Promotion equals death, or at least higher stress

For the average person, these are stressful times. Millions of Americans are out of work, and the realization has set in that it may be a while before the job market turns around. With mortgages, groceries and other bills biting into savings, many people are more stressed than ever.

But stress is not limited to the unemployed. British researchers at the University of Warwick found that those who get promoted suffer on average about 10% more mental strain in their new positions. Oh, and because they’re busier, they are less likely to go to the doctor.

Ah, the promotion. It’s likely rarer these days; it’s hard to justify giving out pay raises while laying off large chunks of the workforce. But promotions are still happening as companies align around new business models, reward employees for good work or replace those expensive senior managers.

But I have yet to hear an employee who is offered a promotion stop and say, “Wait, this isn’t going to be good for my health.” A pay increase, expanded responsibilities and a new business card seem to make up for the shortening of a life span.

Still, this research shouldn’t be ignored. Think of that new, possibly young employee who just got a first promotion into a manager position. The employee is most likely ecstatic – happy that there’s going to be a little more money flowing into the bank account, happy that there will be someone to share the workload or do some of the gritty work, and happy that he or she can boast to friends. Little does this new manager realize that the promotion is going to lead to more work, less free time and added stress.

Do companies prepare new managers for this reality, or at least work with them on the skills that may help reduce stress? According to a recent i4cp survey, the answer is generally no. While performance management ranks as a top component included in first-time manager training, the most common focus is on items such as harassment awareness, ethics, discipline and diversity awareness. All are important in their own right, but they aren’t necessarily day-to-day essentials like time management and project management – the two components that are least likely to be included in training sessions.

Of course, time management and project management may not be included because these are two skills that were, it is hoped, used as criteria to select the employee as a manager. Without the ability to manage time and projects effectively, employees probably shouldn’t be put in charge of other employees in the first place.

Companies may shrug off newly added stress as just part of the job, and in a way, it is. But stress can impact every part of the body, from the gums (how many of you have been advised to wear a night guard?) to the heart. It can also increase the chance of getting illnesses ranging from a cold to cancer. So, in other words, that awesome promotion the guy in the corner just got may lead to his death. Or maybe just the sniffles.

Erik Samdahl
Erik is the head of marketing at i4cp, and has nearly 20 years in the market research and human capital research industry.