• Ali H.

Work-related Stress; an alternative approach ?

Updated: Nov 4, 2021

Over the last couple of years many of us will have seen the increase in mental health awareness across organisational media channels, and after all, why not? Mental health awareness is a positive. Yet despite this gallant effort, we rarely see a framework of improvement and practical action shared.

The workplace is a priority setting to make a difference. So why do we not see more “how to’s” and sharing of practical solutions coming from organisations? Is this due to a lack of understanding or accountability at the organisational level, or is it, that many business leaders still consider that the source of stress solely resides in the individual as a lack of resilience? Is the time now right for organisations to share a proactive, theoretically informed, and practical framework of improvement?

For many of us, we can probably agree that a large proportion of organisations have strong Occupational Health, Case Management, Employee Assistance Programmes and Tertiary level interventions through the likes of return to work programmes. However, perhaps its time to consider the less recognised use of psychosocial risk management, and primary and secondary level interventions for the possible improvements to our working environments.

There is a broad consensus of workplace psychosocial demands; however, new ways of work and certain roles might differ to this, especially in the developing arena of remote working. Broadly speaking we can consider the factors below all play a role in employee health and wellbeing;

· Poor feedback

· Inadequate appraisal

· Communication process

· Job insecurity

· Excessive working hours

· Workplace bullying

· Job content

· Workload and pace

· Work schedule

· Control

· Environment and equipment

· Organisational culture and function

· Interpersonal relationships at work

· Role in the organisation

· Career development

· Home-work interface.

Whilst it’s recognised that each of these demands interfere with employee wellbeing; in reality we quite often see an overlap of these demands and it is imperative that we consider the interactive state of these demands, as ultimately, they can be more harmful to the workforce. In reality, a large proportion of us have probably experienced these demands at some point in our careers. What should we do about them, and how do we operationalise this?

Before we attempt to intervene and invest significant resource into fixing a problem, we need to understand what it is that we are trying to achieve, specifically aligned to the organisation and sector that we are working in. In that sense, we could consider taking a risk management approach which provides opportunity to explore and understand this at a more detailed level. Psychosocial risk assessment provides the organisation with the opportunity to explore the extent of the problem. For the extra proactive organisation, coupling this information with observed health performance indicators could significantly influence the management of work-related stress in the organisation. This data can then inform any next steps.

What questions should we start to ask?

1. What are the major types of work-related demands and psychosocial risks, are there any specific demands related to our organisation and type of work?

2. How do these psychosocial risks impact workforce population health?

3. What controls can we design into our roles

4. If it’s not feasible to design additional controls into roles, what coping support can we provide our workforce.

5. Do we have a stress policy, and does it take a proactive approach, and include a wide array of authoritative and academic insight?

6. What interventions can we consider that look to improve the link between employee health and work?

We will often see continuous improvement when it comes to organisational focus on commercial and operational efficiencies. However, now is the time we start to include workforce health and wellbeing as an integral part of any modern organisation. Arguably workplace health and wellbeing is still in its infancy as a discipline, and there is still a disconnect between research and practice, but we are starting to see this change. Put simply, we need to see an increased amount operationalised interventions at the primary and secondary level driven by the organisation, and continuously evaluated for what factors can be improved and through what design and what theory.

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