The boss’s stress affects employees–differences between the sexes

Stress-related disorders have increased over the last few years, and a great many of these problems are ascribed to factors in the workplace. Bosses have a great influence on the working conditions of employees, and their own stress and ailments probably have an impact on their employees.

This are results presented in a new dissertation by Peggy Bernin at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden. The dissertation presents a study carried out on three groups, one of them comprising managers in 24 countries. Questionnaires have been used in five reports to elucidate working conditions and how stress and strains are dealt with. A study base of more than 5,000 employees made it possible to compare white-collar and blue-collar workers. The analyses were performed applying a gender perspective.

The fact that managers experience greater psychological demands, have more stimulating work, and have a greater say in what people do is in agreement with earlier studies, primarily from abroad. The results show that demands and stimulation differ from one company to another. On the other hand, the study does not find that coping–the means of dealing with stress and strains–differs among companies.

The studies indicate some difference in the perception of demands between women and men managers, which may be a consequence of the gender-segregated labor market. One of the most striking results is that women and men bosses differ in regard to coping strategies. In cases of conflict and unfair treatment, women take their problems home with them and develop psychosomatic symptoms to a greater extent than their male colleagues. Women managers also found it more difficult to tune out their work during their leisure time in comparison with their male counterparts.

Social support is an important moderating factor in psychosocial disorders, and managers have firmer social support and larger networks than non-managerial employees. In international terms Swedish managers report extremely high levels of job satisfaction and a high level of well-being, both psychological and physical. Swedish bosses also report that they experience a high degree of self-determination, meaning that they have considerable freedom to influence their work situation.

By way of summary, it has been confirmed that managers experience great demands but also that favorable/health-promoting factors moderate these high demands. The study indicates that women bosses can constitute a risk factor for psychosocial disorders. Organizational and cultural factors strongly contribute to differences in the working conditions of managers. Gender issues are judged to be of importance in achieving increased equality in work conditions between female and male bosses, and it is suggested that such issues should receive more attention in companies.

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