MENTAL HEALTH IN PROJECT MANAGEMENT
Location of Institution
Mental Health in Project Management
Background and Context
Project management refers to the process of initiating, planning, controlling, executing and leading a team to achieve specific goals and meet specific success criteria at the specified time. Project management is often associated with inspiring followers to believe in the vision of the project and commit to ensuring that it is successful within the given constraints. In their report on mental health and stress management for project managers, the Project Management Institute identified that the root cause of stress in project management is the pressure that project teams face when they are required to do more with less as they are expected to meet highly demanding deadlines and deliverables (2018). In his book, Kerzner (2017) identifies other causes of stress in project management as inter-group conflict in the team, inadequate resources, the organisational environment and proliferation of virtual teams and cross-cultural influences which are on the rise with the growth in the digital era. Stress in project management is often associated with lowered productivity which may increase the project timeline and put pressure on available resources and lead to project stalling or failure. Projects are a crucial part of organisations since they are used to solve existing problems, identify an opportunity and exploit it, comply with legal requirements or satisfy a need all of which help a company to achieve the goals it sets. Given that organisations will keep engaging in projects, there is need to identify strategies that can be used to eliminate the stressors and equip the project managers with knowledge and skills on ways they can deal with stress that may come up and educate them on how to assist their team members who may be affected. The research will help to identify ways that positive mental health outcomes can be achieved for managers and their teams during project management.
The aim of this research is to investigate ways of coping with mental stress faced during project management.
The objectives of this research are:
• To identify the key causes of stress in project management.
• To determine strategies that can be used to avoid the stressors in project management.
• To equip project managers with knowledge and skills to deal with both individual and group stress during project management.
• To advocate for positive mental health outcomes during project management.
Key Stressors during Project Management
In their research seeking to identify the sources of job-related stress among project managers Minavand, et al. (2013) identified that organisational stress and workplace health have become an issue that necessitates concern over the last decade. Minavand, et al. (2013) further point out that although workplace stress is normal and expected, project managers often deal with excessive stress as they are the key persons concerned with project deliverables and ensuring that projects become successful. After surveying thirty international project managers, Minavand, et al. (2013) identified time pressure, constraints of resources, conflicts, workload and limited power as the key causes of pressure amongst project managers. The managers indicated that in most cases they were forced to work with inadequate financial and human resources, strict deadlines and their authority to make decisions was limited as they had to keep consulting with the executive team. Some of the managers indicated that the consultations would oftentimes necessitate repetition of some aspects which the executive team was not pleased with, which led to work overload for their teams and led to the rise of conflicts within the team. Focusing on the construction industry, Jepson et al. (2017) agree that stress is a recognized feature in the lives of project managers as they work amidst high levels of uncertainty to ensure that projects are delivered successfully. Jepson et al. (2017) surveyed twenty-five project managers in the construction industry seeking to gain their perspectives on levels of stress. Just like the respondents in Minavand et al. (2013) study, the twenty-five participants also indicated a lack of control and lack of resources as some of the key stressors during project management. Jepson et al. (2017) further identified that increasing accountability was another concern that the respondents highlighted as a stressing factor. Focusing on project managers in international non-governmental organisations (NGOs), Brière, et al. (2015) identified uncertainty during project management and lack of control as the key stressors that project managers face. The practitioners from NGOs further indicated that managing projects with limited resources and a double client system where they have to satisfy the needs of their customers and donors are also other factors that cause stress during project management (Brière et al., 2015). From the three articles, it is evident that stress in project management is common amongst the lives of project managers and it is rampant in all industries. Therefore, there is a need to identify ways to help project managers deal with project-related stress and consequently help them to improve their mental health outcomes.
Managing a Virtual Project Team
The continuity in technological advancements and the rise of the digital era have contributed significantly to the globalization of the economy and as a result, the rise of multinationals. Due to the rise of multinationals and the need for companies to extend their market share, project managers have had to work with virtual teams to complete certain projects. Zuofa and Ochieng (2017) conducted a study seeking to appraise virtual project teams and they interviewed twenty project managers who were leading teams in the online space. An analysis of the data collected indicated that poor communication was the key challenge that the project managers faced and the primary stressors. The respondents also indicated that their teams had lower levels of morale and team spirit that was mainly caused by lack of social interaction and trust which further made teamwork difficult and caused them stress during the project management (Zuofa and Ochieng, 2017). Similarly, Nydegger and Nydegger (2010) agree that the need for businesses to utilize new technologies is leading project managers to operate more in the virtual space. According to Nydegger and Nydegger (2010), operating in different time zones is the key stressing factor that project managers have to deal with since it contributes to poor communication and coordination amongst teams. Moreover, multicultural differences often lead to miscommunication and project managers have to deal with conflicts that keep arising due to team diversity. As such, project managers also face stress when dealing with virtual teams and there is need to address this challenge, especially as the number of multinationals and virtual teams is set to keep on growing as many organisations seek to take advantage of the opportunities presented by digitalization.
