Reduce Stress with Fewer Direct Reports

By Joe Issid


It is far more common than you think for a company to ask an employee to manage staff in addition to other core responsibilities; the ultimate result is that supervising staff becomes a secondary or tertiary priority.

As someone who has been managing staff for years under such circumstances, I can attest to the stresses and inefficiencies of such a model. Over the years, I have seen countless managers struggling with the pressure of controlling increasingly large teams while simultaneously trying to achieve numerous other objectives. Yet the solution to these problems is almost comically simple: limit the number of people which report into a single position. Here’s how you can achieve this and what it can mean for you and your organization.


Don’t play the power game

Historically, it was reasonably common for organizations to have dozens – if not hundreds – of people reporting into a single person. Of course, it was virtually impossible to wrest these direct reports away from these managers as they were very unwilling to give up said influence, no matter how much it may have been hurting the company. Over the years, however, modern businesses have started to take different approaches by democratization of reporting structures, leading to improved balance and efficiency. While it may be tempting for new managers to want to run increasingly large teams, the temptation should be resisted as the downstream problems can be significant.



Managing staff can be extremely time-consuming. And, as mentioned above, supervising a team is rarely a manager’s sole responsibility. As such, if you have other priorities that are competing for your time, having a large team of direct reports can compromise your entire mandate as your attention is spread across too many objectives. If you manage a large team of, say, software developers but are also still responsible for writing code, you may have a conflict of interest on your hands. By limiting your direct reports, you may offer yourself increased flexibility to be able to focus on your core objectives. And, in doing so, will improve your overall happiness and productivity.



So, how exactly do you reduce the number of your direct reports? Personally, I have achieved tremendous success throughout my career by empowering my colleagues to take on additional responsibilities. I have found that large teams function extremely well when they are split into smaller units with focused and dedicated managers to lead their initiatives. And doing so requires empowering members of staff to take on more senior roles and to distribute the responsibilities of managing resources equally among qualified members of a team.


Humans are unpredictable

Any manager will tell you that supervising a team of people can be extremely unpredictable. From having to manage unexpected absences to mediating harmful infighting, managing people can be extremely stressful and can feel very unproductive. Sometimes – and through no fault of your own – your team may begin under performing or they may begin experiencing motivational issues. Truth is you never know what is around the corner. And the more people for whom you are directly responsible, the harder it is for you to control. If you are someone who craves predictability and order, you may want to consider looking at making changes to your organizational structure.



It’s hard to overestimate the benefits that such changes can provide your organization. In the short-term, you will be able to focus your time and energy on more immediate priorities and to alleviate some day-to-day stresses. However, over the longer term, the benefits can become more meaningful. By empowering other members of staff to take on managerial responsibilities, you are providing increased opportunities for those lower down the food chain, which will help improve overall employee satisfaction and happiness. 


Naturally, a happy workforce leads to improved loyalty and retention, which can be a major boon for overall productivity.