Stress Management

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Organizational Behaviour

What evidence is there to support the view that the incidence of work-related stress increased dramatically in Australian organisations during the 1990s and early 2000s? Should employers be made responsible for dealing with the negative effects of work- related stress on their employees? If so how could they do this?

Prepared for: Nick Foster

Udam Wickremaratne

Occupational stress is a major news item, which has captured numerous headlines across the industrialized world and rightly so. Stress is reported to cost employers US$120 Billion p.a. in North America and Europe, 200 million lost production days in the US and the European Union spends approximately 4% of GNP on mental health problems (Warr 2002). Occupational stress should not be viewed as a negative by-product of work-life. A certain level of stress is definitely beneficial to individual and societal growth. This level of stress, referred to by Foster (2005) as ‘the optimal level of stress' allow employees to cope and overcome obstacles ensuring more productive and efficient output. This said, continuous exposure to work place stressors could have a significant impact on employee well being, both physical and psychological. Organizations are appreciating the importance of managing stress to the bottom line in terms of improved productivity, through fewer days lost due to accidents, improved moral, team work, enthusiasm, improved reputation, lower incidence of compensation claims etc. The majority of organizational interventions are related to providing external/internal support systems rather than improving internal practices e.g. implementing high performance work systems, which embody empowerment, involvement, and ownership providing employees with a sense of control over their own output. The approach taken to investigate the claims that there has been a dramatic increase in occupational stress is to provide evidence of the strain on a number of identified stressors such as long working hours, work/family conflict, job uncertainty, and changes in skills requirements.

A clear understanding of the impact of stress on society can be gained from a study of the potential stressors or factors contributing to increased stress. As cited in Foster (2005) research has identified at least 30 types of stressors, each of these has a direct or implied relationship with organizational behaviour and culture.

Increasing focus on cost restructuring since the economic decline of the late1980's and the increasing competitive business environment brought about by globalisation is demanding faster, cheaper and higher quality output. These changes coupled with labour market characteristics such as, increasing number of women in employment, the growing trend towards part time employment and an ageing workforce provide a compelling case for increasing stress in Australia.

The 1995 Australian Workplace Industrial Relations Survey found that 50% of employees surveyed experienced increased stress in their jobs over the previous twelve months, while 59% reported increased effort and 46% an increase in the pace of work. In addition, 43% of employees reported that they had no say in the way in which work is organised or over decisions at work, which affect them (ACTU, Stress at Work - Not What We Bargained For, 1997).

A study conducted by AON Consulting (Stress ‘major problem for workers' 2005) of 600 Australian workers in 2002 revealed that organizations were doing too little to manage the risk of stress within the work environment. The survey went on to state that 4 out 10 employees left their employers due to their ineffectiveness in dealing with stress. The difficulty in identifying and monitoring the stressors at work could be the primary reason for the slow response from industry in mitigating the risk more effectively

While there is relatively less data on the incidence of...
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