high performance

Anatomy of a true leader?

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green_stick_figure_stand_out_crowd_1600_wht_1832In the Sunday Times business section this weekend Luke Johnson, Chairman of Risk Capital Partners and the Centre for Entrepreneurs, set out his list of the most important characteristics that a managing director should possess.

In brief these were:

The ability to motivate. The boss who can enthuse a workforce will generally do better than one who rules by fear.

Domain Knowledge. They must have sufficient technical understanding to gain the respect of their team.

The ability to listen. The best bosses don’t dominate debates but encourage feedback and leave their doors open. They listen to the shop floor by going there in person.

Decisiveness. Ultimately companies cannot function as pure democracies and someone has to make decisions rather than procrastinate. Employees need a sense of direction.

Financial literacy. Must be able to interpret financial statements and analyse accouts.

A sense of humour. Life is too short not to enjoy going to work .

Reliability in a crisis. Someone who doesn’t panic in the face of adversity and gets down to work in a diligent and professional way without histrionics.

Frugality. Having a thrifty approach to business. Extravagant CEOs set a bad example especially if they live beyond their means. A lean operation is the only way.

Delegation. The only way for start-ups to become large companies is for the proprietor/managers to learn to identify, promote, trust, and empower talent.

Adaptability. Modern companies need to be flexible and intelligent leaders thrive on change and are constantly learning.

Bravery. Outstanding leaders need the courage to make unpopular decisions. Those who fail to speak out on controversial issues and follow the consensus are followers not leaders.

That’s Luke Johnsons’ list and I can’t say I disagree with any of them. An interesting mixture of personality traits e.g. adaptability (being open to experience) and learned skills e.g. financial knowledge.

I’ve yet to meet anyone who meets all those criteria however! And when it comes to frugality it’s hard to say it abounds. When the average pay at the top of organisations is 130 times pay at the bottom and CEOs get rewarded for failure e.g. the Barclays CEO walking away with £28 million it’s hard to believe it exists at the very top of organisations.

If you want to comment or add to the list contact him at: luke@riskcapitalpartners.co.uk

 

 

Coaching has high impact on performance

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P1000161Of course as coaches we knew that but research by Rebecca Jones at Aston Business School suggests that when compared to other workplace interventions coaching has a greater impact than training or 360 degree feedback.

She looked at 24 different studies of workplace coaching and found that it produced several positive outcomes such as positive attitudes, improved work behaviour, time management and overall performance.

Coaching achieved these in three ways:

  • by using goal-setting,
  • encouraging reflection, and
  • providing tools to encourage the transfer of new skills.

She found that having multi-source feedback could detract from the coaching process (which is a surprise as I’ve found it to be a powerful tool at an appropriate stage in the coaching process).

However the facility of the coach to tailor an approach enhanced the process and the use of telephone coaching facilitated confidentiality (my colleague is a great believer in Skype for career coaching).

She also found that internal coaches may be more effective due to their insider knowledge of the organisation culture. Past research has found that the more senior the client the more likely they are to prefer an external coach.

This was reported in Coaching at Work magazine Vol 9 issue 2.

In the same issue it was reported that executive coaching had once again become the province of senior leaders as organisations reserved it for their top executives.

Teams and Diversity – not so simple

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colored_puzzle_connection_1600_wht_9893Current thinking is that diversity is a good thing.

Diversity is claimed to increase creativity and the quality of work and there are several examples of where this has proved to be true.

However a review of research over 50 years (described by Elizabeth Mannix and Margaret A Neale at Cornell and Stanford universities respectively) shows it’s not all good news.

More worryingly researchers at MIT, Harvard, and other institutions found it was difficult to support a business case for diversity in terms of financial RoI.

Mannix and Neale define diversity as; “any personal attribute that someone else may use to detect individual differences“.

How and why a company diversifies is critical. Without proper management or worker training diversity can damage performance.

