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Elite-culture spawns stress at CBS

Stress is a challenge at CBS, and we might never get rid of it, says Per Holten-Andersen, President of CBS. (Illustration: Shutterstock)

Stress is difficult to get rid of and according to the President of CBS it may not happen, as stress is the companion of an elite-culture.

News |   21. Jun 2017

Anne Thora Lykkegaard


Since 2002 different initiatives and activities have been running to improve work conditions, but in spite of that, more employees seem to be stressed year by year.

CBS WIRE has asked Per Holten-Andersen, President of CBS, why CBS hasn’t gotten rid of stress yet, when it has been a focus point for the past 15 years.

What do you think about the increase in stress at CBS?

It’s correct that there has been a slight increase, especially among our academic staff. And it’s a challenge, and we take it very serious. One just has to remember that we probably can’t get rid of stress a 100 percent . Stress is the companion of an elite-culture, no matter what we do. However, it is also a national and worldwide challenge, and not just a CBS challenge. But it affects us all, and we have to do what we can to prevent the continued increase.

Do you think stress is a problem at CBS?

Stress is definitely a challenge, and we try to manage it every day.

Why can’t we ever get rid of stress?

The root of stress partly has to do with the elite-culture that defines universities in general and our own personal ambitions and expectations.

When students come here, they have good grades, which they want to maintain during their CBS-studies. When they eventually have finished their studies, they want to pursue the best jobs and create a good career for themselves. And this is where some of the stress stems from; our own continued expectations. And this is the nature of universities.

One's work should never be given priority over one's health.

Per Holten-Andersen, President of CBS

Academic staff, especially the young ones aiming and striving for a permanent position, have to live up to the academic criteria and for some it’s like going to an exam every day, competing against others to get hired. And this kind of stress is extremely difficult to get rid of.

Isn’t it the same as quitting, saying that stress is here to stay?

We do a lot to prevent, limit and manage stress when we see it – but I recognize that it is a global phenomenon, not just a CBS phenomenon, and that it is linked to the nature of universities.

What if we tried to take away this elite culture, as it seems to spawn the stress?

Yes, the elite culture seems to promote stress, but if we took away the elite-culture, you wouldn’t have universities.

It is therefore unrealistic to set a goal to entirely remove stress at a university, but we can learn how to deal with it and also make it acceptable to talk about. And that I think we are quite good at.

10 – 20 years ago it was taboo to talk about, but today it’s my experience that stress is okay to talk about. It’s okay to say, “I need to take a break.”

What are you doing to diminish stress at CBS then?

First of all, we give CBS employees an opportunity to talk to professionals about it. And it’s important to talk about it, as it to most people seem to reduce the actual stress just by mentioning it’s presence and discussing it.

We have also established a hotline, where employees – completely anonymous – may call in and get stress counselling over the telephone. And this has been a really good initiative for preventing people from actually ending up sick from stress.

Stress is definitely a challenge, and we try to manage it every day.

Per Holten-Andersen, President of CBS

Another thing we have done, especially for the academic staff, is to make it more visible what it is required, if you want to apply for a permanent position. This makes it easier to plan your work, and the intention is to clear away some of the uncertainty and thereby some of the stress.

Should work be first priority in your life?

A lot of the stress comes from one’s own ambitions and expectations, and it’s one of the sideeffects of working at a university.  However, one’s work should never be given the priority over one’s health.

Don’t you have a responsibility as part of the senior management to make sure that stress is diminished?

Yes, we do – we need to learn how to deal with stress – and also get better at handling it. This means we shouldn’t sit back and relax. We need to help the ones who are feeling stressed, since it ruins the motivation to go to work, and they may eventually become sick, so we certainly must do what we can to prevent it.

For this to happen, managers around CBS must take responsibility in caring for their colleagues and make sure that the academic as well as the social environment is inclusive and forthcoming.

So, of course I have a responsibility. But I will not issue a lot of top-down solutions and tell every other department to implement specific stress solutions. I think it’s way better if the solutions are derived locally with the assistance when needed from HR-services.

But of course, we have to do things better every year, and take a close look at the statistics to see where we may improve ourselves. That’s why HSU closely monitors the stress-statistics annually.


Read more:
More than every other CBS-student is stressed

How the Norwegian tv series SKAM can explain stress

The Challenging Mission

CBS is battling increasing stress

Be selfish – tak a break 


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