Levels of stress felt by business leaders have shown their lowest annual increase since 2005 according to global research of 6,000 businesses from the Grant Thornton International Business Report (IBR). With economies depressed and the outlook for many still uncertain, this raises the question of whether business leaders are managing their goals to alleviate stress, adding a further brake to growth, or whether they have learnt to better manage the challenges they are facing.
The stress levels of businesses in India have come down considerably as compared to previous years. Only 42 per cent of Indian businesses feel the stress levels have increased as compared to previous year's figure of 56 per cent.
In 2010, net 45 per cent of business leaders reported an increase in stress levels over the past 12 months, but this fell to just 28 per cent in 2011. And the pattern is consistent around the world; net 32 per cent of business leaders in India cite an increase in stress in the last 12 months, compared with 50 per cent in 2010. Asia Pacific is the most stressed region with net 44 per cent reporting an increase in stress over the past 12 months, but this too is down from 58 per cent in 2010. Even in distressed Europe, where the focus of economic turbulence resides, the net increase in stress has declined from 40 per cent in 2010 to 22 per cent this year.
The IBR indicates that reaching performance targets is by far the biggest worry for businesses; globally 30 per cent of business leaders cite it as the major cause of workplace stress, as do 37 of the 40 economies covered by the survey. Stress caused by the volume of communications, office politics (both 11 per cent) and work/life balances (9 per cent) are much less cited.
In India, 31 per cent businesses specify that reaching performance targets as the main causes of stress followed by competitor activities (15 per cent) and volume of communication (12 per cent). Factors such as office politics (7 per cent) and work/life are (6 per cent) are at the bottom of list.
Taking a holiday (40 per cent) emerges from the research as the principal way in which business leaders relieve stress in India. The other ways opted by India business leaders are through entertainment in (29 per cent) and out (30 per cent) of home.
Globally 62 per cent of respondents relieve stress by exercising or playing sports, although interestingly this ranges from 78 per cent in North America to just 40 per cent in the BRIC economies. Other popular ways of relieving stress are entertainment both in (54 per cent) and out (46 per cent) of home. Delegating work and keeping a regular working pattern (both 35 per cent) are also cited by businesses.
However, the IBR indicates that just 42 per cent of business leaders take a holiday to relieve stress, behind exercise/playing sports (62 per cent) and entertainment in home (54 per cent). This is despite a clear correlation between the number of holidays taken by business leaders and their levels of stress (as shown below).
Those countries where businesses take the fewest holidays – such as Japan, mainland China and Thailand – report the biggest increases in stress. Conversely, business leaders in the Netherlands, Russia and Denmark took the most days off in 2011 and reported the lowest increases in stress.