The ways managers recognise diversity e.g. by race, age, gender, or ethnicity, can have negative effects on collaboration and affect group performance, commitment, and satisfaction negatively, perhaps because they trigger preconceived biases and stereotypes.

Racial diversity, for example, was found to damage team processes. On the other hand less obvious, underlying differences such as functional background, education, or personality, tended to improve team performance as long as it was managed effectively.

Earlier research ( Jehn, Northcraft & Neale, 1999) differentiated between social category diversity such as age and sex; informational diversity such as education and functional role; and value diversity as measured by differences in goals and values.

With social category diversity heterogeneity positively influenced group member morale; differences in informational diversity increased task conflict i.e. differences of opinions, which enhanced group performance; and values diversity decreased individual satisfaction and commitment to the group.

Other research (by Pelled, Xin & Eisenhardt, 1999) found that whether or not diversity is job-related is important. Diversity in functional roles and background beneficially intensified task conflict which improved cognitive performance whereas racial diversity, which is highly visible but not related to the job, boosted affective conflict ie it increased interpersonal tension and emotional conflict and depressed group performance.

Age diversity lowered affective conflict but gender diversity didn’t seem to make any difference either way to group performance. The longer groups worked together the less the emotional conflict. This is in line with Hackman’s work on teams.

Another interesting finding is that university department’s with high proportions of women don’t necessarily welcome more of them. Increasing the proportion of women made it a more negative environment for them. This might be explained by the Queen Bee phenomenon.

Research, admittedly 30 years ago, suggested that men were happiest in a male or female dominated settings but not where there was gender balance which led to lower self-esteem and depression. It’s hard to believe that is still the case although the same research showed the women preferred either gender equity or male-dominated work-places. That may still be the case as most women say they prefer a male boss.

More recent research suggests that adding women to a team can make it collectively smarter (unless they are given feedback in a group setting) but adding women to boards doesn’t necessarily make the company more successful – it depends on their experience and competence, as evidenced by high performing NHS boards.

So what can managers do to harness the talents of a diverse workforce more effectively?

  1. As the research shows just having a group of superficially diverse people i.e. easily identifiable by race, gender, or age, doesn’t work, perhaps because these factors are not job relevant or because of stereotyping.
  2. Clearly picking the right people for the team regardless of their social categories is important. Then having functional or educational diversity and rites or rituals, common values and goals helps. As does the culture and any training (although diversity training doesn’t work).
  3. Information needs to be kept flowing and the influence of minority members enhanced (giving them a voice as the corporate anthropologists at a recent Global Leadership conference would say).
  4. Exploratory team tasks such as fact-finding and research are better served by heterogenous groups, whereas exploitation of knowledge to accomplish a task is best served by an homogenous group. Unless there is a matrix/project management type structure in place this is difficult for a manager to achieve with a fixed team.
  5. Another disappointing finding about teams is that when making decisions they focus on shared information rather than the information that hasn’t been shared. But the better connected the team members are the more likely they are to risk sharing their unique information.
  6. Values and goals diversity was mentioned earlier and there is evidence that having superordinate goals and shared values can overcome many of the differences in a diverse multi-national group especially when the shared values are collectivistic rather than personal.
  7. One key finding is that minority views need to be heard as these views can enhance creativity and problem-solving ability in the team. So the manager needs to create a tolerant environment with an emphasis on interdependency to reach cooperative goals that recognise the minority viewpoint. In practice many organisations weed out mavericks or people who managers might consider difficult and prefer to clone what they already have. HR people should know better!

Based on “Diversity at Work” by Elizabeth Mannix & Margaret E Neale in Scientific American Mind August/September 2012

Are Leaders more guilt-prone?

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DSCF1550rWhich employees work harder, are more altruistic and willing to help others, are higher performers, more committed to their employers and able to see the bigger picture?

According to research at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business it’s people who are more guilt prone who make better leaders.

Using the TOSCA (Test of Self-Conscious Affect) and performance ratings Francis Flynn and Rebecca Schaumberg found that those employees with higher levels of guilt were also the ones with the higher performance evaluations.

