Highly strung and ready to snap?

PUBLISHED: 13:49 27 February 2006 | UPDATED: 09:42 06 May 2010

Is it all too much for you?

Is it all too much for you?

GRUELLING boardroom meetings, ambitious targets, tough decision-making and the constant pressure of having to beat the competition all the time can really take their toll on those in the cut and thrust of business. So hard is it to be at the forefront of

GRUELLING boardroom meetings, ambitious targets, tough decision-making and the constant pressure of having to beat the competition all the time can really take their toll on those in the cut and thrust of business.

So hard is it to be at the forefront of company success - or failure - that the majority of today's big hitters are suffering substantially increased levels of stress compared to a year ago.

That's according to the latest research by business advisors Grant Thornton which found that 57 per cent of medium-sized business owners across the globe are feeling a much greater tendency to tear their hair out these days, compared to just 39 per cent in 2004.

In the UK alone, 43 per cent confessed that their blood had been boiling far more over the past 12 months while 17 per cent reported this increase as being 'significant'.

A lucky but tiny proportion of the 7,000 respondents worldwide said their stress levels had gone down - a mere six per cent.

Jim Rogers, head of growth and strategic services at Grant Thornton, said: "The concept that it's lonely at the top as well as tough has never been so true.

"Business owners in the UK face constant change, ever-increasing regulation, a global competitive environment and pressure on margins, all of which lead to much higher stress levels.

"Owners need to develop strategies to deal with stress and they need to work much smarter, not harder."

However, it appears that things are worst in Taiwan where 89 per cent of those questioned said they had experienced higher stress levels, closely followed by China (87 per cent) and the Philippines (76 per cent), which adds up to an average global stress increase of 57 per cent.

For some high flyers, a lack of job security is a major cause of stress, such as those in India (48 per cent) and China (34 per cent), although it seems this is one area we Brits tend not to worry about so much (nine per cent).

Shedding light on these very marked differences, Mr Rogers said: "Asian business leaders are under particular strain as their businesses and markets continue to show phenomenal growth.

"The fact that relatively little is known about the impact of stress in high-growth countries reflects the emphasis that has been placed on economic success, with little attention paid to the cost borne by the individual business owner."

The research also suggests there's a direct link between stress and the number of days holiday people get, as eight out of the 10 most stingy countries also appeared in the 'top 10 most stressed' list.

UK business owners averaged 22 days holiday last year, the same as the EU average, with France trailblazing a much more generous 27 days.

By contrast, Thai workers received an average of just four days holiday and across East Asia, as a whole, it was only 12.

Mr Rodgers said the results speak for themselves, even though we don't know the underlying reasons.

"Our findings could mean that executives who take more holiday feel less stressed, or perhaps indicate that the less stressed they are, the more holiday they feel able to take," he said.

"Either way, the differences in holiday patterns around the world are huge, with Europeans clearly getting the most out of their personal time."

Sophie Corlett, director of policy at the mental health charity Mind, is keen to point out that although other countries have higher stress levels, we shouldn't overlook the fact that it is a significant and growing problem in the UK.

She said: "Our recent report Stress and Mental Health in the Workplace highlighted that 12.8 million working days were lost in Britain, between 2003 and 2004, due to workplace stress.

"It's even overtaken back pain as the most common reason for Incapacity Benefit claims."

Asserting the need for awareness and change, she concluded: "Businesses and business owners must recognise the impact of stress and adapt their working practices accordingly."

Strong, blossoming, evolving economies that are capable of diversifying and keeping up with the rest of the world are surely a good thing, but at what price?

And is the human cost, in terms of mental and physical health, really worth paying?

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