• Managers Managing Stress at Work: Exploring the experiences of managers managing employee stress in the social housing sector

      Wall, Tony; Foster, Scott; Parkyn, Matthew (University of ChesterUniversity of Chester, 2019-07)
      This research has explored how seventeen middle managers in the social housing sector manage employee stress and the reasons they take the approach they do. The research has been conducted in response to the increased prevalence of workplace stress. While workplace stress and mental well-being continues to rise up the political and business agenda; the most recent statistics from national and international organisations identify that the management of stress in the workplace needs to be improved. Workplace stress is a global issue for which the related direct and indirect costs are only beginning to be quantified, although the estimated cost of work-related depression in Europe is €617 billion per year. Furthermore, there is a trend towards devolving responsibility for managing workplace stress to individual managers. Despite their increasing responsibilities for managing stress at work, middle managers often lack the authority, skills and capacity to make the changes required to prevent workplace stress. Evidence suggests that middle managers are in a complex and challenging position between their superiors and more junior staff which can exposes them to role related stressors. The United Kingdom (UK) social housing sector is a particularly complex and vital one, comprising of a variety of private, public and charitable enterprises that build, manage and maintain housing stock. The complexities, political and financial challenges facing the sector expose middle managers and their staff to an increased risk of work-related stress. This study adopted a constructivist philosophy, relativist ontology and subjectivist epistemological position. Semi structured interviews were conducted with seventeen middle managers working in the social housing sector in an attempt to explore and better understand how they approach managing work-related stress experienced by the employees. The findings of this study are that, in contrast to what the extant literature recommends, participants adopt predominantly reactive approaches to managing employee stress and deploy mostly secondary and tertiary stress management interventions. The study also found that the participants tend to focus on managing stress caused by workload, relationships at work and home-work interface. Furthermore, this study contributes new insights into how middle managers are managing stress in practice such as, using their personal experiences of managing their own stress and by observing the behaviours and practices of other managers. This study also highlights a number of contemporary stressors in the context of the social housing sector. These contributions provide new practical insights into how middle managers might more effectively manage stress in the workplace. The need and focus of this research arose from the researcher’s practice as an occupational health and safety consultant working with social housing providers across the UK. His work involves advising housing providers and their middle managers on matters of employee stress and health. Often this advice is sought when the employee is already unwell and needs help to recover. This reactive approach to workplace stress is contrary to what UK health and safety (H&S) law requires and is known to be ineffective in tackling stress at work. The researcher’s professional experience in the housing sector and the trend in devolving responsibility for managing stress at work to middle managers, provided the initial spark for this research.