They were also seen as more committed to the organisation and seen as stronger leaders by their peers.

Even stranger you might think is the fact that there were also more likely to accept redundancies as being necessary for the company and carry them out. They may feel guilty about it but they can rationalise layoffs in the interests of the organisation. So they see the bigger picture.

Previous research has shown that being conscientious is a good predictor of employee performance and an important element in effective leadership and recruiters often look for stable extraverted personality types. This is the first research to suggest that employing people who are more neurotic has advantages for the employers.

And you might think that behaving in this way might have a downside for the individuals but according to Flynn they are no more stressed than other employees and don’t have lower levels of job satisfaction.

It seems that there is also a connection between guilt proneness and altruistic behaviour in terms of giving to charities and helping out colleagues.

The research was carried out in a Fortune 500 company’s finance department so may not be applicable in other functions. But it’s intriguing and if you believe that we should have more diversity in terms of personality variables you will probably welcome it.

Source: HBR Jan-Feb 2011 issue

Hierarchical management has its place

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down_the_chain_1600_wht_5908Employers who want peak performance from their employees might do better by ensuring that they have a strong but fair hierarchy in place.

Aaron Kay at Fuqua Management School of Business at Duke University, Carolina, thinks leaders should worry less about empowerment and equality.

He says “In organisations there is a move to become flat but that is not always the best thingy you want to keep employees working hard”.

“People may say that they want to work in an egalitarian workplace but sometimes they actually function better in a hierarchy” regardless of where they sit in the organisation.

It’s not just that a hierarchy offers more chance of promotion – although some staff will appreciate seeing a ladder to climb – but that hierarchies offer staff a sense of order and structure which they like.

When times are turbulent and external circumstances reduce their sense of control preference for hierarchies increases. Kay says “People seek out guidance and leaders” And a hierarchy helps them feel that they are in a safe, stable environment … where they can predict the outcome of their behaviours.

His research also suggests that a strong hierarchy helps people feel that they are being more effective in tackling long-term goals. “If you lead an organisation where you need employees to work on long-term projects, committed to long-term goals, it’s tempting to think that if you give them autonomy they will be more interested and it will drive the right behaviour”.

But as he points out long-term goals are hard to achieve and people need to forgo immediate reward to focus on something way off in the future. They have to trust the system. Having a clear structure and a hierarchy reassures employees that things won’t change before they complete the task.

Hierarchy might also be better for complex tasks where each person needs to complete their part exactly as it is specified. This doesn’t necessarily mean managers should adopt a directive or autocratic approach. Employees obviously like to know where they stand but managers shouldn’t lord it over them and be open to new ideas.

Other experts disagree. One said ‘it’s naive to think that structures always work the way they were intended“. In some organisations employees feel that although there is a structure and the rules are fair, they are not always applied fairly.

It seems to depend on whether or not you can trust the leaders and managers to be fair and whether or not the rules change as you are working.

See also my earlier post on hierarchical management.

Can you have too much talent in a team?

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people_puzzle_1600_wht_4253Well, yes, according to Professor of organisational behaviour Roderick Swaab at the French business school INSEAD.

Apparently having too much talent can be as bad as not having enough in terms of team performance.

His research suggests that once 68% of your team is made up of highly talented people, that becomes the point where adding more gives you less in terms of performance.

However this is based on research into elite sports teams and in football and basketball the highly skilled are known to pass the ball less and not provide as many assists to team mates as they would rather go for glory themselves.

Does that apply to business? Despite Swaab’s assertion that it does I have my doubts. Perhaps if you are competing in an investment bank, the example he quotes, you might be less inclined to share information and help colleagues, but that is hardly typical of most business environments.

The problem seems to be that very talented people are used to being recognised for their individual talent and not for being team players.

Swaab says “hiring these people does add value but with potential costs“. Hiring big egos can easily lead to personality clashes and conflict over status when they all want to be recognised as the best.

