«To make the best use of people as a valuable resource of the organisation attention must be given to the relationships between staff, and the nature ...»
The ‘fight or flight’ mechanism prepares the body to cope with any threat or danger by certain physiological responses. For example, if you are about to speak to an audience of 250 people, your physiological response may be perspiring hands, butterflies in the stomach, slightly shaky hands and legs, and an overwhelming feeling of anxiety. You may even fear that your mind will go blank on your walk up to the podium.
Individuals are a product of their environment. However, because we have been dealing with executive stress for only a few generations (out of the approximate 50 000 generations that people have existed on earth) we have yet to build up new and relevant responses. Our in-built response is one of survival, i.e. when standing up in front of an audience of 250 people, the physiological response is that the body thinks it’s about to die! Quite clearly, it is unlikely you will die giving a speech to a large audience and our ‘Fight or Flight’ response, therefore, does not particularly help us to deal adequately with symptoms of executive pressure or stress.
So what are these stress symptoms, and how can we recognise them early enough to preserve our mental and physical well-being? Pressure is when we react to a situation with which we feel we can cope successfully. The result of pressure may be that we accept a new challenge, or we are spurred on to achieve results. Under pressure, we can still maintain a balance of health.
Stress is when we react to a situation we feel is not easy to cope with. The results of stress are unwanted physical, mental and emotional deterioration. Stress symptoms are failing work performance, mental and physical depletion, and finally exhaustion or illness.
In society today, one of the classic illnesses recognised as stress-related is M.E. (myalgic encephalomyelitis), popularly known as ‘post-viral’ or ‘chronic fatigue syndrome’. The symptoms of M.E. are mental and physical fatigue, often culminating in the inability to work for weeks, months or years.
We need to learn to recognise the three types of responses to pressure and stress: emotional, behavioural, and physical. Below are examples of each type.
Emotional response In the short term, an emotional response to pressure could be increased confidence. But a response to stress could be to make someone more anxious or tense. A long-term emotional response to stress could be an aggressive attitude or over-emotional reaction.
Behavioural response In the short term, a behavioural response to pressure could be clear and decisive thinking. A behavioural response to stress would be confused thinking, poor concentration and an inability to complete tasks. In the long term, a behavioural response to stress may be poor timekeeping, taking stimulants to stay awake, or insomnia.
Physical response In the short term a physical response to pressure would be a greater awareness of health and energy. The physical response to stress may create a syndrome of tiredness, lack of energy, or quick, shallow breathing. In the long term, the physical effects of stress could be headaches, ulcers, blood pressure problems, and general physical deterioration.
As we said at the beginning of this study, stress is unavoidable, and people will always have demands placed on them. Stress management refers to any programme that reduces stress.
The general rule is to take a good look at how we are living our lives. If we become ill, it is because, for whatever reason, our body needs to be ill. The best prescription is rest, a balanced diet, regular exercise and, as much as possible, relief from the offending stresses.
In Lynette’s case, the alternative therapists regarded her symptoms as signs that her body was doing its job to fight off stress and illness. Within an organisation there are many things that can be done to reduce the symptoms of stress.
First, the behavioural response to stress must be acknowledged. Second, we need to determine the causes and, third, we can begin to develop a strategy to reduce stress.
Some suggested ‘stress reducing’ activities are as follows:
Counselling and coaching schemes set up within the organisation.
G Setting up a ‘Mentoring’ programme to enable employees to develop supportive relationships G with a guide or teacher inside or outside the organisation. The self-employed, such as Lynette, may choose to join a related organisation to develop a mentor.
Developing team building activities such as on job or external training courses.
G Providing counselling training for managers.
G Training managers and supervisors to recognise the causes and symptoms of stress in their staff.
G Setting realistic goals and objectives with in-built appraisal and counselling systems. The selfG employed, like Lynette, should regularly review personal, career and business goals.
Continuing Professional Development (or Career Development) schemes.
G Routinely reviewing workloads and deadlines.
G Encouraging health and fitness programmes.
G Developing an outside counselling service for drug, alcohol, or financial problems.
G Setting up a Stress Management Programme.
G One of the ways an organisation can help employees to cope with stress is to provide stress management training. This may include programmes in diet, exercise, time management, assertiveness, support groups, relaxation and meditation.
Assignment guide provided by Sunny Stout, Sun Training.
Applications and discussion Application 1 FT A salary can’t buy happiness The American researcher Fred Herzberg was the first to propose that employees’ salaries were a major cause of dissatisfaction but not necessarily a cause of satisfaction. Writing in the 1950s he introduced the concept that what makes people happy about their work and what makes them unhappy are in fact different things.
What makes them happy or satisfied, he proposed, were characteristics of the job that met what he called their motivator needs, such as a desire for achievement, recognition, interesting work, power of self and/or others and promotion.
What makes them unhappy arises from what he called hygiene needs related to the context in which the work was done.
These ‘dissatisfiers’ are company administration, the boss, salaries, peers and the physical working conditions.
This theory became part of the management training package for millions of managers around the world. It had all the appeal of any good theory: it was practical, simple, memorable and consistent with the gut feel of many managers. Unfortunately, over the next 40 years no other researcher was able to replicate Herzberg’s findings with such clarity.
Today most researchers would agree that what excites people and what irritates them about their jobs are often different factors, but these may reflect personality differences as much as they reflect either the work or the job context.
