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Managing and managing people
Managing and managing people

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8 Recognising pressure and avoiding stress

Most people would agree that a certain amount of pressure is tolerable, even enjoyable. Different people, of course, react in different ways to pressure. Some people tolerate more than others do. But we are often at our best when the adrenalin is flowing and when we are working under pressure to achieve good results within a limited time. Problems start when the pressure becomes too great or continues for long periods. It then becomes stress. It ceases to be enjoyable. In the UK, employees are absent for an average of eight days a year and stress is the fourth major cause of this absence (CIPD, 2008). The five main causes of work-related stress that CIPD identified were:

  • workload
  • management style
  • relationships at work
  • organisational change and restructuring
  • lack of employee support from line managers.

These causes should alert you to the idea that, as a manager, you are just as likely to suffer from stress as to be the cause of it! How a manager can reduce stress among direct reports is covered elsewhere in this textbook.

It is important that managers are able to distinguish between pressure and stress so that they can avoid stress while making the best use of appropriate pressure. A simple way of differentiating between pressure and stress is by the effects that they have.

Most high achievers (and a lot of managers would fall into this category) find pressure to be positively motivating. They are able to respond to it energetically. Stress, on the other hand, is debilitating. It deprives people of their strength, their vitality and their judgement. The area of concern is where pressure becomes stress. Here, one needs to be constantly looking for tell-tale signs.