The cost-of-living crisis, high inflation and rising prices, and burnout are at the top of the list when it comes to the biggest causes of stress at work for senior managers, according to a new survey.
HR software provider Ciphr polled 265 people working in senior management and leadership roles, at medium and large businesses in the UK, to find out which things, if any, were currently causing them the biggest concern or most stress in their job. They were also asked whether they ever felt stressed or anxious about their impending workweek – something often dubbed as getting the ‘Sunday scaries’, or ‘Sunday blues’, due to the intensity of some people’s feelings of anticipatory anxiety or dread before the start of a new week.
The results suggest that many senior managers are more overwhelmed by on-the-job stress than their colleagues, and direct reports, perhaps realise, with nearly half (47%) admitting that their job is causing them to suffer the Sunday scaries.
Of those 47%, nearly a third (29%) have experienced the Sunday scaries multiple times over the past year. For around one in eight (13%), the problem is more acute, with the Sunday scaries striking multiple times every month. And, for one in 20 (5%), it’s happening every week.
For some, the Sunday scaries will be a transitory feeling that peaks on Sunday night. For others, however, this heightened anxiety could impact their ability to work – affecting their sleep, productivity levels, and, potentially, result in more absences and resignations.
Only one in five (22%) of the senior managers polled claimed not to have experienced the Sunday scaries while working at their current job or organisation.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the bigger the workforce size, the greater the occurrence of the Sunday scaries. Senior executives and leaders at bigger enterprises (those with over 1,001 employees) are more than twice as likely to experience the Sunday scaries multiple times a month, than those at SMEs with 101-250 employees (24% vs 11%).
The challenges of remote employment – and reduced social interaction – could also be exacerbating some people’s anxiety. Nearly one in five (18%) senior managers at remote-first organisations find themselves feeling stressed or anxious about the week ahead multiple times a month. For senior managers that have more in-person time in their role, working at hybrid or office-first organisations, that falls to one in 10 (10%).
Common causes of stress at work
Of course, not getting the Sunday scaries doesn’t necessarily mean that people are stress-free. Just as getting the Sunday scaries doesn’t necessarily mean that people don’t enjoy their jobs (or at least elements of them).
One of the biggest takeaways from Ciphr’s latest research is that a staggering 98% of people in senior management and leadership roles – regardless of whether they suffer from the Sunday scaries or not – admit to being stressed by at least one thing at work. Two-fifths (83%) named three or more work-related stressors (the average per person was eight things).
Yet, despite the stress, just 4% of survey respondents said that they don’t like their jobs.
Around a third of senior managers find the ongoing cost-of-living crisis (30%), and high inflation and rising prices (29%), the most stressful aspects of their work lives, while one in five struggle with high levels of exhaustion or burnout (22%), their workload and to-do lists (20%), and unfinished work tasks (20%).
The economic downturn and threat of recession (20%) is another major stress trigger. And, one in six senior managers worry about employee retention and staff turnover (17%), rising interest rates (17%), business viability and profitability (16%), and wage inflation (16%).
The top 15 causes of workplace stress for senior managers:
- Cost of living crisis (30% of senior managers)
- High inflation and rising prices (29%)
- Exhaustion / burnout (22%)
- Economic downturn (20%)
- Workload and to-do lists (20%)
- Unfinished work tasks (20%)
- Employee retention and staff turnover (17%)
- Rising interest rates (17%)
- Business viability and profitability concerns (16%)
- Wage inflation (16%)
- Productivity problems (15%)
- Pressure to perform well / expectations of others (15%)
- Job security / losing my job (15%)
- Growing the business / generating new revenue (15%)
- Leadership responsibilities (14%)
- Managing other people / the people I manage (14%)
- Long working hours (14%)
- Ongoing impact of Covid (14%)
Some common stressors appear to affect noticeably more senior managers that frequently get the Sunday scaries, than those that don’t. Among the biggest contributors to their stress levels are burnout (27% compared to 18%), pressure to perform well (20% compared to 10%), the fear of losing their job (20% compared to 10%), long working hours (19% compared to 9%), their boss (16% compared to 7%), and conflicts at work (15% compared to 8%).
Commenting on the findings, Claire Williams, chief people officer at Ciphr, says: “Since the pandemic, and with the ongoing impact of the cost-of-living crisis, there has been a lot of focus on the importance of alleviating workplace stress and what employers can do to safeguard their employees’ mental health. But less is said, perhaps, about the huge pressures that people in senior management and leadership roles feel and how stress impacts them.
“The biggest stressors identified by the senior managers taking Ciphr’s survey can be grouped into three key themes, which orientate around workload, company performance, and their team. This is understandable, as it is expected, to a degree, that senior managers in any organisation will take on the ownership of those responsibilities in managing or leading an organisation. It shows they care, and that they care about the right things.
“It is, however, important for organisations to be really mindful of the influence that work has on an individual’s stress levels – especially if they are senior management or the CEO – as they may be less likely to discuss how they are feeling. The best way to support them is for organisations to work proactively with their senior managers to either help relieve those stresses, where possible, or give them tools and strategies to cope with those stresses in a more targeted and positive way.
“Stress, in general, doesn’t always need to be perceived as a negative – lots of people really thrive under stress and high-pressure situations – and produce some of their best work. But when high levels of stress cause anxiety or the Sunday scaries, that’s when increased risks to the business can start presenting themselves, through ill health, higher turnover of senior managers, ineffective leadership, or poor performance. It’s definitely in an employer’s interest to understand how their managers are feeling and what they can do to help, if there’s a problem, before it impacts the wider business.”
The full results are available at https://www.ciphr.com/causes-of-stress-at-work-2023-survey-results.