Dealing with excessive job demands

Sut I Wong

Leaders with a high need for structure hinder their followers’ ability to alter aspects of their work to deal more effectively with excessive role demands.

Knowledge @ BI: Leadership

Which of these statements do you agree with?

1. It upsets me to go into a situation without knowing what I can expect from it.
2. Having consistent routines enables me to enjoy life more.
3. I enjoy the exhilaration of being in unpredictable situations.
4. Having a place for everything and everything in its place makes life tedious.

If you agreed more strongly with the first two statements, you show a personal preference for predictable and unambiguous environments. If you agreed more strongly with the last two statements, your "need for structure" is likely lower.

Leadership mindset

Initiating structure by defining and organizing your own and your followers' work roles is generally considered important for leader effectiveness.

However, having a strong personal need for structure could impede your ability to be effective in dynamic and uncertain business environments, and it could hinder the effectiveness in which your followers proactively deal with their own work demands.

Leaders with a high need for structure feel discomfort and anxiety in ambiguous business situations. This could lead them to view ambiguous situations rigidly in black and white, or even avoid ambiguous situations.

Thus, need for structure could impede leaders from taking effective action in dealing with unpredictable and ambiguous situations at work, or worse - it could lead them to ignore these situations altogether.

As the context and nature of work becomes more dynamic and uncertain, having an inadaptive need for structure is a non-productive leadership mindset.

Facing excessive job demands

We have conducted a study that indicates that leaders with a high need for structure hinder their followers' ability to alter aspects of their work to deal more effectively with excessive role demands.

In a sample of 143 employees from a Norwegian manufacturing firm, only employees who felt positively about their own ability to adapt to work change, and who were working with leaders whose need for structure was low, were able to proactively alter aspects of their work to be more effective when facing excessive role demands.

Employees who felt adaptable, but were working with leaders having a high need for structure, were hindered in their ability to deal with excessive role demands by altering their work tasks and roles to be more effective.

Leaders affect their followers

Our results show that the way in which leaders inherently deal with unpredictable and ambiguous work situations affects their followers' efforts to effectively deal with the demanding work situations they face.

Accordingly, leaders working in dynamic and uncertain work contexts need to be aware of and reflect on their own preferences for dealing with ambiguity. Those finding a high need for structure will likely discover that they engage in close monitoring and precise planning and scheduling of their followers work tasks.

These leaders should look for guidance on how to provide their followers with the autonomy needed to proactively deal with demanding work contexts. Training or other relevant developmental experiences aimed improving leaders' ability to deal with ambiguity and uncertainty could also be helpful.

Further, our findings indicate that employees who are uncomfortable with change could still struggle to alter aspects of their work to be more effective, even when they are working under leaders with a low need for structure.

Development activities aimed at helping employees gain experience with new and changing work situations could be useful in increasing their actual and perceived ability to be adaptive.

Solberg, E., Wong, S.I. "Crafting one's job to take charge of role overload: when proactivity requires adaptivity across levels". Accepted for publication at The Leadership Quarterly. Available online ahead of print. DOI: 10.1016/j.leaqua.2016.03.001.

The article is also published in BI Leadership Magazine 2016/2017. BI Leadership Magazine is a Science Communication Magazine published by the department of Leadership and Organizational Behaviour at BI Norwegian Business School. Link to the magazine: https://issuu.com/bi_business_school/docs/bi_leadership_magazine_2016_17_e-pa

Published 17. October 2016

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