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Why companies need to know when to stop pressurising their staff

Ksenia Zheltoukhova

20 November 2012

In its Global Workforce Study, Towers Watson found that more than one in three employees are affected by excessive pressure in their job. At least 58% complained about working longer hours that they were contracted to, and only 53% feel able to manage their stress levels.

These figures are not exactly surprising – most of us have done late hours every now and then, and few would agree that the pressure to meet personal and team targets – particuarly in the private sector – is off.

An important question, missing from the survey, is ‘where is this pressure coming from?’. We tend to blame line managers for creating internal competition, and organisations for linking reward to a bell curve. However, our research shows that many employees confess that they are their own main source of pressure to put in extra effort. It appears that a strong work ethic is causing burnout among the UK workforce.

This is not to suggest that organisations should discourage individuals from trying so hard.  What line managers could do instead is instil a more open and trusting culture in their organisation: whilst many line managers allow away-from-your-desk lunch breaks, few practice that behaviour themselves. As a result, team members may misinterpret their supervisor’s behaviour as the only acceptable way to get a bonus or a promotion, and never want to be the first person leaving the office.

Monetary performance incentives (and fear of losing them) stimulate employee performance only to a certain point. In the long run, aggressive reward strategies – as evidenced by the Towers Watson survey findings – lead to burnout, presenteeism, and long-term sickness absence. It seems that many UK workers really want to do a good job – organisations need to know when to stop pressurising staff in order to get the most out of them.

Comments in Chronological Order (Total 1 Comments)

Peter Barnard

20 Nov 2012 2:40PM

I agree with Ksenia that it is not enough to 'blame' only managers for applying too much pressure. Most people want to do a good job and will work hard to achieve the results. However, my experience of managing teams tells me that although a trusting management style works for most people, you also have to be alert to those who need closer supervision. For some people that is an occasional need; for others the need seldom goes away.

So, although some managers can and do create undesirable pressures at work, I think it is also true that some people create their own pressures either through having a very strong personal work ethic or through not being trustworthy enough to be left alone to do a good job.