The myriad of staffers aren’t the only ones feeling the effects of stress in the office. Rising workplace demands are doing a real number on Canadian managers and executives, as well, according to a new study by employee assistance provider WarrenShepell.

A review of requests for aid in coping with anxiety and stress found that 18% came from supervisors and managers. Also, 35% of managers who contacted the EAP for help with medical and emotional problems reported facing high stress levels at work, according to the review of over 168,000 employee claims filed over three years, from 2003 to 2005.

In turn, this is leading to rising disability claims for mental nervous disorders, which have risen by 40% in the past ten years, according to Rod Phillips, president and CEO of WarrenShepell in Toronto.

He said, “The common attitude is that people at the top are not supposed to have problems that impact their performance. But the truth is that supervisors are not infallible or invincible. They’re affected by the same daily hassles and struggles as everyone else.”

It seems to be especially troubling for middle managers, who not only feel pressure from the employees they supervise to make instant decisions, but also from upper management pushing them to meet increasing performance standards, according to Karen Seward, vice-president of The WarrenShepell Research Group, which conducted the study.

Time pressure is largely to blame for the office anxiety. “Management often works 55 to 60 hours or more,” Seward said. “With the high level of responsibility and decision-making associated with these positions, it can be difficult to maintain a proper balance between work and home life.”

The stress literally follows managers home, as 20% of them sought aid for relationship or marital discord over the three years of the study. This compares to 17% for other employees, Ms. Seward noted.

Retail was the most anxiety-ridden occupation, with a full 37% of claims coming from management, followed by advertising with managers representing 31% of claims. In financial and computer firms, managers accounted for 26% of stress claims, and in construction and real estate, 24% of the claims.

As well, stress appears to grow with age. Managers over 50 years old showed the highest levels of stress, making up 39% of claims from that group. But claims for stress disabilities came from managers as young as 30.

Additionally, 38% of female managers reported above average stress levels.

Seward called for encouragement for mangers to participate in employee surveys in order to identify and address the challenges unique to them. Managers often resist surveys because they feel it is their job to fix other people’s problems within the organization but not their own, she said.

Companies should create a feedback program that gets opinions from employees on what managers are doing, which can point out where they waste time on things that aren’t key issues, and care should be taken to ensure management interviewees are aware of the high pressure of the job when being considered.

According to the report, on-going training and education are critical in offering access to new tools and approaches to help managers be as efficient as possible in handling their daily work load and responsibilities.

Seward concluded that, “Organizations that implement these procedures will end up with not only more effective management, but a healthier workplace.”

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