Work Place Stress and Management Deniability

If you ever find yourself in an accident with a crowd of people around you take charge. Point to one person in the group and instruct them to phone the emergency services.

When one or more people gather, there is a phenomena called ‘diffusion of responsibility.  This where responsibility for taking action is passed to the others in the group. I’m sure we would all like to think that when called upon, we would step up to be counted, however research shows that’s not always the case.

Consider this; if we put an average domesticated primate (human) alone in a room and let smoke start coming up from under the door, 75% of the subjects will leave to report it and 25% won’t!

Then put a small group of three domesticated primates in a room, carry out a similar test on 38% of the occasions  someone will report the smoke and 62% won’t!!!.

It gets even more astonishing. Take one of the subjects from the first test who didn’t leave to report the smoke. Place the by now smoky subject into a room alongside two of the other subjects from the second test (who didn’t report the smoke) and repeat the test and only 10% of the time will they report the smoke.

In groups we tend to negate our responsibility and wait for others to take action, and we are influenced by the group size. The larger the group size the less likely we are to step up to the plate.

We all like to think we are smart enough to take responsibility and take action if there was an obvious indicator that something was wrong. But apathy and inaction have nothing to do with intelligence, courage or moral codes. It has everything to do with unconscious social conditioning. The thing about any unconscious conditioning is most people are unaware of their own – that’s why its unconscious!

Now imagine a workplace environment where all the indicators are that work place stress is a problem, it’s in the media, it’s in the sick leave records.

Newsflash – work place stress has a negative impact on business.

And yet even though the smoke is pouring under the door and the frame is starting to blister and smoulder; many executives still fail to step forwards to be counted. Unwilling to recognise that there is a problem and that action has to be taken.

When we add to “diffusion of responsibility” the phenomena of “deniability” we have a recipe for a firestorm. Deniability is when despite overwhelming evidence people conclude that they will be immune to the consequences. “It won’t happen to me &/or us.”

When it comes to reducing or solving workplace stress, many people in levels of management deny there is a problem and if there is conclude it won’t affect them. At many a networking event I have had conversations with such people over a warm beer, they are in denial despite the volumes of workplace statistics showing they are wrong.

A wake up call to make management who are responsible for the welfare and wellbeing of staff to take action is long overdue, if you are one of the few who despite the crowd can smell the smoke and are already taking action you will already understand how important this is. If you are in a position of authority and don’t yet get it, then take a moment to take a deep breath inhale the smoke and review the facts.

What are the real costs to your business caused by work place stress and what are you going to do about it?

In a future blog I will be sharing a simple process to assess the actual costs of stress to your business so you can make it real, personal and undeniable.


Further information about Stress Management and Resilience Training are included on “The Wellbeing at Work Formula” page.

Additional information about Business Coaching and Business Growth are available on my Business Coaching page.


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