Better management key to tackling stress

by 22 Jul 2008

THE COMBINATION of demanding, complex jobs and low levels of support from managers and colleagues is driving the high prevalence of stress among workers, according to a new white paper.

When job intensity is coupled with inadequate support and few opportunities for employees to progress in their careers, symptoms such as sleeping problems, anxiety, irritability and stress are a likely result.

The white paper – which examines the relationship between changing occupations and workers’ health and wellbeing – argued that the increasing number of professional and managerial jobs in developed countries is a significant part of the explanation of why stress seems to have become so prevalent and severe.

Jobs that are high in “complexity”– in other words, are mentally taxing and involve juggling competing demands – are the most stressful.

Stress is overwhelmingly a condition that affects workers in the top occupational categories much more than others.

“No organisation can stamp out all stress –and most would not want to, because some stress may be good for us,” said Rebecca Fauth, senior researcher at The Work Foundation, which released the white paper.

“But the question of why stress is so much a part of the modern world of work has remained rather mysterious,” said Fauth.

“Knowing from solid evidence what types of employment conditions are most likely to bring about a stress-related illness, and how illness links to occupational change, is a big step forward.”

She said the most stressful trio of job characteristics, especially among more highly skilled workers, is an intense job where employees are left to sink or swim within fast-changing organisations and where opportunities for rising through the ranks are low.

“Work is fast – and there is no getting around it. But what employers can do is put the right structures, processes and people in place to support workers properly.

“Good job design and high managerial standards are probably the most important way to improving the health of workers that exists,”Fauth said.

The transition to a knowledge-based economy, where many jobs are done with the help of computer technology, has brought about new ways of working, the white paper found.

The downside of this has been an intensification of work, including rapidly evolving jobs and roles that require workers to remain vigilant and up-to-date on the latest information, intelligence and trends.

In Australia, the total cost of workers’ compensation claims for stress-related conditions is estimated at more than $200 million every year and, according to the National Health and Safety Commission, work-related stress accounts for the longest stretches of absenteeism.


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