Being a leader is challenging as you have to deal with not only those above you, but those below you as well. Research shows that many leaders find that dealing with followers can be draining and stressful. A new study by Shani Pindek, Lorenzo Lucianetti, Stacey Kessler, and Paul Spector in International Journal of Stress Management explores how leaders are affected by the stress experienced by followers. The goal was to study stress crossover from followers to leaders.
Jobs can be stressful for many reasons including being responsible for accomplishing things, having conflicts with others, and uncertainty about about what one is supposed to accomplish. High stress at work can have detrimental effects on both mental and physical health. People in high stress jobs can experience frequent anger, anxiety, and physical illness. One of the main sources of stress at work is workload—having too much work to do.
Stress Crossover from Followers to Leaders
For our study we surveyed 588 employees from 164 workgroups in 55 Italian companies. Both employees and their supervisors were asked about their workloads and how often they experienced physical health symptoms associated with stress, such as headaches and stomach distress. The data showed a clear connection between workload and symptoms of employees and their supervisors. Employees who had heavy workloads had supervisors with heavy workloads, and employees with frequent symptoms had supervisors with frequent symptoms. In other words there was stress crossover from followers to leaders for both workload and symptoms.
Although it is impossible to eliminate stress in jobs, it can be managed, not only for individual employees, but for entire workgroups. Some tips.
- Good hiring practices. The place to start with managing workloads is to be sure that all employees have the talent for the job. This means matching the KSAOs (Knowledge, Skill, Ability, and Other characteristics) between the job and the person.
- Invest in Training. Training can enhance the KSAOs of employees and enable them to work more efficiently, which can reduce stress by making the job easier to accomplish.
- Develop Teamwork. People who are efficient when working alone are not necessarily efficient when working in a team. Good teamwork means developing team skills in employees to they can work together smoothly.
- Quality Leadership. An important element in managing stress is to be sure that leaders provide the structure necessary for people to coordinate their efforts, and at the same time offer support to followers to not only help them do their jobs, but to cope with job stress. This means good leader hiring practices and training.
For the most part, stress is minimized by implementing sound organizational practices and structures that support employees in fulfilling their roles. These practices have the side benefit of managing stress as well.
For more on best ways to manage employees, see Industrial and Organizational Psychology: Research and Practice.
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