Of course if you are working in a group that is not strictly a team (in Hackman’s definition i.e. the members are not dependent on each other) then it shouldn’t matter how many talented people you have, in fact the more the merrier to get best results overall.

So it’s probably “horses for courses”. For independent workers in a group there’s no reason to assume a tipping point where performance drops off. In a real team you need the right mix of talent and diversity (and the right supporting conditions a la Hackman’s model).

Swaab acknowledges that the level of interdependence is important and it might also mean recruiting fewer star players to ensure team cohesiveness – or rewarding the team as a whole rather than individuals.

One thing that hasn’t been mentioned is leadership. It might be more of a challenge to manage a team brimming with talent but would a good leader rather have a team of mediocre people?

Make a team more intelligent – add more women

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women_raising_hands_1600_wht_7873Putting a group of highly intelligent people in a team doesn’t always produce the best results.

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and MIT Sloan School of Management have found there is no correlation between individual IQ scores and group intelligence.

Participants were first given standard intelligence tests and then randomly assigned to teams. The teams were asked to brainstorm, solve visual puzzles and one complex problem, and then each team’s collective intelligence was assessed.

The teams that had members with higher IQ scores didn’t score much higher than the average but teams that had more women in them did.

Factors such as group cohesion, motivation, and satisfaction were not predictive of the teams’ performance but gender diversity was correlated. The researchers put this down to what they call social sensitivity (which sound similar to the emotional intelligence factors of empathy and awareness of others).

Teams displaying social sensitivity would be more open to feedback and constructive criticism. Teams that had smart people dominating the discussions didn’t turn out to be so intelligent as a group.

So in theory a group of high IQ members could score better on the team tests but it would probably be because they had higher levels of social sensitivity as well. Women score higher on this than men but if you had more socially sensitive men that would work too.

The researchers also suggest that extremely diverse groups and highly homogeneous groups aren’t as intelligent as groups with a moderate degree of variety in IQ scores. They also see the potential for improving IQ at organisational level through changing the make-up of a group and rewarding collaboration, although the larger a group gets the less opportunity there is for face to face interaction.

This research is interesting because it uses collective IQ as a predictor. We know now that IQ scores can vary depending on the motivation of the individual and that when you are stressed your IQ level drops. Putting people in a more collaborative and supportive environment probably contributes to the enhanced group effect.

Source: HBR June 2011

Excellence has a downside

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SGA_diagram_7-bad-graphHigh performing leaders can undermine themselves by being afraid of showing their weaknesses.

Many smart professionals don’t do as well as expected and plateau in their careers because they get anxious about their performance which impedes their progress.

That’s according to Thomas J & Sarah DeLong in an article called “The Paradox of Excellence” (HBR of June 2011). The Harvard professor and his psychiatrist daughter say many high performers would rather do the wrong things well than do the right things badly. Because they are used to success they may shy away from really testing opportunities because they carry risk or require new skills and would rather preserve their image.

High achievers are often independent-minded and don’t easily ask for help and people may tell them what they think they want to hear anyway. So the trick is to have a good support network that will give you honest and constructive feedback.

We know leaders often move on before they experience failure so are not prepared for it and don’t learn from it – cynics might say they move on before they are found out. The DeLongs suggest that you need to expose yourself to new learning experiences that make you feel uncertain or even incompetent and to remember these are temporary feelings and can lead to greater professional ability. That all sounds admirable but I wonder if that is really possible when share values seem to rule corporate decision-making?

They also identify behaviours that can help you succeed but also get in the way. They say classic high achievers are:

driven to get results – but may be so involved that they don’t let colleagues know what they are doing and think helping others is a waste of time
doers- they believe nobody else can do things as well as they. They make poor delegators and may micromanage
highly motivated – but because they take all aspects of their job seriously may not distinguish between what is urgent and what is important
need positive feedback – they care what others think but may obsess over criticism
competitive – but may be obsessed with comparisons with others leading to a sense of insufficiency
passionate about work – but intense highs can be followed by crippling lows
safe risk takers – they won’t damage the company by risky moves but may shy away from the unknown and miss opportunities
guilt-ridden – they are driven to produce but no matter what they accomplish may feel they aren’t doing enough

The DeLongs are describing leaders and professionals who are behaving more cautiously then they should and thereby hampering their careers.

