This is the final article in a series about contemporary job stress in modern society.
Q: How can organizations lessen stress for their employees, and how can employees help themselves lessen work stress?
A: In a New Employee Orientation publication by businessballs.com from Great Britain, there was a section titled well-being and stress management policy guide, recommending strategies for building an organizational framework with a positive work culture. Included are a clear business purpose, effective and continuous communication between levels and both up and down, dealing with conflicts quickly, accepting differences of opinion, promoting opportunities for staff development, and providing teamwork by training, exercises, recognition or rewards.
An organizational structure that is simple and straightforward is best. When there are disconnects and gaps in management, employees suffer. Organizations might have some responsibilities among local, national and international levels and have more than one top level of supervisors.
Company managers need to hire employees who are a good fit to the organization. Seeing the fit between the worker and the job is an ongoing process because individuals change, as do companies and work environments.
Organizations have responsibilities to respect the work-life balances of their employees. This respect can be demonstrated by encouraging workers to take time off after working long hours of overtime so they can recuperate. Companies also can offer job sharing, part-time work, flex-time and weekend work. Overtime pay is important to reward employees and to provide feelings of self-worth and appreciation. Counseling can be provided either by contracting with other agencies or by Employee Assistance Programs.
Management has a responsibility for employee well-being and also for measuring and testing well-being programs; managers must recognize employee well-being as a fundamental drive toward excellence in job performance. Organizations can provide services such as meditation, or breaks for physical workouts, walks, coffee breaks or relaxation exercises.
Managers themselves can convey well-being to their workers by their management styles, consisting of verbal and written communication, attitudes, tone of voice, timing of conversations, especially negative or critical comments, and body language beyond these items.
When supervisors convey positive styles of communication, workers respond accordingly. Managers must know how to relate to workers and change ways that are ineffective. Management style consists of personality, personal experiences, expertise, emotional sensitivity and adaptability. Open and inclusive, along with participative and supportive, are the most effective leadership styles provided the manager also demonstrates leadership.
Part of the role of managers is to recognize warning signs of workplace stress in employees: a significant change in attitude for the worse; lack of self-care, such as appearance and personal hygiene; reduced job performance, not accounted for by other causes; absenteeism; applying for other jobs.
Risk assessments are legitimate methods for monitoring stress in employees. These assessments measure some types of pressure points for stress. These could include deadlines, overwork, layoffs, equipment failures, dealing with changes, new systems and new employees.
Individuals also need to monitor their work. Workers and management both need to create a more positive work environment; be flexible; seek help if treated unfairly; pay attention to rests, breaks, restrictions, exercise, moving around during long hours at the desk or computer.
An overview of the most important ways for employees to promote well-being in day-to-day activities include:
Connect with others.
Be active physically.
Be curious, notice your surroundings.
Give to others.
Health Advocate Inc., an independent healthcare advocacy and assistance company, published a recent listing of the best stress management methods for organizations for a continuing commitment to addressing stress:
Long-range strategies for employee populations and company culture.
Multiple approaches in an ongoing communication campaign.
Emphasis on both individual and organizational change.
Achievable goals with built-in time tables.
Rewards and incentives for even small changes.
Pennsylvania State University researchers found workers were less stressed at work than at home. In a research brief by Sarah Damaske, professor and lead author, sociology and womens studies professor at Penn State, she said the research will be published in the Journal of Science and Medicine. The study found women derived more stress-reduction benefit from work than men. Women reported being happier at work, and men reported being happier at home. Damaske stated parents do not get as much relief from stress at home as employees who do not have children.
Results were constant across educational and occupational levels and gender. People who work have better health than people who dont. Women with poor work histories and lots of unemployment said they preferred to work for the sense of pride, more than the money. At home, multi-tasking is the primary stressor.
Penn Research Social and Demographic Trends published a report recently stating men are spending more time doing housework and child care, but have not caught up with mothers. Penn State and Penn Research emphasize the need to find better work life balance. Damaske points out many jobs are still structured as though most families are male bread-winners and stay-at-home moms. Researchers significantly recommend companies adopt family-friendly policies for workers. Some organizations have changed to meet the needs of contemporary families but the majority have not.
Judy Caprez is associate professor of social work at Fort Hays State University. Send your questions in care of the department of sociology and social work.