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Organisational politics chief cause of stress in the workplace


Organisational politics has moved from being a fringe issue a decade ago to being the principal cause of workplace stress, according to research.

The finding has emerged from the executive educational and research organisation Roffey Park’s annual review of management trends – The Management Agenda 2007.

Now in its tenth year, the review examines the challenges that managers and organisations are facing, including trends relating to organisational change, organisational life and leadership.

In addition, the report highlights many of the most pronounced changes between 1998 and 2007 in management practices.

While in 1998 organisational politics was ranked bottom by managers in a list of demotivators, in today’s organisation it has risen above the issues of increased workload and management style to be the highest causes of stress.

In fact, 60 per cent of all respondents report an “increase in political behaviour in their organisation in recent years”. This figure rises to 77 per cent for those working in the public sector.

Valerie Garrow, principal researcher at Roffey Park said: “The overall rise in organisational politics accompanies the decline of traditional hierarchical organisational structures in favour of flatter, more democratic structures.

“As command and control style leadership has become less effective in these organisations, managers have had to become more adept at influencing, negotiating and navigating organisational networks in order to get things done. Similarly, the demise of the traditional career ladder now means that a good deal of influencing and networking is required.”

Conflict in the workplace has also increased and 44 per cent of all respondents believe organisational politics to be a main cause. The research also highlights that underperforming organisations are more likely to report an increase in political behaviour and to see such behaviour as a source of conflict.

But despite the increase in political behaviour and its association with higher levels of stress, workplace stress has continued to decline in recent years. This year 68 per cent of respondents report experiencing stress as a result of work compared to 78 per cent in 2005 and 91 per cent in 1998.

There is a marked decrease in causes of stress relating to ‘increased workload’ and ‘increased responsibility’.

The research shows that these may have finally peaked with managers more adept at coping with constant change and now paying attention to their work-life balance.

The number of managers working longer than their contracted hours has decreased significantly over the decade, down to 76 per cent from 96 per cent in 1998.

The highest percentage of people in the ten-year history of The Management Agenda believe they have work-life balance (62 per cent) with 67 per cent claiming they would refuse a promotion if it negatively affected their life outside work.

In addition, the research offers no evidence that those who have an unsatisfactory work-life balance are working for the more financially successful organisations. In fact, the research does not support the view that financial success requires managers to sacrifice their work-life balance.

Garrow commented: “The rise of organisational politics, the decline in levels of stress and the growing acceptance of the logic of work-life balance are all important workplace trends.

“The research conducted this year highlights that where organisations invest in the people aspect of management – leadership development, talent management, managing change and building a collective sense of purpose – those same organisations can expect an improvement in financial performance.

“Looking ahead to the next ten years, we anticipate greater acceptance of the argument for investing in an organisation’s people.

“The expectation is that organisations will seek out more enlightened working practices that engage and motivate their people, allowing them to achieve their full potential in a highly competitive world.”

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