Too much pressure?

Managers are bearing the brunt of restructuring, writes Rachelle Thackray
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The Independent Online
Today's managers are stressed out, kept in the dark by their seniors and suffer from constant insecurity about their jobs, according to a new survey which aims to track the progress of 5,000 managers over five years.

The Quality of Working Life, produced by Professors Les Worrall and Cary Cooper of the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST), in conjunction with the Institute of Management, found that two out of three British managers in companies of all sizes had coped with organisational restructure in the past year.

Professor Cooper, who lectures in organisational psychology, said managers' low morale was directly linked to the stress of rapid change. "We are moving into a short-term contract, freelance culture. The next generation might get used to that, but the problem is with people in their thirties, forties and fifties. Job insecurity levels, even among senior management, are quite high," he said.

"There has been a lot of downsizing,which has caused enormous problems. It's worse than the 1980s enterprise era when the stress was self-induced. What we have been seeing is more worrying, because the stress is not in people's control."

The survey, funded by the Post Office, garnered 1,361 replies and found that two-thirds of British households had two working partners. One-third of households comprises partners who both work full time. Eighty-two per cent of managers reported that they regularly worked more than 40 hours per week, with 41 per cent often taking work home at weekends. Meanwhile, nearly 65 per cent said they were under constant time pressure; a similar percentage said they felt guilty for staying in bed because of illness.

Peter Khoury of International Consulting Services said top managers should set an example. "Communication is critical. It's more than e-mail or a newsletter; it's the way you behave. What does that say to the people who look up to you?"

He said his company, which provided staff with a counselling service, free sports club membership and medical cover, tried to encourage managers' competencies over and above hardline objectives.

Roger Young, an Institute of Management director, added: "Managers are somewhat down in the mouth. Top bosses need to find the balance between meeting individual and company needs."

Professor Cooper said the survey produced two surprising results: a high proportion of male managers (one in four) are now given paid paternity leave; but despite the technology revolution, just four per cent of managers work from home.

Information overload was a huge stress-factor for managers, said Professor Cooper, who still managed a 20 per cent response to his 5,000 questionnaires in just three weeks. "What we need is to manage the new technology rather than let the new technology manage us. We have to see how to prioritise our e-mails, the Internet and mobile phones."

He predicted companies would become more family-friendly and flexible towards working hours in the coming years. "These are critical years for Britain. We have revolutionised our industry; we now have to manage our human resources so they don't burn out," he said.

'The Quality of Working Life' is available, price pounds 25 (IM members) or pounds 50 for non-members, from the Institute of Management, 2 Savoy Court, The Strand, London WC2R 0EZ