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Workplace stress

Ask a few friends how they are doing. The typical response is “I good, I good!” Then, ask these same friends about work and you will typically hear a heavy sigh but then they may respond, “Its okay.”

Stress is a part of life which we all say we recognise and especially when we talk about work. The Holmes-Rahe Life Events Scale, which examines the various levels of stress events in one’s life and ranks these stress events has listed workplace stress events high on their scale.

Some of these events may be: firings, layoffs, business readjustments (buyouts, new executives), changes in financial status, altered responsibilities (doing more with less), a change in responsibilities or type of work expected, trouble with the boss or peers (workplace violence), varying work conditions, having enough money for retirement and vacations.

It is no wonder that workplace stress is related to more illness in the average adult than the common cold. It is important to be mindful that stress can have good qualities such as getting you out of bed in time, being able to finish that report, or making a good investment.

One of components of Occupational Safety and Health that is often overlooked is the human factor. In this regard, this article will examine an essential part of the recently passed Health and Safety at Work Act 2005 of Stress in the Workplace. Of course, we all experience stress, but how often is it examined as an essential component of occupational well-being?

In 1999, (that is 14 years ago), the United Nations’ International Labour Organisation classified stress in the workplace as a “global epidemic”! In the United States alone, during this same year, employers estimated a loss of more than $200 billion per year in absenteeism, lower productivity, staff turnover, workers’ compensation, medical insurance related costs, and other stress-related expenses.

The comfort of “job security” is all but gone since the present state of the economy and automation means that you may not be able to leave a job when you are not happy with it. When asked about the sources of their stress in 2007, a majority of Canadians (51 per cent) reported that work was a major or moderate source of stress in their lives.

This figure is up from 39 per cent reported in a previous survey conducted in 1997. Based on these survey results it appears that workplace stress is a growing problem among Canadians as well. It is easy to find stress-related statistics throughout the world.

With occupation related stress, researchers have continued to examine the facets that contribute to it, and what, if anything, can one do about it? There are several key models that examine work related stress.

The Sociocognitive Model deals with how we perceive our workplace stress. This model says we perceive the potential stressors and then decide (very quickly) whether we feel this stressor is posing some kind of threat to us. Then we quickly decide that if it is threatening, can we cope with it?

The Demands-Control Model deals with aspects of the job that require additional or sustained physical, psychological, or emotional effort. Do we feel that we have the “control” to handle what our job “demands”?

The Role-Demands Model deals with role overload. This is the third most common form of role stress and is sometimes viewed as a particular form of role conflict. Role overload is a function of too much work, time pressures, and a lack of resources to meet commitments and responsibilities Role conflict and role ambiguity are probably the two most frequently studied stressors in organisational life.

The Cybernetic Model deals with a feedback loop that we get from our jobs where we monitor the discrepancy between a preferred and the actual work conditions as they are perceived. The perceived discrepancy is a source of strain for the individual and motivates action to reduce the discrepancy by changing or adapting to the environment in some way.

The Challenge-Hindrance Model deals with just that – stressors may be appraised as either challenges or hindrance. The Conservation of Resources Model deals with the fact that people fundamentally seek to obtain, retain, protect, and restore resources. Resources describe a wide range of objects (e.g., shelter), personal characteristics (e.g., self-esteem), conditions (e.g., status), or energies (e.g., knowledge) that are important for adaptive functioning.

The last model here is the Burnout Model. This model is perhaps the most ignored effect of stress – when you discover that talk is usually negative, that every little thing irritates you, or you literally hate going to work. Burnout produces feelings of hopelessness, powerlessness, cynicism, resentment, and failure – as well as stagnation and reduced productivity. These stress reactions can result in depression and unhappiness that can threaten your job, your relationships, and your health. Can you identify with one or more of these models as contributing to your workplace stress?

A study conducted with General Practice Physicians across 15 countries reported that eight out of 10 persons that report depression, anxiety, intestinal problems, or coronary problems are related to mismanaged stress.

With all this research on workplace stress, what recommendations exist to deal with it? Well, there are primary, secondary, and tertiary strategies of helping. This is where the act becomes important. Employers can make one or all of these strategies available in their workplace.

Primary strategies put things in place to help cope with workplace stress before it becomes a problem. This is when the workplace management takes the time to have available health promotion programs, training and education, and selection and placement opportunities (the encouragement of professional growth).

Secondary strategies come in to play once workers begin to express that stress is too much and there is difficulty with the ability to cope with it. Secondary interventions include programmes that encourage more healthy lifestyles, such as relaxation classes, or provide education on how to develop more effective stress management skills.

Tertiary strategies come in to play when the workplace management realizes that stress in the workplace has become a major factor to employee absenteeism, conflict, and low productivity. Organisations often provide workers with access to employee assistance programmes in order to help those who are experiencing stress outcomes.

EAPs, which are often supplied by external providers, offer a number of services, including counselling, advice, and referral to other sources of support and specialist treatment. Workplace counselling is usually offered as part of an EAP.

The Health and Safety at Work Act 2005 speaks to these stress-related issues in the workplace. It mandates that the workplace examine stress-related variables and have in place, resources to assist the employee with optimal work performance — including stress levels.

Most employers set a standard of expectations for their employees such as integrity, safety (both in performance of the job and the workplace in general), sobriety, attendance, and timeliness both in presence and work performance.

Do the employers, however, realise that some of the misconducts that occur within these expectations have a potential to be directly related to workplace stress levels? Probably not.

As part of the act, if employers consider taking the time to address workplace stress through one or all of the strategies provided; and put in place, within Occupational Safety and Health Plans methods to assist, they can improve employee morale, employee absenteeism, and productivity. The question remains, will they?

One Response to Workplace stress

  1. Annette F. Clarke November 6, 2013 at 1:44 pm

    Interesting article. I would like some sources of stress/absenteeism research in Barbados.

    Thank You so much


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