How companies can guard against executive stress

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The best way to avoid stress is for companies to have clear and robust strategies for steering a company through difficult times, as well as appropriate HR procedures.

Excessive levels of stress can interfere with employee productivity and reduce their physical and emotional wellbeing. While a modicum of stress helps us to function effectively, management strategies that avoid continual stress are critical to the viability of companies, particularly in recessionary times. These are the messages that companies need to act on if they are to manage themselves effectively in this difficult and challenging economic environment.

Employees and managers in all sectors of the economy can be negatively affected by stress, which may be defined as the response of the body to demands placed upon it, be they physical or, as is more often the case in today’s world, psychological. Excessive prolonged stress can lead to poor performance and, at worst, illness and breakdown, irrespective of occupation, position in the hierarchy, or level of salary.

High profile absentee

António Horta-Osório, the chief executive officer of Lloyds Banking Group, has become one of the most high profile recent absentees from work owing to stress.

This has been particularly worrying to financial commentators as Lloyds is currently at a critical point in its transformational agenda. Mr Horta-Osório had been recruited to this position at Lloyds specifically to transform its fortunes following a disastrous few years of trading.

The news of Mr Horta-Osório’s absence from work due to stress is a valuable lesson in looking after the role of CEO. Mr Horta-Osório, like many CEOs, had been placed under significant pressure as the part-nationalised bank sought to survive difficult recent trading conditions. His brief was to turn around a huge financial institution, and in so doing he had to perform his role in the full glare of the public eye.

Stress management strategies

Excessive stress can also result from speechmaking, having to meet tight deadlines, and job insecurity, to name just a few. Stress management strategies can begin with brainstorming sessions with senior managers to identify the critical issues affecting employees. Once these are identified, companies can start to implement effective strategies so that employees are supported and helped through any difficult times.

Systems such as consultation with employees, and the cultivation of a social climate, should be introduced to help support managers to deliver their objectives. In addition, stress management risk assessments are useful instruments with which to examine the potential or actual ability of a position to cause stress. It should never be the case that a CEO becomes so stressed that he or she needs to take time off without the danger signs being noticed.

An organisation’s culture needs to encourage the reporting of difficulties before they reach crisis point. Stress reducing strategies such as direct action, help with time management and encouragement of healthy lifestyle choices should be part of the HR fabric of the organisation. The provision of confidential counselling – either provided in–house or, more likely, out-sourced – can be invaluable.

Good corporate strategy is crucial

But beyond all this, every company needs a good corporate strategy that will enable it to survive difficult circumstances. The direction of travel into the future must at all times be evident and shared by all. Strategy must be based on accurate and useful data. Good communication is vital. Clear plans for all contingencies, from ongoing recession to unexpected disaster, will help to avoid the type of crisis management that leaves CEOs and other executives overworked, dealing in the short term, and generally floundering.

The best way to avoid stress is for companies to have clear and robust strategies for steering a company through difficult times, as well as appropriate HR procedures.


About Terry Irwin

About Terry Irwin


Terry Irwin is the founder and CEO of TCii Strategic and Management Consultants. Born and brought up in Wales, he studied Economics and Marketing at university, followed by an MBA.

Before setting up TCii, Terry spent over 20 years in the corporate world with GSK and Henkel, managing consumer goods and services businesses, living in 14 different countries and working in 30 in Europe, North America, Asia and the Russian Federation. He has also served as a UK Director of Carphone Warehouse and as a Non-Executive Director of Holt Lloyd.

Terry has consulted for a wide range of businesses, from multinationals to start-ups and growing organisations. He has a “hands on” approach and stays involved with client projects through to the achievement of agreed results.

His areas of expertise include:


·         FMCG/services/telecoms

·         Business and strategic planning and implementation

·         Business turnaround, outsourcing and cost reduction

·         Acquisitions, mergers and post-acquisition integration

·         International trade and distribution

·         Venture capital

·         Exit strategy

·         Organisational development

·         Succession planning

·         Board-level executive coaching

·         Sourcing key people – both executive and non-executive – for clients.





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