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Course 765 - Managing Workplace Stress

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Preventing Job Stress

stress

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.

Stress Prevention Programs

The design and appropriate solutions of a stress prevention program will be influenced by several factors, including:

  • size and complexity of the organization
  • available resources
  • unique types of stress problems faced by the organization

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.

What Can Be Done About Job Stress?

checklist

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:

  • The beneficial effects on stress symptoms are often short-lived.
  • They often ignore important root causes of stress because they focus on the worker and not the environment.

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.

Minimizing Stress in the Workplace

reducing stress

There are many steps you, as an employer, can take to help minimize stress in the workplace. Here are a few examples:

  • Set the tone by treating coworkers with respect and valuing their contributions.
  • Hold regular staff meetings to plan, problem solve, recognize accomplishments, and promote staff cohesiveness.
  • Clearly communicate the rationale behind procedural or supervisory changes and performance expectations.
  • Create a formal employee suggestion system and encourage staff to contribute.
  • Resolve conflicts early and quickly.
  • Prepare workers for concrete tasks they may perform through technical training.
  • Acknowledge work is often stressful and connect staff to professional help if necessary.
  • Promote an atmosphere where attention to one's emotional state is acceptable and encouraged rather than stigmatized or disregarded.
overworked

Stress, Health, and Productivity

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.

Healthy Organizations

healthy

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:

  • recognition of employees for good work performance
  • opportunities for career development
  • an organizational culture that values the individual worker
  • management actions consistent with organizational values

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.

Work Related Stress: Training

training

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:

  • workplace’s commitment to supporting and maintaining a positive work environment that values employee health and well-being
  • each of the psychological risk factors
  • early warning signs of a stress response
  • individual and organizational measures used to prevent work-related stress from occurring
  • workplace procedures and policies
  • how to report work-related stress and psychological risk factors
  • how work-related stress reports will be responded to, including time frames
  • where to access support within the workplace and outside of the workplace

Providing Employees with Information

Information about work-related stress can be given to workers in a number of ways including:

  • talking directly with employees by holding team meetings, tool box talks or speaking one-on-one with them
  • handing out company newsletters or pamphlets
  • including information sheets in pay slips
  • displaying posters around the workplace
  • through email messages or intranet announcements

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.

Providing Employees with Information (Continued)

injuries

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:

  1. Develop procedures for early intervention on how to support employees exhibiting early warning signs. The policy or guidelines should state that support is provided regardless of whether the employee has submitted a Workers’ Compensation claim, or whether their claim has been accepted.
  2. Provide training and information to line managers on the early warning signs, and how to respond appropriately.
  3. Ensure early contact is made with the employee to offer assistance.
  4. Engage early and expert assessment to identify employee needs.
  5. Ensure the employee and supervisor are involved in developing an agreed plan to enable the employee to remain at work or return to work.
  6. Establish employee access to effective medical treatment and evidence-based therapeutic interventions if there is a psychological condition.
  7. Provide flexible workplace solutions to support the individual at work.

Stress Prevention Guidelines

prevention

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:

  • problem identification
  • intervention
  • evaluation

For this process to succeed, organizations need to be adequately prepared. At a minimum, preparation for a stress prevention program should include the following:

  • building general awareness about job stress (causes, costs, and control)
  • securing top management commitment and support for the program
  • incorporating employee input and involvement in all phases of the program
  • establishing the technical capacity to conduct the program (e.g., specialized training for in-house staff or use of job stress consultants)

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.

Steps Towards Prevention

problem

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

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:

  • Hold group discussions with employees.
  • Design an employee survey.
  • Measure employee perceptions of job conditions, stress, health, and satisfaction.
  • Collect objective data.
  • Analyze data to identify problem locations and stressful job conditions.

Steps Towards Prevention (Continued)

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.

  • Target source of stress for change.
  • Propose and prioritize intervention strategies.
  • Communicate planned interventions to employees.
  • Implement Interventions.
argument

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).

Steps Towards Prevention (Continued)

evaluation

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.

How to Change the Organization to Prevent Job Stress

socialization
  • Ensure the workload is in line with workers' capabilities and resources.
  • Design jobs to provide meaning, stimulation, and opportunities for workers to use their skills.
  • Clearly define workers' roles and responsibilities.
  • Give workers opportunities to participate in decisions and actions affecting their jobs.
  • Improve communications - reduce uncertainty about career development and future employment prospects.
  • Provide opportunities for social interaction among workers.
  • Establish work schedules that are compatible with demands and responsibilities outside the job.

Key Messages for OSH Personnel

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.

Video

Instructions

Before beginning this quiz, we highly recommend you review the module material. This quiz is designed to allow you to self-check your comprehension of the module content, but only focuses on key concepts and ideas.

Read each question carefully. Select the best answer, even if more than one answer seems possible. When done, click on the "Get Quiz Answers" button. If you do not answer all the questions, you will receive an error message.

Good luck!

1. An investigation into stress at the workplace will ______ the organization’s approach to preventing psychological injuries in the future.

2. ______ of large U.S. companies provide some type of stress management training for their workforces.

3. This type of training involves the identification of stressful aspects of work to reduce or eliminate the identified stressors.

4. Which of the following is/are guidelines for preventing stress at work?

5. Which of the 4 stress prevention steps would you communicate planned interventions to your employees?


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Important! You will receive an "error" message unless all questions are answered.