Monthly Archives: April 2012

Are you a Killer Manager?

Stress!

Any manager with a ‘killer’ work ethic should realise that a happy workforce is a productive one. Having a productive workforce may go some way towards keeping the accountants happy however; the manager who pushes too hard and ignores the health and welfare of his/her employees does so at the peril of their organisation. And hopefully their own career…

I recently highlighted the dangers of driving whilst tired for police officers (amongst others), an issue that probably impacts more upon shift workers than many others. But tiredness is (hopefully) only a relatively minor factor when you consider all the remaining health issues resulting from working shifts and excessive hours.

Many of the negative health impacts that result from shifts and working excessive hours have long been understood, both by the medical ‘experts’ and those who are required to work in this way. In recent years there have been numerous studies and reports to evidence many of the previous suppositions.

In 2005 the BBC reported that; “Employees working split shifts could be harming their health” as a result of research carried out by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). The results of another study by a team from University College London, carried out over an 11-year period, highlighted the fact; working for more than 11 hours a day markedly increases heart disease risk. It pointed out that the magnitude of risk goes up by 67% for people who work long hours (see here).

This study might make us think twice about the old adage ‘hard work won’t kill you’ (Professor Stephen Holgate – Medical Research Council)

The lead researcher of the latter report, Professor Mika Kivimäki, suggested this should be “a wake-up call for people who overwork themselves, especially if they already have other risk factors”I would agree however; many of those workers are ‘overworked’ because of the methods employed by their managers and not from any personal choice.

A further study in the European Heart Journal in 2008, focusing on more than 10,000 British civil servants showed that “a stressful job has a direct biological impact on the body, raising the risk of heart disease” (see here). But ‘stress’ is one of those mainly intangible, and mostly misunderstood, negative concepts that can (and do) have a negative impact upon one’s mental and physical well-being.

What is stress? Stress is caused by two things. Primarily it is down to whether you think situations around you are worthy of anxiety. And then it’s down to how your body reacts to your thought processes. This instinctive stress response to unexpected events is known as ‘fight or flight’…(stress.org.uk)

In humans, as in other animals, the adrenalin rush of this fight or flight process helps us to run faster and fight harder, all physical traits useful to those working within our Emergency Services for example. But the life-threatening events are not the only ones that trigger these physiological reactions. We experience them whenever we come across something unexpected or something (or someone) that frustrates our aims, goals, expectations or conditions of perceived normality.

These latter factors are all prevalent in today’s public sector. Services like the NHS and not least our police service, are currently undergoing unprecedented change. The police in particular are also under what appears to be a sustained and constant barrage of (mostly unfair) criticism and attack from the government and our media. As if the job isn’t stressful enough already! But the down side of mobilising our bodies for survival is; the process also presents negative consequences and medical conditions, ones that can have a profound impact upon our ability to work effectively, let alone personal longevity prospects!

The HSE define work-related stress as; a harmful reaction people have to undue pressures and demands place on them at work. Unsurprisingly HSE statistics show that industries reporting the highest rates of work-related stress in the last three years are within the public sector. Stress at work is a major issue for any organisation, not least those involving public service, but it is also one that almost every element of management has specific responsibilities for preventing.

The HSE produce guidelines about the Management Standards expected to mitigate the risk of work related stress. It defines six key areas that managers need to address, if they want to effectively remove/control those risks. If you are a manager, are you aware of your responsibilities?

Well-designed, organised and correctly managed work helps to maintain and promote individual health and well-being i.e. happy workers. But conversely, as with much of the so-called police reform currently taking place, where there has been insufficient attention to organisation and/or task design along with some frightening examples of poor management, the benefits or assets associated with good work conditions are lost. The common result of this being work related stress.

People who feel they have some control over their working lives are then less likely to have illnesses (Professor Cary Cooper – Lancaster University)

Considering all these health impacts, you would think that much of the political rhetoric about ‘doing more with less’ should have fallen on deaf ears by now, unfortunately this isn’t the case. A combination of government enforced austerity measures, along with a predominance of self-interested senior management in the public sector, has prevented it.

The one positive outcome from all this (if you can call it that) is; killer management is likely to mitigate the future financial impacts placed upon our society by an ageing population!