Occupational stress is a pervasive problem in the Australian workplace that can lead to employee distress, burnout, decreased productivity and even psychological injuries and compensation claims. Several factors contribute to occupational stress, including the mental, emotional, and physical aspects of job demands, all of which can be appropriately managed by the provision of adequate job resources.
What are the Causes of Occupational Stress?
According to Bakker and Demerouti (2006), when job demands and other negative factors become overwhelming and aren’t balanced by adequate job resources (including support, autonomy, and feedback), sustained stress and strain can negatively affect organisational outcomes.
Examples of job demands that can lead to occupational stress include job insecurity and conflict with co-workers, managers, or the employer.
Other possible causes include:
- Inadequacies in the work environment and/or resources
- Lack of opportunities for promotion
- Lack of variety or opportunity to rotate tasks
- Heavy workload and long hours
- Boredom with the work, or lack of meaningful tasks
- Not having the necessary skills for the job.
What is Work Burnout?
Chronic occupational stress can lead to work burnout if job demands are not appropriately assessed and managed. The signs of work burnout include:
- Exhaustion (both physically and emotionally)
- Sleep impairment
- Reduced concentration
- Increased susceptibility to illness
- Cynicism (not seeing work as meaningful and lacking interest in one’s job)
- Feelings of inadequacy (the employee feels they are inadequate as an employee).
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What is Work Engagement?
Work engagement is what employers need to foster in their employees. This can be achieved by providing suitable job resources that lead to increased levels of motivation. When there is a high level of worker engagement, employees feel a sense of energy, dedication, and absorption in their work – despite the presence of job demands and occupational stress. They feel fulfilled by their work and see their place of employment as a positive experience. Workers who are engaged in their workplace have mental resilience and a willingness to persist through challenges.
How to Manage Occupational Stress
To minimise the stress and strain from job demands, there needs to be significant levels of employee motivation to counter the effects. Therefore, job satisfaction, enjoyment, and engagement need to be promoted by providing appropriate job resources, for example, support, autonomy, and feedback.
What can employers can do to reduce the level of occupational stress for their workers?
- Respect employees’ personal and home lives and responsibilities, and be understanding if there are sometimes conflicts with work demands
- If there isn’t already a human resources manager in place, consider hiring or outsourcing one
- Ensure everyone receives necessary training for all the duties of their job
- Maintain a safe working environment
- Put a stress management policy in place
- Employ extra staff or re-organise job duties to reduce the necessity of overtime
- Give employees greater prospects for promotion and advancement
- Let employees know that you recognise work-related stress as a real problem that you are concerned about
- Reduce job demands where possible to cut down on physiological and psychological effects
- Encourage employees in their personal growth and learning efforts.
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“From job demands and resources to work engagement, burnout, life satisfaction, depressive symptoms, and occupational health,” Science Direct, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S221305861630002X
“Work-related stress,” https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/work-related-stress
Bakker, Arnold; Demerouti, Evangelia; 2007/04/03; Journal of Managerial Psychology, The Job Demands-Resources Model: State of the Art https://www.researchgate.net/publication/242339416_The_Job_Demands-Resources_Model_State_of_the_Art
Disclaimer – these articles are provided to supply general safety information to people responsible for OHS in their organisation. They are general in nature and do not substitute for legal and/or professional advice. We always suggest that organisations obtain information specific to their needs. Additional information can be found at https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/