All employee reports of work-related stress and psychological injuries as a result of work-related stress need to be investigated in a timely manner. The investigation should identify all the factors that contributed to development of the injury or work–related stress occurring.
An investigation will assist in preventing future exposure of employees to psychological risk factors and improve the organization’s approach to preventing psychological injuries in the future. Investigations should not be about finding someone to blame, rather looking for ways to prevent or minimize employees being exposed to psychological risk factors in the future.
The design and appropriate solutions of a stress prevention program will be influenced by several factors, including:
For example, in the scenario in the first module, the main problem in David's company is work overload. Theresa, on the other hand, is bothered by difficult interactions with the public and an inflexible work schedule.
The fictional examples of Theresa and David in module 1 illustrate two different approaches for dealing with stress at work.
Stress Management: Theresa's company is providing stress management training and an employee assistance program (EAP) to improve the ability of workers to cope with difficult work situations. Nearly one-half of large companies in the United States provide some type of stress management training for their workforces.
Stress management programs teach workers about the nature and sources of stress, the effects of stress on health, and personal skills to reduce stress (For example, time management or relaxation exercises. Typically, EAPs provide individual counseling for employees with both work and personal problems).
Stress management training may rapidly reduce stress symptoms such as anxiety and sleep disturbances; it also has the advantage of being inexpensive and easy to implement. However, stress management programs have two major disadvantages:
Organizational Change: In contrast to stress management training and EAP programs, David's company is trying to reduce job stress by bringing in a consultant to recommend ways to improve working conditions.
This approach is the most direct way to reduce stress at work. It involves the identification of stressful aspects of work (e.g., excessive workload, conflicting expectations) and the design of strategies to reduce or eliminate the identified stressors. The advantage of this approach is it deals directly with the root causes of stress at work.
There are many steps you, as an employer, can take to help minimize stress in the workplace. Here are a few examples:
Some employers assume stressful working conditions are a necessary evil. In other words, companies must turn up the pressure on workers and set aside health concerns to remain productive and profitable in today's economy. But research findings are challenging this belief.
Studies show stressful working conditions are actually associated with increased absenteeism, tardiness, and intentions by workers to quit their jobs, all of which have a negative effect on the bottom line.
Recent studies of so-called healthy organizations suggest policies benefiting worker health also benefit the bottom line. A healthy organization is defined as one that has low rates of illness, injury, and disability in its workforce and is also competitive in the marketplace.
A healthy organization is defined as one that has low rates of illness, injury, and disability in its workforce and is also competitive in the marketplace.
Researchers have identified organizational characteristics associated with both healthy, low-stress work and high levels of productivity. Examples of these characteristics include the following:
However, managers are sometimes uncomfortable with this approach because it can involve changes in work routines or production schedules, or changes in the organizational structure.
As a general rule, actions to reduce job stress should give top priority to organizational change to improve working conditions. But even the most conscientious efforts to improve working conditions are unlikely to eliminate stress completely for all workers. For this reason, a combination of organizational change and stress management is often the most useful approach for preventing stress at work.
It is important everyone in the workplace understands the procedures for reporting and addressing work-related stress. Employers should provide instruction and training on the process and encourage reporting of work-related stress issues and psychological risk factors.
Training and instruction may include information on:
Information about work-related stress can be given to workers in a number of ways including:
Training is available through consultants and registered training providers on topics such as managing stress or stress management strategies. While this training may assist individuals to develop their coping skills, it may not include information specific to the psychological risk factors identified in their work environment. Therefore, your workplace may still need to conduct its own training for employees.
Managers should continue to follow up with employees who have reported an injury to ensure their safety and health, and provide support. Additional counseling may be required on an on-going basis for the employee. Managers involved in supporting and helping other employees may also benefit from counseling for debriefing and support.
Early intervention is the key to supporting employees who experience work-related stress. Ideally, early intervention means assisting an employee before symptoms develop into an injury. However, this may not be possible as employees may not report their symptoms to their employer before an injury develops. In this case, as soon as the employer is made aware of the injury, an early intervention program should be commenced, where appropriate.
