Increased Research Performance through Reduced Stress and Improved Human Well-Being

By Graham, Charles W. | Journal of the Society of Research Administrators, Summer 1989 | Go to article overview

Increased Research Performance through Reduced Stress and Improved Human Well-Being


Graham, Charles W., Journal of the Society of Research Administrators


INCREASED RESEARCH PERFORMANCE THROUGH REDUCED STRESS AND IMPROVED HUMAN WELL-BEING

Abstract

Stresses which can affect the well-being of university research managers, faculty, and administrators were identified in a survey of directors of 14 building research centers in colleges of architecture and engineering across the United States. Techniques for managing the stress points were also identified. Research center directors suggsted that a less stressful work environment could not only improve the quality of life for workers and administrators, but ultimately could increase the knowledge gained through the research center.

Background

Kermit Black, a management advisor to research center staffs, recently said:

In my observations of research centers, it appears that, too often, conflicting expectations placed on a center director can guarantee his or her long-term failure. When conflicting expectations are set up, consciously or unconsciously by university administrators, the quality of the individual's work begins to suffer first.

Then quantity suffers. Meanwhile, job-induced anxiety builds. The individual's personal and family life usually suffers next. The individual eventually arrives at a crossroad: the director may reduce or 'give up' on center goals, the individual may 'break down,' or the individual may become hardened to the price being paid. In any of these outcomes, the individual is no longer likely to be a desirable center director. Everybody loses--the individual, the staff, and the university (1988).

According to Black, people in demanding positions, e.g., directors of research centers, can be spared the agony of "meeting a disastrous crossroad." He believes that a key to successful research programs is to treat the centers' management and staffs with a greater concern for the well-being of the individual.

In an attempt to confirm and elaborate on Black's thesis, the author conducted a survey of 14 colleagues--directors of building research centers in colleges of architecture and engineering throughout the United States. A structured questionnaire was used in a telephone interview to ask the directors about the conflicting expectations and resulting stress which might lead to situations in which "everybody loses."

The centers in the study were randomly selected from the Research Centers Directory (1988). The average length of operation of the centers studied was 16 years, and the range was from 1 to 44 years. Half of the centers had been in operation more than 12 years; three had operated more than 40 years.

The Stress Points Identified

The research directors identified and discussed several stress points they perceived as detrimental to the well-being of individuals and the research centers with wh ich they are affiliated:

* Assuming the administrative role

* Time expectations for the research program

* The research center's mission and agenda

* Facility and equipment needs

* Personnel workloads

* The need for, and value of, basic research

Assuming the Administrative Role

Some center directors described a stressful "us and them" relationship between faculty and administration. A majority of the directors were faculty members before they became administrators; as faculty, they usually had viewed themselves and their faculty peers as "us" while administrators were "them." The promotion to director brought movement to the "them" group. Some directors felt they had failed at making the necessary role reversal because they feared being viewed as "bossy" by former co-workers. These directors were often indecisive, stressed, and not sufficiently effective as directors unless/unit this issue was resolved.

Some directors had found the "us and them" situation to be manageable, first by learning to quickly break down the preconceptions. …

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