Workplace stress is the negative physical or mental impact caused by excessive pressures associated with the workplace environment. Employers have various obligations and requirements to identify, assess, and reduce the causes of stress within their workplace.
Assess actual and potential causes of stress
An assessment should be carried out to identify the actual and potential causes of workplace stress amongst your personnel. This should cover issues such as:
- Pressures related to heavy workload or excessively long working hours
- Anxiety related to workplace change (e.g. restructuring, retrenchments and redundancies, down-sizing, take-overs and mergers, relocation, etc)
- Stress related to conflict with superiors and peers, including workplace conflicts, bullying, harassment and victimisation
- Stress as a result of critical incidents, such as emergencies
- Stress related to confusion about roles and responsibilities
- Stress related to disciplinary action
- Pressures related to high-risk work or concerns about health and safety, such as exposure to chemicals, excessive workplace noise, security concerns (particularly at night), etc.
Identify stress factors
Factors to be taken into consideration, to assist with the identification of the causes of stress, should include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Incident and disease records
- Trends in workers' compensation claims
- Absenteeism rates and how they apply to particular groups or occupations
- Workers’ behaviour, which may indicate stress (e.g. anger, depression, uncharacteristically careless work or attitude, etc).
In addition, personal factors such as stress factors unrelated to the workplace (e.g. personal, family or financial problems) and the personality or pattern of behaviour of individual persons, should also be taken into consideration.
Assess the impacts
The impact of potential stressors on individuals and groups of personnel should be assessed, including the potential exposure of workers to stress and the high risk groups within the workforce. When assessing the impact of stress, consideration should be given to the potential consequences (i.e. the type of work done, and the potential of harm to the individual person, to others and to equipment).
Develop control measures
Control measures to minimise the causes of stress should be developed and implemented.
These may include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Stress Management training, including development of self-assessment and communication and coping skills
- Clear definition of roles and responsibilities
- Effective communication with workers to reduce anxieties related to uncertainties
- Addressing specific causes, as listed in the identification step above.
Emphasis should be placed on ensuring that control measures address causes, rather than symptoms (e.g. if excessive noise is identified as the cause of stress, steps should be taken to reduce noise levels).
Where required, specialists should be engaged in identifying potential stressors, assessing their impact and developing control measures. Particular attention should be paid to the impact of potential stress factors on workers with disabilities and young persons.
Implemented control measures should be monitored and reviewed to ensure stress problems have been rectified, or at least reduced. Following the review, if required, changes should be introduced to the initial control measures.