Based on a critical review of theory and research, what advice would you give managers regarding how to reduce employee stress?
Stress is a major issue for modern businesses and managers in the contemporary working environment. Not only do stress related illnesses have a cost for organisations in terms of lost working hours and productivity, but higher levels of stress have also been associated with lower level of satisfaction, poorer quality service delivery, and higher levels of turnover (George and Zakkariya, 2015). This essay will thus look to carry out a critical review of theory and research into the various options and approaches which can be used to manage employee stress and ensure it does not reach an excessive level which could harm organisational performance and outcomes.
One of the main themes in the literature is the important role that an employee’s immediate managers, and particularly line managers, can play in the management of stress. According to Donaldson-Feilder et al (2008), as line managers are responsible for organising employees and directly supervising their work, they are ideally positioned to address their psychological needs and manage work related stress. This indicates that line managers need to ensure they have developed and are able to apply the necessary skills to the management of employee stress in order to maintain levels of morale and performance. At the same time, research indicates that senior managers need to focus on empowering line managers and giving them the necessary support and delegated authority to manage stress among their teams, in order to help employees “manage their stress proactively through planning, prioritizing and delegating work” (Moyle, 2006, p. 48). This is an important issue, given recent findings that many line managers are themselves too stressed to help their employees deal with work related stress (Crawford, 2013). This indicates that the management of stress is an issue which requires managerial involvement at all levels, as build ups of excessive stress in any layer of an organisational hierarchy can trigger additional issues and performance problems.
In addition to the direct management of stress, it is also important to recognise the role of leadership styles in creating an organisational environment in which the causes of stress are minimised. As noted by Huczynksi and Buchanan (2010), many managers continue to follow traditional supervisory leadership theories, through which they look to encourage and reward good performance and reprimand employees who fail to perform. However, there is a risk of this type of leadership resulting in an overly autocratic approach to the management of employees. A research study by Castledine (2004) showed that this style of leadership is associated with higher levels of stress, leading to a lack of commitment and risk of employee burn-out. This thus indicates one of the primary paradoxes in the management of stress, namely that a degree of stress is required in the form of pressure to perform and penalties for failure if employees are to be motivated to work hard, but above a certain level this stress can become destructive. As such, one of the core options for managing stress without eliminating it is to use transformational and participative leadership styles which will motivate employees to perform whilst providing them with support and motivation to avoid any issues of excess stress, and preventing a long term accumulation of stress which can cause damage to employee outcomes (Northhouse, 2011).