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Intellect

BYU study explores reasons business executives 'aren't going to take it anymore'

Executives found to 'flee' unrealistic job demands

All employees live with the reality that annoying coworkers, unrealistic quotas or a difficult boss may someday spark a search for different employment; but what could cause your boss to go looking for a new job, creating uncertainty for you?

A new study by John Bingham, assistant professor of organizational leadership and strategy at Brigham Young University, found that executives don't mind pressure to perform, as long as they are given freedom to achieve the high standards.

"Job demands create the basic 'fight or flight' situation," Bingham said. "When managers have some control over how to deal with a challenge, they accept -- and may even enjoy -- fighting to overcome it. But when the issues affecting them are beyond their control, they start to look at that flight option."

Bingham said the amount of stress on an executive doesn't just affect him or her alone; it can be hard on everyone who works with or for that person.

Dave Knutson, with whom Bingham has collaborated on other research projects and who heads human resources and sustainability at Chaco Inc., a footwear company, said it is important for top executives to keep leaders from leaving an organization unhappy.

"If an executive leaves a company because of issues with the organization, or even if the reasons are unknown, it can have a very negative effect on the morale of the workforce," Knutson said.

To find out what makes executives search for alternative employment, Bingham collected data from more than a thousand of them. The study, published in the latest issue of Group and Organizational Management, compared the executives' responses about their work environments to their activity the job market. Bingham gauged the latter factor by noting whether executives had recently read a book about getting a new job, revised their resume, read position listings in professional journals or newspapers or sent copies of resumes to prospective employers. They were also asked if they had gone on a job interview, initiated contact with an executive search firm, searched the Internet for job opportunities or made telephone inquiries to prospective employers.

The results prompted Bingham to divide job demands into two categories: challenge-related demands and obstacle-related demands.

Challenge-related demands include issues executives tend to have more control over, like a downturn in productivity or a tight schedule. These demands provide motivating, productive stress. Bingham said these types of positive challenges actually increase productivity, helping executives work harder to reach organizational goals and standards.

Obstacle-related demands have elements outside the executive's control, such as an unsupportive boss, lots of red tape or unrealistic quotas and goals. Bingham found these negative obstacles were what caused executives to start browsing the help-wanted ads.

Bingham suggested high-level executives involve their key leaders in the goal-setting process and allow them leeway in how they meet those goals to keep them happy in their jobs. He also said it is important for top executives to provide lots of opportunities for managers to give feedback.

"Executives and managers want to have control over the problems facing them," Bingham said. "When they don't, that's when they start looking for something new."

Writer: Anthony Strike

Bingham, John 0054-L.jpg
Photo by BYU Photo

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