However, it is on salary, particularly, that Herzberg’s neatness lets us down. Salary is not just a contextual factor. It also establishes our place in the scheme of things. It affects our sense of equity, impinges on our sense of personal worth, our self-esteem. Salary crosses the barrier from hygiene to motivator need and casts serious doubt on the theory.
No one would argue today that salary is not a motivator. There are people for whom money is an important motivator. They are attracted to jobs which pay a fee every time the person performs and are found in the professions, commission-based sales jobs and in personal services.
But for the majority of reasonably paid employees salary is not a prime motivator on a day-today basis. Few people get up each morning and say ‘I am off to get my money today’. For most of us other factors – challenging work, variety, control over our work, recognition, power, autonomy – are the prime motivators day to day. (This does not exclude the power of money in large lumps. Everyone has a price and, given enough money, you can motivate your employees for short terms with large lumps.) Financial rewards are one of the most complex areas of managing. It is well nigh impossible to get it right. We preach equity and fairness, yet most reward systems are blatantly unfair. We preach transparency and openness, yet there are anomalies which persist.
Our reaction to these anomalies is a periodic shuffle in our basis of assessment. On each occasion we tend to think that this time we will get it right but the very nature of incentives to work are so idiosyncratic that, whatever your system, it will bug some people a lot of the time.
Over the last 40 years there have been at least four management movements which have attempted to fix the anomalies. Two of these – management by objectives in the 1970s and 1980s, and performance related pay from the 1990s – became universal cults.
Bureaucratic information-based reward systems are now a booming business. Yet their underlying assumption is false. They are based on a belief that organisations can be administered scientifically – that inequities and emotions can be squeezed out to provide a rational scheme.
But organisations are about people who have emotions: love, hate, pleasure, pain, satisfaction and dissatisfaction are essential ingredients of life at work. And if we are successful in producing a totally rational reward system then we would be in danger of squeezing out the creativity and innovation that companies need to survive.
So what might you do with your reward system? A middle path between an obsessive belief in a rational scheme and the idiosyncratic effects of labour market forces would be sensible. If your people are unhappy, you should concede that salary systems are imperfect – that they are rarely fair and that transparency is not guaranteed to improve them.
Resist the temptation to buy a bureaucratic, information-based system that will eliminate some of the very behaviour your company needs to survive. Do establish performance criteria because measured performance does outstrip unmeasured performance. But remain flexible.
Do not concentrate on salary as a major reward. Most of your people come to work to satisfy other motives. Use other rewards such as recognition, having fun, interesting work, and new challenges to excite your people. Finally, from time to time make such adjustments to your salary scales as market intelligence and common sense would dictate. After 40 years of trying, we should admit there is no better strategy.
(Source: Professor John W. Hunt, Financial Times, 11 March 1998.) Application 2 FT His master’s voice The UK workplace is widely believed to have changed beyond recognition over the past 10 years as a result of technological innovation and the need to compete in the global economy.
This is said to have transformed relations in the workplace by giving employees more control over their work and increasing their participation in company decision-making. As a result, we are supposed to have seen an end to the more traditional and allegedly oppressive methods based on scientific management and the production assembly line.
The trouble with much of this familiar picture is that it is based more on anecdote than on empirical evidence. A massive study of the UK employment relationship challenges this comforting view with an impressive analysis of what is actually happening in the workplace. It suggests that behind the much acclaimed modernisation of employment relationships lies a much more familiar pattern of workplace behaviour shaped by the attempted reassertion of managerial power.
The co-authors, led by Duncan Gallie at Nuffield College, Oxford, produce some startling findings about UK employees. They point to what they see as an impressive improvement in workplace skill levels. As many as 63 per cent of all employees surveyed said the skills required in their particular job had increased over a five-year period while only 9 per cent said they had suffered from deskilling.
As many as 65 per cent of employees reported an increase in their responsibility at work, mainly as a result of those improved skills. The authors point to the ‘spectacular’ spread of new technologies so the proportion of employees using automated or computerised equipment rose from 39 per cent to 56 per cent.
They conclude that the second half of the 1980s and the first half of the 1990s ‘saw a marked decentralisation of decision-making within organisations’ with a resulting loss of middle-level management. There was also evidence that ‘work has grown intrinsically more satisfying and less degrading’. But the survey also found upskilling had brought ‘ambivalent’ consequences for the quality of working life because of intensified work pressures.
Moreover, the greater ‘task discretion’ required from employees has not brought a greater willingness by employers to trust their employees more and give them more autonomy and participation. It seems there has been no significant shift in power from managers to employees.
On the contrary, the authors claim that the UK has seen the intensification by management of ‘extensive and expanding control systems’, helped by the spread of advanced technologies.
‘Almost everyone is supervised and four in ten supervise others to some degree,’ they argue. While managers and professional staff enjoy increased personal discretion at work, ‘more manual work
ers are experiencing tighter supervision than before’, with 30 per cent having their pay linked to work-pacing and target-setting and with appraisal and merit pay covering 40 per cent of them.
This conclusion is strengthened by the study’s other findings on the limited degree of employee participation and representation. Only 32 per cent of employees said they had ‘any significant degree of say over changes in work organisation’ with half saying they could exercise no influence at all. The study claims ‘the capacity of employees to affect their employment conditions appears to have diminished since the mid-1980s, although they may have become better informed about organisational activities’.