Workplace StressPosted on by
Work organization and job stress are topics of growing concern in the occupational safety and health field and at NIOSH. The expressions “work organization” or “organization of work” refer to the nature of the work process (the way jobs are designed and performed) and to the organizational practices (e.g., management and production methods and accompanying human resource policies) that influence the design of jobs.
Job stress results when there is a poor match between job demands and the capabilities, resources, or needs of workers. Stress-related disorders encompass a broad array of conditions, including psychological disorders (e.g., depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder) and other types of emotional strain (e.g., dissatisfaction, fatigue, tension), maladaptive behaviors (e.g., aggression, substance abuse), and cognitive impairment (e.g., concentration and memory problems). In turn, these conditions may lead to poor work performance or even injury. Job stress is also associated with various biological reactions that may lead ultimately to compromised health, such as cardiovascular disease.
Stress is a prevalent and costly problem in today’s workplace. About one-third of workers report high levels of stress, and high levels of stress are associated with substantial increases in health service utilization. Additionally, periods of disability due to job stress tend to be much longer than disability periods for other occupational injuries and illnesses. Evidence also suggests that stress is the major cause of turnover in organizations.
Attention to stress at work has intensified in the wake of sweeping changes in the organization of work. Organizational downsizing and restructuring, dependence on temporary and contractor-supplied labor, and adoption of lean production practices are examples of recent trends that may adversely influence aspects of job design (e.g., work schedules, work load demands, job security) that are associated with the risk of job stress.
There is also growing appreciation that work organization can have broader implications for the safety and health of workers—not just for stress-related outcomes. For example, long hours of work may increase exposures to chemical and physical hazards in the workplace, or night shifts may expose workers to heightened risk of violence.
The good news is that there are steps organizations can take to reduce job stress. As a general rule, actions to reduce job stress should give top priority to organizational change to improve working conditions. But even the most conscientious efforts to improve working conditions are unlikely to eliminate stress completely for all workers. For this reason, a combination of organizational change and stress management is often the most useful approach for preventing stress at work. The best design for a stress prevention program will be influenced by several factors—the size and complexity of the organization, available resources, and especially the unique types of stress problems faced by the organization. Details on preventing stress at work can be found on the NIOSH Stress at Work topic page—specifically in the Stress at Work booklet and in the Working with Stress video. The content of the video is also available on YouTube:
- Working with Stress, part 1
External link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_profilepage&v=q0YyxwALGaw
- Working with Stress, part 2
External link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_profilepage&v=vvDc3vuEfWk
Researchers in the field of work organization and health continue to tackle workplace stress issues. In March 2008, NIOSH will cosponsor the Seventh International Conference on Occupational Stress and Health (External link: http://www.apa.org/pi/work/wsh.html). The conference will feature more than 500 new studies from all points of the globe, on the causes and effects of job stress including information and tools needed to create more healthy and stress-free workplaces.
In good health,
Steven Sauter, Ph.D.
Dr. Sauter is a Senior Scientist in the NIOSH Division of Applied Research and Technology and serves as Coordinator of the NIOSH research program on Work Organization and Stress-related Disorders. In 2007, he was awarded the NIOSH James P. Keogh Award for his significant contributions in the areas of organization of work and musculoskeletal disorders.