Workplace stress on the increase in Australia

What should HR be doing to alleviate increasing levels of workplace stress? HC talks to a psychologist about why our workers are so stressed and what we can do about it.

One in four Australians has felt moderately to severely distressed during the past year, says a new report by the Australian Psychological Society.

According to the report, Stress and wellbeing in Australia, the highest levels of stress were reported in working-age Australians aged between 18 and 35. Workplace issues were identified in the report as a key cause of stress, with almost half of working people claiming that their stress stems from work.

Participants in the survey also reported lower levels of satisfaction with their work-life balance than in previous years, and lower levels of interest in their job.

Almost half of participants blamed “work demands” for preventing them from maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

HC spoke to Dr Peter Cotton of the APS, who said that there are many issues in the workplace that cause stress.

“There are multiple factors involved,” he said. “Some people are more vulnerable than others. Some struggle to adapt to a changing workplace, and become casualties of not being able to adapt, others’ stress is a result of being poorly treated at work.”

Cotton blamed bad management for causing and exacerbating employee stress.

“Some managers will avoid engaging with someone who they deem a “challenging staff member”, and then when it comes to performance reviews they hit them with an abundance of critical feedback with everything going downhill from there.”

He also told HC that workplaces should offer formal mental health assistance to stressed employees.

“[Employers should provide support] to a certain degree,” Cotton recommended. “It has become quite standard to have an employee assistance programme in place, which is often extended to immediate family members. E-mental health is also opening up a whole new area now and can be very helpful for employers to support stressed out workers.”

Triple-S, a US company, offers direct access for employees to support services and same-day assistance for emergencies. Employees and their families have 24/7 access to ‘QUICKhelp’, a free telephone service which offers support for personal, family, financial, legal and work-related issues. Employees who wish to see a psychologist can make appointments onsite during paid working hours. Since these schemes were introduced, the company has had a reduction in absenteeism, saving around $381,843 in 2011 alone.

“One third of stress claims are to do with low morale – this can be associated with a range of personal or workplace issues,” said Cotton. “Health professionals often give individuals an unnecessary medical label, blaming stress on work – it is often not the employee who sees work as the cause.”

He recommended that HR should offer informal support before sending an employee for psychological help.

“Many employees suffering from stress can benefit from vocational guidance, HR assistance or relationship mediation – often they don’t need the medical treatment prescribed by their organisation.”

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