t match what your job requires, then the result is likely to be frustration and stress. However, the reason you are studying this course is likely to be to improve your skills and capabilities. In this case, you are taking active steps to remedy this situation.
Transition into management: This section deals with a particular situation – that of the new manager moving from ‘operating’ to managing. Any transition has the potential to cause stress. However, the understanding that the transition is a process and that there are actions a person can take to become an effective manager is likely to be stress-reducing. You may have already experienced this particular transition. If you are experiencing it now, however, or made the transition some time ago but not entirely successfully, consider what kinds of adjustments you could make.
Recognising pressure and avoiding stress: This section considers common causes of stress with the emphasis on management and managers. This reading will be useful however long you have been a manager. What particular pressures are you under this week? What methods of reducing stress are open to you?
Managing your time: This section takes you through the main points of time management. As you read, make a note of the ways in which your time is used and what you might do to save time.