Managing Staff: A Role for Tough Love?

Over the years the CLAHRC WM Director has participated in extensive training in HR issues. The training usually starts with feedback from staff on their satisfaction with their work environment and their boss. The idea then is to amend the environment or the behaviour of the boss, with a view to improving staff feedback. It is surely excellent for staff to provide feedback, and for bosses to be humble and to continually strive to be ‘better’ bosses:

062 DC - Managing Staff Figure

One thing a boss may be asked to do is to reduce stress on staff. But where does this stress come from? Ultimately, the competitive external environment. So what can the boss do about that? Presumably, the worker cannot be shielded from the stress. Academics on research contracts face redundancy if they cannot secure research grants. So, taking the stress out of the job would be self-defeating. Bosses should help staff cope with the real and present threats they face, and do them a disservice if they shield them from it. Enter Alia Crum and colleagues, and a series of two wonderful experiments.[1] [2] First, they took interviewees facing stressful interviews, and then bankers facing financial crisis (poor bankers). In both cases, interventions designed to generate a positive mind-set towards stress bolstered coping mechanisms. It also improved receptivity to critical feedback, which is an essential component of academic life. People receive good salaries for tackling difficult and stressful situations. Do not try to pretend that this is not so, but select resilient staff, make them feel a little heroic,[3] and create a team ethos where stress is to be relished! The CLAHRC WM Director promises his team ‘blood, sweat, and tears’. When our grant applications are turned down it is what we were expecting; when they succeed we get a nice surprise!

— Richard Lilford, CLAHRC WM Director


  1. Crum AJ, Salovey P, Achor S. Rethinking Stress: The Role of Mindsets in Determining the Stress Response. J Person Soc Psychol. 2013; 104(4): 716-33.
  2. Crum AJ, Akinola M, Martin A, Fath S. The Benefits of a Stress-is-enhancing Mindset in Both Challenging and Threatening Contexts. 2015. [Under Review].
  3. Lilford RJ. Can We Do Without Heroism in Health Care? NIHR CLAHRC West Midlands News Blog. 20 March 2015.

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