Managers thrive on good working conditions

Research in Sweden suggests that psychosocial working conditions can strongly influence how well a manager works. The study concludes that working conditions, health and the effectiveness of a manager’s leadership are closely related. It suggests a manager’s health and working conditions are often overlooked, and that training courses are not enough to promote good leadership. Leadership training has to be accompanied by a good working environment for managers to thrive.

About the study

Managers play an important role in the workplace, influencing attitudes, working conditions and productivity. Managers are often responsible for the working environment of their subordinates, but it can sometimes be unclear who takes responsibility for the working environment of the managers.

In a 2013 doctoral thesis, Psychosocial Work Conditions, Health, and Leadership of Managers, Daniel Lundqvist of Linköping University puts forward the argument that the psychosocial work conditions of managers are closely inter-linked with their health and leadership. According to the study, carried out in Sweden, previous research has looked at how managers influence their workplace, while the way in which the workplace influences the managers is often neglected.

To illustrate the complexity of the relationship between psychosocial work conditions, health and leadership, the research used both quantitative and qualitative methods.

The quantitative material consisted of 4,000 questionnaires distributed to subordinates, first-line managers and middle managers at nine organisations. The survey asked questions about work conditions, control, role conflicts and performance feedback.

The qualitative research was based on 62 interviews with managers. The interviews were conducted to allow managers to describe their experiences in their own words.

Key findings

Psychosocial work conditions and leadership

Lundqvist’s research shows how important the psychosocial working environment is for leadership to be efficient. The main conclusions of this research show the importance of good psychosocial work conditions for managers, and indicate that first-line managers are the most vulnerable group.

Leadership courses, argues Lundqvist, are not enough to promote good leadership. They need to be combined with a decent work environment and good individual health to create an efficient organisation.

The results of the study imply that managers’ health and the work environment are often overlooked. This can result in reduced productivity and financial losses for the organisation.

The research identifies social relations, skill discretion and role conflicts as important factors related to both leadership and health. Considering these factors when creating the work environment will help improve the efficiency of the organisation, the study concludes. Managers with good health who feel stimulated by their work tasks will be able to motivate their employees, which in turn will increase productivity.

This seems to be even more important in large organisations, since one part of the study shows that leadership quality decreases as the number of employees increases.

First-line managers at risk

Psychosocial work conditions appear to differ between managers at different managerial levels. This suggests managers cannot be treated as a uniform group as has been done in previous research.

The study identifies first-line managers as being most vulnerable to the influence on health and leadership of psychosocial work conditions. The reason seems to be that first-line managers feel pressure to deliver from both the middle managers above them and from their own subordinates below.

One of the main findings suggests that social relationships, such as internal and external social support, are a major factor that influences psychosocial work conditions. However, it is important to acknowledge that supportive relationships are a complicated issue for managers – asking for support can pose the risk of a manager’s skills being called into question.

However, the results show that internal support is important to give managers legitimacy and reduce stress levels, and external support is essential for managers’ health. Mentorships and supportive networks at the workplace could be a solution since social support is identified by the study as a way of reducing both stress levels and role conflict.

Commentary

Lundqvist’s thesis is a reminder of the importance of a good work environment to create an efficient interaction between managers and workers. The results, suggesting a close relationship between health, leadership and work conditions and drawing attention to the different stresses faced by managers at different levels, pave the way for future research. It offers a novel approach when compared to previous research that has treated managers as a uniform group.

References

Lundqvist D. (2013), Psychosocial work conditions, health, and leadership of managers, PhD thesis, Linköping University, Linköping

Emilia Johansson and Ida Stadenberg, Oxford Research

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