Below are seven key elements to early intervention for preventing psychological injury:
Although it is not possible to give a universal prescription for preventing stress at work, it is possible to offer guidelines on the process of stress prevention in organizations. In all situations, the process for stress prevention programs involves three distinct steps:
For this process to succeed, organizations need to be adequately prepared. At a minimum, preparation for a stress prevention program should include the following:
Bringing workers or workers and managers together in a committee or problem-solving group may be an especially useful approach for developing a stress prevention program. Research has shown these participatory efforts to be effective to deal with ergonomic problems in the workplace, partly because they capitalize on workers' firsthand knowledge of hazards encountered in their jobs. However, when forming such working groups, care must be taken to be sure that they are in compliance with current labor laws.
Low morale, health and job complaints, and employee turnover often provide the first signs of job stress. But sometimes there are no clues, especially if employees are fearful of losing their jobs. Lack of obvious or widespread signs is not a good reason to dismiss concerns about job stress or minimize the importance of a prevention program.
Step 1 — Identify the Problem: The best method to explore the scope and source of a suspected stress problem in an organization depends partly on the size of the organization and the available resources. Group discussions among managers, labor representatives, and employees can provide rich sources of information. Such discussions may be all that is needed to track down and remedy stress problems in a small company. In a larger organization, such discussions can be used to help design formal surveys for gathering input about stressful job conditions from large numbers of employees.
Regardless of the method used to collect data, information should be obtained about employee perceptions of their job conditions and perceived levels of stress, health, and satisfaction.
Objective measures such as absenteeism, illness and turnover rates, or performance problems can also be examined to gauge the presence and scope of job stress. However, these measures are only rough indicators of job stress at best.
Data from discussions, surveys, and other sources should be summarized and analyzed to answer questions about the location of a stress problem and job conditions that may be responsible. For example, are problems present throughout the organization or confined to single departments or specific jobs?
Survey design, data analysis, and other aspects of a stress prevention program may require the help of experts from a local university or consulting firm. However, overall authority for the prevention program should remain in the organization.
Here are some ways to obtain information from employees:
Step 2 — Design and Implement Interventions: Once the sources of stress at work have been identified and the scope of the problem is understood, the stage is set for design and implementation of an intervention strategy.
In small organizations, the informal discussions that helped identify stress problems may also produce fruitful ideas for prevention. In large organizations, a more formal process may be needed. Frequently, a team is asked to develop recommendations based on analysis of data from Step 1 and consultation with outside experts.
Certain problems, such as a hostile work environment, may be pervasive in the organization and require company-wide interventions. Other problems such as excessive workload may exist only in some departments and thus require more narrow solutions, such as redesign of the way a job is performed.
Still other problems may be specific to certain employees and resistant to any kind of organizational change, calling instead for stress management or employee assistance interventions. Some interventions might be implemented rapidly (e.g., improved communication, stress management training), but others may require additional time to put into place (e.g., redesign of a manufacturing process).
Step 3 — Evaluate the Interventions: Evaluation is an essential step in the intervention process. Evaluation is necessary to determine whether the intervention is producing desired effects and whether changes in direction are needed.
Time frames for evaluating interventions should be established. Interventions involving organizational change should receive both short- and long-term scrutiny.
Short-term evaluations might be done quarterly to provide an early indication of program effectiveness or possible need for redirection. Many interventions produce initial effects that do not persist. Long-term evaluations are often conducted annually and are necessary to determine whether interventions produce lasting effects.
Evaluations should focus on the same types of information collected during the problem identification phase of the intervention, including information from employees about working conditions, levels of perceived stress, health problems, and satisfaction.
Employee perceptions are usually the most sensitive measure of stressful working conditions and often provide the first indication of intervention effectiveness. Adding objective measures such as absenteeism and health care costs may also be useful. However, the effects of job stress interventions on such measures tend to be less clear-cut and can take a long time to appear.
The job stress prevention process does not end with evaluation. Instead, job stress prevention should be seen as a continuous process that uses evaluation data to refine or redirect the intervention strategy.
OSH professionals and safety and health representatives play a key role in preventing and managing work-related stress. It is important for OSH professionals, safety and health representatives and employers to work together to prevent and manage work-related stress.
OSH professionals and safety and health representatives may assist the employer through conducting regular workplace ‘walk-arounds’ and assisting with the OSH incident investigations. They can also recommend to the employer the establishment, maintenance, and monitoring of programs, measures and procedures at the workplace. For example, a recommendation may include conducting an anonymous survey to obtain information on the psychological risk factors employees may be exposed to in the workplace and whether employee health is being negatively affected.
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