By Samantha Murphy

The proportion of business leaders who describe themselves as "stressed" in Australia is significantly lower than in the rest of the world. According to global research of 6,000 businesses from the Grant Thornton International Business Report (IBR), 13% of Australian business leaders described themselves as "stressed" or "very stressed", compared with 28% globally.

With economies depressed and the outlook for many still uncertain, this raises the question of whether business leaders are managing their goals to alleviate stress, adding a further brake to growth and whether, in Australia, they have learnt to better manage the challenges they are facing.

Grant Thornton Australia's Bill Shew – Partner – Privately Held Business, said: "As the global economic crisis has continued, the majority of business leaders have learnt to better manage the challenges they are facing, including dealing with stress by adjusting to more realistic performance measures and goals.

"Australian business owners are removed from the worst of the global uncertainty simply due to our distance from Europe: our domestic economy and our dollar remain strong.

"What we are seeing from our clients is more effective management of global economic volatility and uncertainty. Australian businesses have also learned to analyse risks better, factoring them into their performance, and are setting themselves more realistic targets. We are seeing that clients with a clear direction and plan in place are better able to analyse these risks and prioritise activities within the business to achieve their growth goals."

The IBR indicates that reaching performance targets is by far the biggest headache for businesses; globally 30% of business leaders cite it as the major cause of workplace stress, and in Australia it accounts for the stress of 25% of business leaders. Interestingly, the pressures of work/life balance are felt much more keenly in Australian (20%) than overseas (9%).

Playing sports/exercising emerges from the research as the principal way in which business leaders relieve stress. Globally 62% of respondents relieve stress in this way (65% in Australia), although interestingly this ranges from 78% in North America to just 40% in the BRIC economies. Other popular ways of relieving stress are entertainment both in (54%) and out (46%) of the home. Delegating work and keeping a regular working pattern (both 35%) are also cited by businesses.

Dr Bob Murray, organisational psychologist from Fortinberry Murray says, however, that the issue of stress isn't just one for those at the top.

"The higher you go in an organisation, the more control you have over your working environment. Issues such as a lack of autonomy, fear of losing your job, bullying, over- and under-work, and unclear expectations, are far more likely to affect those working in the business, than owners and other c-level executives."

Dr Murray goes on to advise that, "companies need to have a policy for reducing stress in their workplace. A Converge International study has found that there has been a 54% increase in employees taking advantage of counselling services via employee assistance programs to help deal with work-related stress.

"Few companies have an effective policy on reducing workplace stress. This leaves them at significant risk of increased incidence of workplace accidents, increased workforce attrition, and litigation from employees suffering stress-related health complaints including cardiovascular disease, depression and other mental illness."

Bill Shew concurs, adding that "in our experience, business owners who are able to properly manage these issues are able to reduce the risks they pose to the business. This good management also helps business leaders to reduce one of the causes of their own stress leaving a much more productive working environment for all."

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Notes to editors
The Grant Thornton International Business Report (IBR) provides insight into the views and expectations of over 11,500 businesses per year across 40 economies. This unique survey draws upon 20 years of trend data for most European participants and nine years for many non-European economies. For more information, please visit:

Data collection
The research is carried out primarily by telephone interview lasting approximately 15 minutes with the exception of Japan (postal), Philippines and Armenia (face to face), mainland China and India (mixture of face-to-face and telephone) where cultural differences dictate a tailored approach. Telephone interviews enable Grant Thornton International to conduct the exact number of recommended interviews and to be certain that the most appropriate individuals are interviewed in an organisation which meets the profile criteria.

Data collection is managed by Grant Thornton International's core research partner - Experian. Questionnaires are translated into local languages with each participating country
having the option to ask a small number of country specific questions in addition to the core questionnaire. From 2011, fieldwork takes place on a quarterly basis every quarter with fieldwork lasting approximately one month and a half.

IBR is a survey of both listed and privately held businesses. The data for this release are drawn from interviews with 6,000 business leaders across the globe conducted between September and December 2011.

The target respondents are chief executive officers, managing directors, chairmen or other senior executives (title dependent on what is most appropriate for the individual country) from 40 economies primarily across five sectors: manufacturing (25 per cent), services (25 per cent), retail (15 per cent) and construction (10 per cent) with the remaining 25 per cent spread across all sectors.

Locally, the sample tends to cover the sectors mentioned previously, with some countries being able to have local valid data for specific sectors or regions when the sample size is large enough.

*Net figures show those indicating an increase less those indicating a decrease

Group/region Economies included in IBR
Asia-Pacific (APAC) Australia, Hong Kong, India, Japan, China (mainland), Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam
Association of South East Asian Naitons (ASEAN) Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam
BRIC Brazil, Russia, India, China (mainland)
European Union (EU) Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom
G7 Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, United Kingdom, United States of America
Latin America Argintina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Peru
Nordic Denmark, Finland, Sweden
North America Canada, United States of America
Other Armenia, Botswana, Georgia, South Africa, Switzerland, Turkey, United Arab Emirates

Any and all references to Grant Thornton International are to Grant Thornton International Ltd.
Grant Thornton International is one of the world's leading organisations of independently owned and managed accounting and consulting firms. These firms provide assurance, tax and specialist business advice to privately held businesses and public interest entities. Services are delivered independently by the member and correspondent firms within Grant Thornton International, a non-practicing, international umbrella entity organised as a private company limited by guarantee incorporated in England and Wales. Grant Thornton International does not deliver services in its own name or otherwise. Grant Thornton International and the member firms are not a worldwide partnership.

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