This article was produced and financed by University of Stavanger

Your boss has felt cross-pressured for years

Most employees sometimes feel they are torn between conflicting interests. As it turns out, the managers feel this pressure too – and they put up with it.

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University of Stavanger

The University of Stavanger (UiS) is located in Stavanger, Norway and has about 8,500 students and 1200 administration, faculty and service staff.

In a study based on 577 Norwegian managers at all levels, researchers have investigated how the managers are dealing with three different types of conflicting interests.

Three conflicts

The first is the well-known conflict between work and home. Trying to live up to the "ideal" versions of manager, spouse and parent is difficult, if not impossible.

The second is what the researchers call a job-job conflict. It describes the way managers deal with conflicting signals at work. These can arise, for instance, when a company’s owners set high sales targets, which could lead in turn to adverse reactions from the employees. Another example is colliding expectations from owners and unions.

Finally, the study has addressed conflicts between the manager’s ethical standards and the work she or he is required to carry out. For example when a manager must push their subordinates to rush deliveries, even if this could be at the expense of quality.

Mangers don’t adapt
Knud Knudsen (Photo: Ida Gudjonsson, UiS)

Questionnaires were answered on three occasions: in 1999, 2002 and 2011.

Regardless of whether a manager initially experiences strong conflicts or not – the level of such cross-pressures shows little change over time.

The managers who experienced cross-pressures at the start of the study, often struggled with them 12 years on.

“Managers are seemingly less adaptable than we imagined,” says one of the researchers, Professor of Sociology Knud Knudsen at the University of Stavanger (UiS), Norway.

Learn to live with it

Managers appear to establish a level and mix of role conflicts which they can master and which they can live with.

“The fact that managers often stay in the same work environment may also explain why these cross-pressures remain stable.”

A lot of the management coaching, and many of the course programmes and seminars, rest on the assumption that managers are flexible and capable of change.

“The findings suggest that such assumptions are less valid than previously believed.”

Not necessarily negative

According to the professor, conflicting demands on managers are not necessarily experienced as negative.

“Clashes over roles can also be perceived as a confirmation that the individual is a significant person and an important social being,”

“A conflict between job and home, for example, could be an indication that you’re in strong demand in both places. You are wanted by several others,” Knudsen says.

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