Focus: People Management - Coaching session with Stephen Bubb

Q: The pace at work is relentless, but my chief executive wants even more done. I'm feeling stressed, but how do I draw this to his attention?

A: Sorry, but the pace of the third sector IS relentless. We have a great deal to achieve and few resources that enable us to do it. In your case, perhaps a change of job might suit? A nice administrative job in a government quango or local authority, where the pace is slower and there is less concentration on delivery.

Don't get me wrong - I'm not suggesting that overwork can't lead to stress.

I was in India recently, where I was struck by an editorial in the Hindustan Times. The headline read: "Boss, you're a health risk!"

The editorial quoted a study, apparently carried out by the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, which suggested that a mean boss could make a worker more vulnerable to heart problems. It was supposed to have proved scientifically that an unjust supervisor who tramples over worker sensitivities causes stress.

As the editorial said: "The corporate circus is replete with injustices, eccentricities, nuggets of mediocrity and sparks of genius, all rolled out as one performing troupe."

Very wisely, though, the Hindustan Times also suggested that we need to think of the boss being stressed out by the antics of colleagues - a burden he or she is supposed to take on every day.

The trick for any boss in this sector is to get the right balance between demanding high performance and delivery, and stretching things just too far. Of course, work is not the be-all and end-all of anyone's life - but we do know that commitment to the cause is important in our sector.

Any boss can tell the difference between a genuine case of overwork that causes stress and health problems and workers who are under-performing, not delivering and trying to use the 'stress' excuse.

One warning. Employment tribunals have increasingly been awarding damages to employees who have suffered genuine cases of stress caused by overwork.

We must always be on the lookout for staff who are more vulnerable to stress, or may be having other problems in their lives that contribute to difficulties at work. However, it is perfectly possible to have a high-performance and fun culture in which the emphasis is on delivery and hard work without it becoming an oppressive drudgery.

Let's be clear, though. Do we want a boss driving an organisation forward and raising money so there is employment, or someone who is not challenging and thus contributes to the organisation failing?

To quote Bruce Springsteen: "Success makes life easier. It doesn't make living easier."

- Stephen Bubb is chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (Acevo). Send your questions to

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