Effects of Stress-Related to Project Management
The Yerkes-Dodson law, as illustrated in appendix one, is an empirical relationship between levels of stress and performance. The law suggests that at extremely low levels of stress, project managers are often calm, bored and comfortable as they can see some improvements in the project (Gino, 2016). At this level, project managers are complacent and not adequately motivated to ensure successful project implementation. According to the Yerkes-Dodson law, the moderate levels of stress improve performance since they push managers out of their comfort zones and inspire them to work hard to ensure that their projects are successful (Gino, 2016). However, when the levels of stress go beyond the moderate level, performance decreases as project managers begin to suffer fatigue, exhaustion, breakdown, burnout, and mental health issues (Gino, 2016). In their research Leung et al., (2011) suggest that a structural linear relationship exists between burnout, exhaustion, physiological stress, and poor performance for project managers. Therefore, just like the curve suggests, Leung et al., (2011) affirm that very high levels of stress negatively affect the productivity of project managers. Seiler et al. (2012) seek to identify the effects of stress in project management by focusing on the motivation of project managers. In their research, Seiler et al. (2012) focus on six dimensions which include interpersonal interactions, compensation, task, personal development, general working conditions and empowerment. The findings of the study indicate that the respondents identified general working conditions as highly characterized by stress which was one of the primary dimensions in which the project managers were not motivated. Therefore, Seiler et al. (2012) concluded that stress in project management negatively affects the motivation levels of project managers and consequently their productivity and ability to inspire their followers to become committed to the project goals.
Jepson et al. (2017) note that project managers adopt coping mechanisms to help them improve their productivity and maintain their motivation until their projects are completed. Jepson et al. (2017) identifies optimism, active planning strategies such as collective decision making with team members and application of emotional intelligence as some of the coping strategies adopted by project managers. Similarly, Peter and Kavitha (2018) agree that project managers adopt coping mechanisms to help them remain productive and motivated until the completion of their projects. Peter and Kavitha (2018) have also identified optimism as one of the coping mechanisms where the project managers become positive that the stressors they go through will one day pay off when their projects are successfully implemented in their organisations. Other coping strategies identified by Peter and Kavitha (2018) include team building activities with project mates and better planning where project managers become cognizant of uncertainties and learn how to embrace them to avoid disappointments which often lead to stress.
Research conducted in the past has identified that project managers encounter stress in their line of duty which consequently affects their motivation and productivity. To remain productive and inspire commitment in their teams’ project managers tend to adopt various coping strategies. However, past research fails to provide recommendations on ways that project managers can eliminate the stressors they face in their work. As such, there is the need for this and future studies to provide recommendations for project managers on ways they can eliminate stressors in their line of duty and equip them with skills and knowledge to work amidst normal levels of stress and achieve positive mental health outcomes. Recommendations that are specific for the project managers who work with virtual teams will also be made through this and future studies.
Relevance to Course and Project Management
The review of literature has helped to identify that stress is rampant in the line of duty for project managers and it negatively affects their productivity and motivation. As such, the topic on mental health in project management is extremely relevant to project management because it seeks to identify ways that the productivity and success of project managers can be boosted by dealing with stress which is one of the most rampant mental health issues faced. The topic is also relevant to project management because it focuses on improving the domain of project management across all sectors by identifying and dealing with issues therein. This topic is also relevant to the mental health domain of study as it addresses stress which is one of the mental health issues that project managers face. The relevance to mental health is also felt as the topic seeks to identify ways to foster positive mental health outcomes for project managers across all industries as they are all affected by stress.
The proposal is that the independent study will take six months within which the following activities will be carried out:
Activity Feb Mar Apr May June July
Acceptance of the research proposal.
Talks with local organisations to identify project managers to work with.
Development of research tools.
Sample selection and educating participants on the need of the study.
Validation of equipment.
Data entry and analysis.
Thesis report writing.
Information to participating organisations.
Brière, S., Proulx, D., Flores, O. N. and Laporte, M., 2015. Competencies of project managers in international NGOs: Perceptions of practitioners. International Journal of Project Management, 33(1), pp. 116-125.
Gino, F., 2016. Are you too stressed to be productive? Or not stressed enough? [Online] Available at: https://hbr.org/2016/04/are-you-too-stressed-to-be-productive-or-not-stressed-enough
[Accessed 12 February 2020].
Jepson, J. M., Kirytopoulos, K. and London, K., 2017. Exploring project managers’ perception of stress when working in increasingly complex construction projects. Construction Economics and Building, 17(3), pp. 47-67.
Kerzner, H., 2017. Project management metrics, KPIs, and dashboards: A guide to measuring and monitoring project performance. 3rd ed. Hoboken: John Wiley and Sons.
Leung, M., Chan, Y. S. I. and Dongyu, C., 2011. Structural linear relationships between job stress, burnout, physiological stress, and performance of construction project managers. Engineering, Construction and Architectural Management, 25(1), pp. 69-79.
Minavand, H., Tabrizi, M. R. F. and Baqutayan, S., 2013. The sources of job stress among project managers. Research on Humanities and Social Sciences, 3(16), pp. 1-14.
Nydegger, R. and Nydegger, L., 2010. Challenges in managing virtual teams. Journal of Business and Economic Research, 8(3), pp. 1-12.
Peter, M. and Kavitha, F., 2018. A study on managing stress on project management. International Journal of Pure and Applied Mathematics, 119(2), pp. 14943-14948.
Project Management Institute, 2018. Mental health and stress management for project managers- Part 1- Identifying the stressors. [Online] Available at: https://www.pmi.org/events/mental-health-and-stress-management-for-project-managers-day-1
[Accessed 10 February 2020].
Seiler, S., Lent, B., Pinkowska, M. and Pinazza, M., 2012. An integrated model of factors influencing project managers’ motivation—Findings from a Swiss Survey. International Journal of Project Management, 30(1), pp. 60-72.
Zuofa, T. and Ochieng, E., 2017. Working separately but together: Appraising virtual project team challenges. Team Performance Management: An International Journal, 6(12), pp. 1-15.
Yerkes- Dodson Curve