On the opposite side of the coin there are those who over-do their strengths and begin to demonstrate the dark side of their personalities, often with devastating results for themselves and people around them.

And they are not the first to suggest that leaders should show their weaknesses. Goffee and Morgan made the same point, also in HBR, in 2000 although they cautioned that leaders should do so selectively.

Resilient Leadership

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bottomlineOver the years there have been many approaches to leadership with trait theories, style theories, functional models, situational/contingency models, transactional/transformational theories, ideas about biological and personality characteristics, and more recently emotional intelligence competencies

So do leaders need to be more intelligent than their followers? Well probably a bit, because that inspires confidence, but not too much more intelligent.

Do they need to be empathetic? It’s probably better if they have tough empathy ie “grow or go” but they do need social skills.

Do they need to be liked? No, but they need to be respected. And since the last recession integrity has become important again.

Difficult times require people to perform better than normal and people need exceptional leaders to help them do that. By exceptional I don’t mean charismatic or heroic leaders – although some people respond to that style of leadership which “encourages the heart” – but leaders who do what they say they will do ie are conscientious, and also act as role models.

And to do that they need to be both self-confident and emotionally stable.

Research among elite performers found that they had a number of characteristics in common. As well as being intelligent, disciplined and bold, with strong practical and interpersonal skills, they bounced back from adversity.

Jim Collins describes in his book “How the mighty fall” people who are exasperatingly persistent and never give up. They are not necessarily the brightest, most talented, or best looking, but they are successful because they know that not giving up is the most important thing they do. He says; “success is falling down and getting up one more time, without end”.

This resilience (from the latin to leap back) is linked to personal attributes such as calmness in stressful situations, reflection on performance through feedback, and learning systematically from both success and failure.

Resilient people generally:

Recognise what they can control and influence and do something about it, rather than worry about what they can’t
Stay involved rather than becoming cynical or detached or simply walking away
Work with others to shape the environment and influence things that affect them most
Act as a source of inspiration to others to counter self-destructive behaviour

Aren’t these the sort of behaviours you would expect from good leaders? So it’s not just about “bouncing back” and carrying on where you left off before. It’s about reflecting and learning from what has happened and then getting back to business.

Resilience seems to be an innate ability for most people and is increasingly found in leadership competency frameworks where it is linked with confidence, authenticity and ethical leadership ideas.

Modern leaders need not just brains and emotional intelligence but also resilience.

Acting as a role model is an essential part of being an effective leader hence the need for them to be hardy and emotionally stable. Research shows that resilient leaders can have a positive effect on the well-being of organisations and their employees so it’s well worth organisations developing such capabilities.

See how you can develop resilience

First posted on SGANDA in 2011

Do you prefer a male or female boss?

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business_man_and_woman_1600_wht_5662Last time I checked the research it seemed that the majority of employees prefer male bosses.

And that despite years of anti-discrimination legislation and diversity training, and women generally doing better than men at university.

But in a widely reported survey of 3,000 people by UKjobs.net in 2010, three-quarters of the men interviewed said they preferred a male boss – and so did two-thirds of the women!

Male bosses were seen as more straight forward, better at “steering the ship“, more focussed on the long-term vision and less likely to have hidden agendas.

Female bosses were criticised for having mood swings and bringing personal problems to work, being overly competitive, and spending too much time on their appearance.

Women on the other hand were considered better at delegating, at giving praise, and at listening, so it wasn’t all bad news. Nevertheless the majority of people seem to prefer male bosses.

This is not the kind of thing that goes down well in politically correct circles of course and you can imagine what Harriet “Harperson” would make of it. Several columnists also got their knickers in a twist with Barbara Ellen in the Guardian saying women who said these thing should be ashamed of themselves; “We’re doomed if most women want a male boss“.

