Gauteng Business News

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BUSINESS STRESS: SA Business Owners More Stressed


Recent Gauteng Business News

More than half of leaders of privately held businesses (PHBs) in South Africa (57%) feel their stress levels have increased over the last year. South Africa now ranks 16th most stressed country in the world, compared to 8th position in 2007, indicating stress levels in South Africa are coming down.

The research from the Grant Thornton International Business Report (IBR) 2010 covers the opinions of over 7,400 business owners across 36 economies. Data is compared in this 2010 survey to that of stress data taken during 2005, 2006 and 2007.

Mainland China tops the league for the most stressed country (see figure 1) with 76% of business owners saying their stress levels have increased in the last 12 months.

“South African stress levels (57%) are in line with global PHB responses, with a global average of 56% stating that stress is up,” says Leonard Brehm, National Chairman of Grant Thornton South Africa. “However, while the global average has been fairly static between 2006 and 2010, South Africa’s data is 8% down compared to 2006 (65%), indicating that stress levels are gradually decreasing across the nation.”

Other economies that featured high in the 2010 stress league table were Mexico (74%), Turkey (72%), Vietnam (72%) and Greece (68%). At the opposite end of the scale business owners in Sweden (23%), Denmark (25%), Finland (33%) and Australia (35%) have the lowest stress levels in the world.

The biggest swing in sentiment was in Ireland, with 62% indicating an increase in stress levels in 2010, compared to 35% in 2007.

Stress and GDP growth

There appears to be a link between stress levels and GDP growth. Business owners in mainland China, Vietnam, Mexico, India and Turkey all feature high on the stress league table and are working in environments where growth is high.

“But it's not just in countries with high growth that stress levels are high - at the opposite end of the growth scale Ireland, Spain and Greece all feature high on the league table,” says Brehm.

"We have businesses at both ends of the GDP growth scale experiencing high stress for very different reasons. In mainland China the pressure is on to keep up with the pace of expansion while in Ireland, for example, the economy is shrinking and business owners are worried about doing business in tough times."

Causes of workplace stress

Business owners were asked about the major causes of workplace stress. “Not surprisingly,” says Brehm, “The most common cause globally during 2009 was the economic climate with 38% of respondents globally citing this as one of their major causes of stress.” This was followed by pressure on cash flow (26%), competitor activities (21%) and heavy workload (19%).

Leave days

Globally, business owners took an average of 14 days’ annual leave (excluding public holidays) in the last 12 months. South Africans average just below the global mean, with 13 days’ holiday taken during the past 12 months.

“If we review the data for South Africa by region, it’s interesting to note that business owners in Gauteng took only 11 days’ leave last year, while PHBs in the Western Cape took nearly 16 days,” says Brehm. “It seems our Capetonian businesses know more about work-life balance than most of the world.”

The survey also found a correlation between stress levels and the number of annual leave days off taken by an individual in a year (see figure 2). Countries at the top of the stress league are those where business owners, on average, take fewer holidays each year.

GT IBR Stress tables Fig 2

Vietnam, for example, is rated third in the stress league (with 72% of business owners citing increased stress levels during 2009) and at the bottom of the holiday league, with business owners on average taking just 7 days of holiday during the year.

At the opposite end of the scale, business owners in northern Europe (Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark and Finland) appear at top of the scale for the number of holidays taken each year (between 22 and 24 days) and at the bottom of the stress league table.

Says Brehm, “Business owners themselves are providing robust evidence here that those able to take more holidays are less stressed than their counterparts in countries where holidays are less frequent. Our data clearly indicates that taking the time to step away from the business, to reflect and recharge can help owners to bring a new perspective to their decision making."


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