Stressed at work? Your boss needs enlightening

Armen Hareyan's picture

Job Stress

The chances are your working environment today is a far more complex place than it was 20 years ago.

In a typical office or workplace, the hours will be long, a number of people will be stressed or have taken stress leave, the staff turnover is likely to be high, and workers will be asked to do far more with far less.

Michael Cavanagh, a lecturer in the School of Psychology's Coaching Unit, is leading a Sydney University team which has just received ARC linkage funding to develop leadership skills in high stress workplaces.

Dr Cavanagh believes the above scenario is typical of most workplaces. "There are a lot more uncertainties in today's world and this has contributed to increased employee mobility and high levels of stress in the workplace," he said.

Stress is just one symptom of the complexities involved. "Young professionals today realise they are responsible for their own career projections, and if they don't find what they are looking for in one workplace then they move on," he said.

According to Dr Cavanagh, Generations X and Y are far more assertive about their needs in the workplace than previous generations. They give priority to their continued employability and therefore demand experience and leadership which will enhance their CVs.


This creates one of the most pressing concerns for today's employers: "The challenge for workplaces today is the attraction, retention and engagement of skilled staff," he said. "It costs an employer 150 per cent of an employee's salary to turn over their position. When employees leave they take with them skills and knowledge that are of great value to the employer. Essentially they are taking the corporate memory with them."

This has created what he calls a "war on talent", and to retain skilled staff Dr Cavanagh suggests we need more enlightened "transformative" leadership.

His ideal manager is someone who can take on multiple perspectives, seeing things from the point of view of their employees, their organisation and the market or consumer - while at the same time creating an environment conducive to employee wellbeing.

"Managers need to have the ability to see things from disparate perspectives to find adaptive and viable solutions for all stakeholders," he said.

The $3 million project involves working with industry partners including a leading law firm, and it will be the largest body of research ever undertaken on leadership and coaching.

"The project aims to develop leaders capable of creating the sort of workplace environments which enable people to flourish" said Dr Cavanagh.

This means more creative, innovative and loyal employees with balanced, global views, and hopefully more productive workplaces.