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Managing and managing people
Managing and managing people

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8.1 Causes of stress

The most common causes of stress are:

Demand. For the manager, demand will include responsibilities such as:

  • responsibility for the work of others and having to reconcile overlapping or conflicting objectives – between group and organisation, between individuals and group, and between one’s own objectives and those of other managers
  • responsibility for innovative activities, especially in organisations where there is a cultural resistance to change.

When these demands are excessive, they can be regarded as role overload which occurs when a manager is expected to hold too many roles. In the recent past, many organisations in Europe and the USA have responded to demands for cost reduction by ‘delayering’. This involves reducing the number of managers, while the amount of work to be managed remains the same. Some organisations have implemented delayering by requiring that the remaining managers do all the work of managers now removed. They are also told to achieve the same quality as before. The managers affected may see this as an impossible task. Equally, role underload can be stressful if a person feels underused. Work overload and underload is different from role overload and underload. In work overload and underload, stress is created as a result of the quality and quantity of work demanded – either too much or too little.

Control. A manager’s role as coordinator can be stressful, especially where authority is unclear or resources are inadequate.

Role ambiguity, incompatibility and role conflicts.

  • Ambiguity about management roles is often inevitable: they invariably combine a number of overlapping roles. Indeed, it is precisely this overlap that makes management jobs interesting and offers scope for creativity.
  • Role incompatibility occurs when a manager’s expectations of role are significantly different from those of his or her staff and colleagues. Pressure to do things that do not feel appropriate or ‘right’ is stressful.
  • Role conflict may occur when someone has to carry out several different roles. Although the manager may be comfortable about performing each role individually, there may be conflict when several roles are held at one time. This may include conflict between roles associated with home and family and roles associated with work.

Other major sources of stress that are not confined to managers but affect them include:

Relationship problems. People who have difficulties with their manager, their staff or their colleagues may exhibit symptoms of stress.

Support. All staff need adequate support from colleagues and superiors.

Career uncertainty. Uncertainty often occurs as a result of rapid changes in the economic situation inside and outside the organisation, in technology, in markets and in organisational structures.