My line manager says he doesn't suffer from stress himself, but likes to create it to keep people on their toes. Is this healthy?

30th September 2005 at 01:00
Ted says

There is enough stress in the teaching profession without some idiot adding to it. Anxiety and performance have an interesting relationship, first reported by Robert Yerkes and John Dodson writing about arousal back in 1908. The Yerkes-Dodson graph looks like an inverted U: both too much and too little anxiety can lead to poor performance. A modicum of anxiety is what keeps us alive, otherwise we would rush headlong into traffic. Too much of it is paralysing and unhealthy.

I suspect your colleague does suffer from stress, but is in denial and fails to realise that he wants to pass his stress on to others, like sharing a bad cold so you can all be miserable together. A serious challenge to his assumption is called for. The medical evidence is overwhelming: too much stress is bad for you, putting unnecessary pressure on your cardiovascular system. Indeed, denying stress is in itself stressful.

Suggest to him that you all have a collective duty to minimise stress and maximise enthusiasm and enjoyment of the most important job in the world.

Ask him to give examples of stress that he regards as positive and see if you agree. Equally, give your own illustrations of stresses that you find trying.

Without becoming self-indulgent, it is often useful to write down sources of pressure and stress. Alongside each one you can then suggest ways of reducing the pressure, solving or alleviating the problem. Some difficulties may appear to be out of your hands, such as pupils' home background. Yet even these are more amenable to action (breakfast, after-school and homework clubs, home visits even) than is often thought.

Others, such as disruptive pupil behaviour, can also be better addressed by a determined, not a divided, team.

You say We should all talk about our stress Your line manager says that he doesn't suffer from stress. This is an unhelpful and risky assertion. Does anyone believe him? How often have schools found that it is the ever-positive, always calm, conscientious teacher who ends up off work with stress, rather than the teacher who openly admits stress, sharing with colleagues the complex challenges of working in schools and achieving a healthy work-life balance?

I note that your line manager is male. Unfortunately, some men still regard admitting to stress as a sign of weakness: a man must show the English stiff upper lip.

Offer your line manager some advice: admit to stress and join the human race. Such honesty will warm him to colleagues and help to remove the unhealthy "us and them" attitude he has to managing them. Effective schools are places where all staff openly and honestly support one another in dealing with the stresses of helping young people to learn.

Patrick Higgins, Rugby

Making your staff ill is not helpful Any manual on stress management will tell you that a certain amount of stress is necessary to help us achieve our goals and keep us motivated, but that excessive stress is unhealthy. I doubt it's this distinction your line manager is making since he claims stress is alright for others but not for himself. He sounds like something of an arrogant bully.

Good line managers have high aspirations for their staff. They help us set clear, focused targets. Their positive expectations of us are of the same high quality as those they have of themselves. In fact, these qualities are the same ones we expect of healthy teacher student relationships.

Nearly 13 million working days are lost to stress-related illnesses annually. So rather than boasting about "creating stress", your line manager might spend his time more profitably thinking of practical things he can do to prevent his staff becoming ill.

Jane Andrews, London

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