By Joanna Weekes
Stress is a common workplace issue and could be a health and safety risk for your workers. This is because it could create a physical or psychological health issue.
You must manage risks caused by stress hazards as part of your health and safety obligations.
What causes stress in the workplace?
Stress can be caused by organisational factors, such as a poorly managed workplace, or environmental factors that cause ongoing irritation or concern.
Organisational stress hazards include:
- lack of role clarity, e.g. poor guidance or instruction from the management;
- unreasonable work demands, e.g. setting unrealistic deadlines or tasks beyond a worker’s ability;
- low levels of recognition or reward;
- challenging situations, e.g. dealing with difficult customers or being put on the spot in meetings;
- long or unpredictable hours of work;
- lack of job security, e.g. someone employed on a casual or contractual basis;
- poor management of workers, e.g. poor communication, leadership, instruction or training; and
- tense relationships between workers, including bullying and interpersonal conflict.
Environmental stress hazards include:
- excessive noise;
- extremes of temperature;
- lack of space;
- poor lighting; and
- poor air quality.
Individual factors (i.e. the personality or resilience of individual workers) are also important for determining whether stress might be an issue in your workplace.
4 ways to identify stress hazards in your workplace
To identify stress hazards, undertake the following steps:
- examine workplace documents (e.g. sick leave records, workers’ compensation claims, grievance information, etc.);
- observe your workers while at work;
- consult with workers and ask them to provide feedback about matters that could be causing stress; and
- watch for factors that could lead to psychological health issues, e.g. low work satisfaction, poor work/life balance and tense relationships within the workplace.
Determining stress in the workplace
Work-related stress is a major health and safety issue in any organisation and, while it is not an illness, it can lead to mental and physical health issues if it becomes excessive.
All health and safety legislation throughout Australia imposes a legal duty on a business to do what is reasonably practicable to eliminate or minimise risks to workers’ health and safety, including protecting them from the risk of harm due to any stressors at work. In order to do that, a business has to understand the environmental, organisational and individual circumstances that can lead to stress in the first place.
If you are having difficulty identifying where the risk factors are in your organisation, here are two great techniques you can adopt:
- Focus groups – these are small groups of people that provide a good forum for assessing the risk of exposure to work-related stressors.
- Surveys – these can be an effective tool to obtain information about stressors present in the workplace on a confidential basis.
Dealing with work-related stress
Reducing stress levels for your workers’ health is not only important for their wellbeing, it also leads to improved organisational performance. So, in addition to your legal compliance obligations, there are good reasons to carefully review potential stressors in your business and take steps to remove them.
Some key factors that can improve your organisation overall when dealing with work-related stress include:
- having clear communication and consultation regarding risk management of stress;
- ensuring that managers are committed to dealing with work-related stress; and
- ensuring all workers participate in stress management activities, including:
- providing feedback;
- undertaking planning and risk assessment; and
- implementing control options.
As leaders in your business, having senior management committed to organisational change is critical to the success of any program. Through frequent and open communication, senior managers can gain commitment by the workforce to help change attitudes and behaviour in relation to stress.