How do your workers cope with stress?

Are your workers more stressed than they used to be? What strategies do they use to cope? Could their stress lead to physical injuries or conditions?

Stress can manifest in any workplace and in any worker, and below, I discuss how workers handle workplace stress and how more workers than ever before are feeling stressed.

Encourage workers to use active coping strategies

Employers can prevent worker stress escalating and becoming chronic by training employees to avoid resorting to passive coping strategies, researchers say.

The Italian researchers said active and "instrumental" coping strategies - such as seeking social support - were associated with "good adaptation to traumatic stress", while passive or avoidant strategies - such as excessive alcohol intake - "are often considered maladaptive, negative coping strategies".

"In general, strategies involving disengagement increase the likelihood of [workers] experiencing ongoing distress and of developing post-traumatic stress disorder," they said.

"The use of good strategies is traditionally associated with a reduced risk of general psychological distress, which can therefore be regarded as a protective factor against anxiety and organisational distress."

In a study of 617 police officers, the researchers found unit managers in the operational sector (comprising frontline officers who enforced the law) were among those most likely to cope with distress positively by "venting" their negative feelings and receiving emotional support from others.

Many unit managers, however, also used maladaptive coping strategies, such as blaming themselves.

Overall, males in this sector reacted to an increase in stressors "by adopting coping strategies such as self-blame and negation: on the one hand, they blamed themselves for their unease (for instance, attributing this to their inability to deal efficiently with the situation) and on the other, they tried to diminish their sense of responsibility by denying that the problem existed".

The researchers said stress-management training, such as trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy, could increase officers' ability to cope with "psychologically arduous situations" and psychological distress, which can "often undermine social functioning".

(The full article on OHS Alert has been unlocked for non-subscribers to read here.)

Provide workers with stress-management resources

Employee stress levels have increased over the last three years in 13 out of 16 work factors identified by the American Psychological Association (APA), a work and wellbeing report says.

The APA's 2015 Work and Wellbeing Survey of 1552 US employees found 26 per cent felt physical illnesses and ailments had a "very significant" or "somewhat significant" impact on their stress levels, compared to 21 per cent in 2012.

Problems with colleagues and unpleasant or dangerous physical conditions also significantly stressed employees (25% and 24% respectively, compared to 22% and 20% in 2012), the survey found.

The most significant work stress factors affecting employees overall included low salaries (with 48% saying this had a significant impact on their stress levels, compared to 45% in 2012), unrealistic job expectations (40% compared to 34%), and heavy workloads (41% in both 2015 and 2012).

The survey also found that while 62 per cent of workers believed they had the resources they needed to manage stress (compared to 58% in 2012), "the majority of working adults report mental health and stress management resources are not widely available to them through their employer".

"Only four in 10 employed adults (45%) report that their employer provides resources to help meet mental health needs and even less report receiving sufficient resources from their employers to help manage stress (37%)," it said.

(OHS Alert subscribers can read the full story here, or you can start a trial subscription to gain access.)

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