As employers, we have a duty of care over our workers, to ensure they are safe and well at work. While in the past, the focus has been on physical health, the growing trend these days, sees workers with mental health issues. The modern pace of life, the pressures both financial and social as well as the pace of change experienced by individuals these days all contribute to mental stress and pressure. Also mental health issues are more widely spoken about today as society opens up to what was once a taboo issue.
All workers experience stress. Stressors can result in the workplace from role ambiguity, role conﬂict and role overload (Vandenberghe et al. 2010). Role ambiguity refers to an individual not having enough information around the expectations associated with their position. We see this quite often when a manager’s expectations and an employee’s expectations are unclear and quite different. Role conflict refers to the individual having to meet inconsistent expectations, such as when two managers demand different priorities or when one part of a person’s job negatively affects the other part. Role overload happens when one’s time and resources are not enough to meet the demands of the job. We see this manifest itself in the worker who takes work stress home, works on weekends just to catch up, or feels guilt about the family and work conflict.
However, a little stress can be a good thing – stressors can be categorised into challenging stressors, for example, situations that place us outside our comfort zone and push us to achieve higher results. This kind of stress is generally manageable, and can be a positive influence, assisting with personal growth – some people definitely work better under stress. Stressors can also be hindering, where they become unmanageable and hinder personal development (Vandenberghe et al. 2010).
Some workplace stressors are clearly defined as hindrance stressors such as role ambiguity and role conflict, however, role overload can be seen in some instances to be a challenge stress, as we rise to the occasion and push ourselves to reach goals and make the role less overloaded. A heavy workload in some instances is a definite negative, but can also be a positive.
The integral concept to understand is what turns a hindrance stressor into a challenging stressor and then work towards changing one’s ability to meet the challenge. Where an individual is in a good mental state, has resources of time and energy to meet the challenge, they may then have the ability to rise to the challenge and it becomes a positive event. However where workers are worn down by fatigue, worry, lack of time and defeated by ongoing issues, they have little resources left, to rise to meet new challenges. The worker’s mental state then influences their behaviours and attitudes. This can result in the withdrawing of effort and commitment to work and increased mental stress for the worker. Job satisfaction falls, morale in the workplace drops and ultimately the employee feels a sense of being overwhelmed, and gives into the stressor, as they perceive they do not have the resources to overcome it.
We know from empirical evidence that workplace commitment and satisfaction are positively related to psychological well-being (Galais & Moser, 2009; Meyer et al., 2002), so working towards eliminating hindrance stressors and managing challenging stressors will reap positive results for all organisations. If you are engaging in challenging stressors in your workplace, simply ensure that increased role overload is met with success along the way, to reinforce ‘challenge met’ to the individual.
What can Employers do?
- Talk and listen to your workers – have a monthly 5 minute ‘check-in’ and simply ask them how they are doing? Ask about their stress levels;
- Ask if they understand the expectations of their job. Talk about your expectations and make sure you are both on the same page;
- Document expectations and Position Descriptions for clarity;
- Discuss the different conflicts apparent in their role – are there conflicting priorities; deadlines or pressures?
- Chat about any overload apparent in their role – what is the source of the overload? – is it a positive or a negative? How can you ensure it is turned into a challenging stressor?
- Talk to your employee about how they are coping with work – do they feel they have enough resources to meet challenges? Discuss time, energy and motivation.
If we take more time to talk and understand the unique pressures on today’s workers, we can engage everyone towards better mental health, build positive workplaces, increase productivity and profitability and most importantly care for those around us.
It all comes back to one simply question – R U OK?
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