She does however make a valid point; “the boss thing is not a gender issue – it is a personality issue“. I posted on this a while ago asking; “Do you have what it takes to be a leader?” and I have also had a go at so-called Alpha Males in the past.

I also wonder just how much influence Emotional Intelligence (EI) is having on the current crop of managers. Women are more at risk of stress in high pressure jobs it seems and also can’t afford to be too nice as more aggressive women will compete with them – a point made in the survey about women managers over-compensating. So they are not seen as managing their emotions – one of the core competencies of EI.

On the other hand the positives that women were recognised for in the survey related to other EI competencies eg empathy and relating to others, yet these strengths were disregarded in favour of what might be seen as the less flexible (in management style), straight-ahead approach that male managers are perceived to have.

So what is going on? Do women really prefer to work for men? Some said that they thought they could be a better manager than their present female bosses so why would they rather work for man? Is it “imposter syndrome“, believing they are not deserving, because I don’t see assertiveness being a problem amongst women these days?

More recently a survey in America confirmed this tendency. A survey of legal secretaries found that, although almost half had no preference either way, not one of the 142 questioned actually had a preference for working for a female partner.

Another informal survey found that almost 7 out of 10 men said they preferred to work for a man. Even more women (3 out of 4) said they preferred to work for a man. Only a third of men and a quarter of women said they preferred to work for a woman.

See the full article on these surveys.

Originally posted in SGANDA in 2010

Don’t reward failure in education!

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Hand&redlightI have a thing about people being rewarded for failure, whether it’s CEOs, bankers 0r teachers.

Back in 2010 Alice Thomson wrote in the Times (14/07/10): “Don’t overpay gifted teachers. Pay off the duds“. Her article started off well. She said it wasn’t the fabric of schools, class sizes, or even “free schools”, but teachers we should worry about.

Referring to the then head of Ofsted Zenna Atkins’ comments about useless teachers being good for children she suggests that having a series of sub-standard teachers is one reason why 20% of children leave school without any GCSE passes.

In America an economist at Stanford University studied 5,000 teachers and concluded that with good ones you got 18 month’s worth of learning in a school year but with incompetent ones only 6 months. And Malcolm Gladwell, author of “Tipping Point” concluded that children were better off in a bad school with an excellent teacher than the opposite.

She also criticised the overpaying of good teachers following revelations about a primary head earning almost £300,000. I agree it does seem an obscene amount given all the other shortages and it included overtime payments. Where else would senior managers or professionals be paid overtime, even in the public sector?

But then we parted company because her solution was to pay off the bad teachers – the bed blockers she calls them – with early retirement. She said it’s hard to prove they are incompetent so we should bribe them to leave. Because they sap children’s talents and other teachers’ morale. This is wrong in so many ways.

First, education authorities have tried this in the past, giving early retirement to less competent teachers. That’s what saps other teachers’ morale – seeing incompetent colleagues being rewarded for failure while they struggle on.

Secondly, it’s an easy option for (now very highly paid) head teachers who should demonstrate the management and leadership skills they are being paid for and performance manage, and dismiss if necessary, poor teachers rather than give them a reference to move them on to another school.

Thirdly, what kind of message does it send to parents and children? That you can be rubbish at your job and still retire early on a good pension while they struggle to make ends meet?

Perhaps we should follow the example of other countries and set higher standards for our teachers in the first place. Outstanding organisations know that good performance starts at the recruitment stage. The government could probably do more to support schools that need to weed out incompetent teachers and heads need to earn their money as managers and leaders and deal with the problem.

Isn’t that the least that good teachers and our children deserve?

Originally posted on SGANDA in 2010

Stress can be a killer for women too

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Woman&officephoneWe are all aware of how stressful work can be at times. Contrary to popular belief not all of it is caused by the deliberate actions of others but usually because of the way we interpret events. Something that is stressful for one person may not be for someone else. Stress can be caused inadvertently by someone lacking social or management skills, and increasingly rudeness at work is being identified as a major cause.

