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Why Corporate Wellness

Workplace Trend: Stress Is On The Rise

Victor Lipman

Former Contributor

I write about management in its many forms.

A people-management-tip a day, every weekday in 2019.

One of the more subtle but less desirable qualities of a manager is the tendency to cause stress.

Sure, all managers are capable to some extent of inducing stress; work is inherently stressful. But there are huge variances; some managers are chill and generally easy to work for, and some are stress magnets.

The good news is if you're fortunate enough to have a low-stress manager, it can make a real positive difference in your daily experience of work. The bad news is from a macro-level the workplace stress needle is moving in the wrong direction.


A recent survey from Korn Ferry, "Workplace Stress Continues to Mount," examined this trend. Following are some key stats from it.

The biggest source of stress

What's the biggest source of stress at work? No surprise: one's boss. 35% of respondents cited this. Also, 80% noted that a leadership change, "such as a new direct manager or someone higher up the organizational chart," affects stress levels.

Disturbingly, the survey indicated that overall employee stress levels "have risen nearly 20% in three decades."

At a more personal level:

  • 76% of respondents said workplace stress "had a negative impact on their personal relationships"

  • 66% have lost sleep due to work-related stress

  • 16% have quit jobs because stress became too overwhelming.

Management stress is contagious

One of the real problems with management stress is that it's often transferred, meaning that managers who feel stress acutely tend to pass it on to their employees by their own high-tension behavior.

Clearly, managers who can handle stress coolly have an advantage in their own employee relationships. (Easier said than done - though I do plan to pass on some stress-management tips in my post in this space tomorrow.)

Simply put, management stress is contagious. Not literally in the medical sense, but it almost may as well be, as the corrosive effects from a single manager can ripple out through the area he or she manages.

The role of uncertainty

Regarding the long-term reasons for the increase in stress, the survey notes factors like "the threat of losing a job to technology" and "the pressure to learn new skills just to stay employed." True enough. And to these I'd add a third, especially in the management world.

It's the demise of long-term job stability and the frequency with which many companies almost as a matter of course undergo management reorganizations, downsizing, rightsizing - however you want to label it.

When I first moved into management three decades ago, it was a vastly different world. Sure, there was always some level of risk and uncertainty, and naturally you had to perform in your job, but by and large if you did you could be reasonably assured your job would still be there for you. There was a feeling of long-term loyalty between manager and company. Today that sense of loyalty is gone, or at least in many organizations greatly diminished. This can create a near-permanent level of anxiety, where managers are often looking over their shoulders. Wondering if the next "reorg" is around the corner and what it will mean for them.

Which translates, unfortunately but naturally enough, into stress.

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