On the Job – Workplace Stress Highest for Invested Workers

From Issue: 
Vol LV No. 2, April 2011

Most people who work have occasionally felt stress from their jobs. However for workers who experience high levels of stress on an ongoing basis, stress can turn into burnout, mental health disorders and physical illnesses. A recent study by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) showed that 18 per cent of workers felt their jobs were highly stressful. Even more telling were the responsibilities and job characteristics that increased the likelihood of a worker feeling highly stressed as a result of work.

The study set out to examine the relationship between job stress and worker perceived responsibilities and job characteristics. Information was gathered and analyzed from a survey of 2,737 Alberta adult workers who had worked the previous year in a variety of settings, including offices, manufacturing, construction, farming and services.

The study found that employees who were more engaged in their work were twice as likely to report high stress. Workers were more likely to describe their job as “highly stressful” if they were managers or professionals, worked at a site remote from their home, or if their jobs required them to entertain, travel or work long or variable hours (shift work, being on call, compressed work week or overtime). The odds of being highly stressed also increased for workers if they felt that their poor performance could cause physical injury to themselves or co-workers, or damage to the company’s equipment, reputation, or finances.

On the other hand, 82 per cent of workers surveyed reported low or no stress. Statistically, this group tended to be male, single/never married, under the age of 25, and not to have completed high school. Workers who were satisfied with their jobs, or didn’t consider their job a career were much less likely to describe their jobs as being highly stressful. The findings in this study may be helpful to employers in determining where to focus efforts to alleviate stress in their at risk employees.

How employers can help

Employers should assess the workplace for the risk of stress. Look for work pressures that could cause high and long lasting levels of stress, and the employees who may be harmed by these pressures. Determine what can be done to prevent the pressures from becoming negative stressors, including:

  • Treat all employees in a fair and respectful manner.
  • Design jobs to allow for a balanced workload. Allow employees to have control over the tasks they do as much as possible.
  • Keep job demands reasonable by providing manageable deadlines, hours of work, and clear duties, as well as work that is interesting and varied.
  • Involve employees in decision-making and allow for their input directly or through committees, etc.
  • Do not tolerate bullying or harassment in any form.
  • Be aware of the signs and symptoms that a person may be having trouble coping with stress, and take them seriously.
  • Encourage managers to have an understanding attitude and to be proactive by looking for signs of stress among their staff.
  • Survey employees and ask them for help identifying the causes of stress.
  • Once identified, address the root causes of the stress as quickly as possible.
  • Provide workplace health and wellness programs that address the source of the stress.
  • Provide employees with access to Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) and resources that address their mental health concerns.
  • Make sure staff have the training, skills and resources they need.

Source: Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety