Workplace stress on the increase in Australia

by Chloe Taylor19 Nov 2014
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.”


  • by BRIAN MAGRATH 19/11/2014 6:44:24 PM

    Having been involved with stress defence for upwards of 50 years, I have to comment that stress has always been a part of the workplace, home-place play-place and every other place in human activities.
    It will continue to be until each individual who needs to -[there are a few who naturally defend against incoming distress, ID] - defends themselves against ID and prevents it becoming stress. Fortunately we preventatists have a system for doing just that and seem to be able to keep well and fit in spite of the daily ID that besets all humans.
    I should mention that in our minds, "prevention" means "don't let it happen" and not "early detection".
    Always happy to discuss with anyone who might be interested.

  • by Dr. Lucia Kelleher Behavioural Neuroscientist 20/11/2014 2:28:53 PM

    Chronic 'psychological stress' is the result of long term 'physiological stress' that has been impacting most of us for the past decade. This is simply due to technology radically changing the speed at which we work and play due to instant transfer of information in the digital age. The interesting thing is there is no-one deny's that life has changed so completely in the past decade, compared to any other 'environmental' occurrence (save a meteor collision) in human history. Yet people expect their 'brain' to have remained static. It has not. It has adapted to these gross environmental changes to being in a state of chronic physiological stress. The brain does not discern between a lion or a gunman and too much information, it perceives 'threat'. So of course psychological stress is the result. The solution it to fix the root cause, which is also physiological.

  • by BRIAN MAGRATH 21/11/2014 12:27:33 PM

    I regard the content in Dr Kelleher’s comment as accurate and sound, until the perception of fear and stress.
    I hold that fear is not an emotion, simply a perfectly natural response to an incoming danger to the person. All animals have a similar response. The response is not psychological but physical. The body is prepared for flight out of danger, before the mind even appreciates the danger. The “fight” response is arrived at if no escape is possible, or other learned factors contribute to a situation.
    Stress has nothing to do with fear, in the sense that fear itself and resultant responses are immediate, and short-term or acute. Once the danger has passed, the body is returned to normal quickly and safely as it has done for fifty million years or so. Admittedly, if there are shortcomings in a body, for example, a failing cardiac system, then the increased blood flow and pressure which are part of fear might cause damage, but that apart, there should be no poor result to fear.
    On the other hand, Incoming Distress, or imaginary danger, [ID], is unavoidable, and, as stated by Dr Kelleher, has increased rapidly since the electronic era overtook us.
    Of itself, ID does no harm, but if undefended, will become stress, cause random and spasmodic responses as the body tries to deal with an imaginary danger. Humans have not yet evolved an automatic system to deal with imaginary dangers, since emotions are a relatively new part of our human systems, but the responses provoked by them, are along the lines of the responses to real danger, but chronic.
    Stress lies behind cancer, diabetes, depression, and a host of other nasties. Defend against the ID, prevent the stress, thus prevent the resultant disorder.
    The defence mechanism Preventatists use is psychosomatic in origin; it is non spiritual, non religious, non pharmaceutical, and simple, effective and very economic.
    “If distress wins, we all lose; if distress is beaten, we win all”

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