Common sense tells us that rudeness can affect our mood but it also affects our performance, our problem solving ability, and our willingness to work in a collaborative way – and research shows that even witnessing rudeness can create these adverse outcomes and damage the working climate especially in teams that need to collaborate.

Bullying is another source of stress and it might be on the increase again, fuelled by insecurity since the recession. It also seems that whilst the majority of bullies are men women bullies can be more persistent. There also seem to be gender differences. I’ve found in my work and research that women are more likely to bully using personal attacks whereas men bully under the pretext of performance management.

Now new research has shown that women in high pressure jobs run twice the normal risk of developing heart problems as a direct result of work-related stress. Those reporting work pressure to an excessive degree are also at an increased risk of developing ischaemic heart disease.

The research, published in the Journal of Occupational Health and Environmental Medicine, was based on a 5-year study of over 12,000 Danish nurses aged between 45 and 64. Whilst the link between stress and heart disease is well-established this is one of the first studies on women.

Stressed workers often resort to unhealthy ways of coping such as smoking, eating comfort food, or drinking, which can lead to them becoming overweight and creates a vicious circle. In a study carried out by the author amongst NHS employees nurses had the highest sickness absence rates and also smoked the most. Managers on the other hand rarely took time off but drank more!

A research team at Ohio State University has been studying the effects of stress on health for the last 30 years (psycho-neuro-immunology) and have shown that chronic stress can lead to cardiovascular disease, cancer. stroke, osteoporosis and diabetes. The culprit is stress-induced chronic inflammation as a result of the immune system being in a constant state of high alert. This in turn wears you down and makes your body less able to fight infections and diseases, heal wounds, and develop antibodies. On a less dramatic level it explains why you can’t shake off that cold or persistent cold-sore when you are stressed.

And the latest research shows that children with difficult childhoods, eg through being abused, are especially susceptible to the physical effects of chronic stress and that their immune systems may learn a hyperactive response to stress which kicks in again when they are facing stressful events as an adult.

Some good news is that becoming adept at yoga does lower your stress response.

Updated 2 May 2011: Women with high job strain have a 40% increased risk of cardiovascular (CV) disease compared to those with low job strain, according to research presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2010. They defined job strain, a form of psychological stress, as having a demanding job, little or no decision-making authority or opportunities to use you creative or individual skills. Their findings were based on a sample of over 17,000 healthy women who participated in the Women’s Health Study. Primarily white health professionals with an average age of 57, they were tracked for 10 years whilst they provided information about job strain and job insecurity.

Job insecurity was associated with risk factors for CV disease such as high blood pressure, increased cholesterol, and excess body weight but not directly associated with heart attacks, strokes and CV death.

The higher CV risks for those who reported high job strain included heart attacks, ischemic strokes, coronary bypass surgery, balloon angioplasty, or death.

The findings that women in jobs with high demand and low control are at risk echo UK research on Civil Servants (The Whitehall studies). The first Whitehall Study compared mortality of people in the highly stratified environment of the British Civil Service over a 10 year period starting in 1967.

It showed that among British civil servants, mortality was 3 times higher among those in the lower grades when compared to the higher grades. The more senior one was in the employment hierarchy, the longer one might expect to live compared to people in lower employment grades. It also found higher mortality rates due to all causes but specifically coronary heart disease for men in the lower employment grade when compared to men in higher grades.

Twenty years later, the Whitehall II study, a longitudinal, prospective cohort study of 10,308 women and men, all of whom were employed in the London offices of the British Civil Service at the time they were recruited to the study in 1985, documented a similar gradient in morbidity in women as well as men. The studies revealed this social gradient for a range of different diseases: heart disease, some cancers, chronic lung disease, gastrointestinal disease, depression, suicide, sickness absence, back pain and general feelings of ill-health.

Companies might not use the S word so much these days , preferring to talk about resilience instead, but the pressure is still there and a source of illness and distress for many employees.