Posted by: healingtheworkplace | April 17, 2009

Reduce Stress and Conflict in the Workplace


A few years ago I had the priviledge of being part of an innovative program to reduce stress and conflict in health care organizations. What made this program innovative was that it was created by the Hospital Employees Union (HEU) in B.C.

The program was based on international research that focused on the causes and ways to reduce organizational stress.

At that time the HEU’s vision was to collaborate or partner with health care organizations in order to implement the program.

Unfortunately for everyone involved management in the health care sector was not ready to “embrace” a program that was initiated by a labor union.

This was extremely short sighted considering the millions of dollars spent annually to cover the cost of stress related injuries and illnesses.

Perhaps the real reason that this program didn’t “fly” was because management refused to accept that the root cause of the problem was not the individual worker but the organization in which she worked.

Why is it that stress is  uncritically accepted as a “fact of life” in our society? And why is it that stress  is seen as an “individual” problem?

The prevailing worldview in North America is that stress is an individual problem and one that is within the power of the individual to address.

It is for this reason that most stress management programs focus on assisting the individual worker AND it is for this reason that most stress management programs fail.

Employee assistance programs and stress management training focus on assisting individual workers to recognize and deal with stress symptoms.

Employee assistance programs provided individual and family counselling while stress managment programs offer a range of techniques including meditation, progressive relaxation, time management, communication skills, and bio feedback.  

Workers are also encouraged to eat healthy diets and exercise on a regular basis.

There is nothing wrong with any of these things and they can contribute to a healthy lifestyle.

What is WRONG is failing to recognize and accept and address conditions in the organization that contribute to stress.

Labor unions and management hold different views on the causes of work stress. A 1980’s study conducted by the National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety  (NIOHS) confirmed these differences.

From the unions’ perspective the causes of work stress are environmental and include such things as organizational redesign, workload, lack of training, noise levels, overcrowding and little or no control over work.

Management, on the other hand, emphasize individual characteristics such as personality type, lifestyle and family problems as the major factors behind work stress.

Of course they are both right! But, focusing solely on individual factors without addressing organizational stressors is pointless.

“…effective programs thrive in organizations with policies and programs that promote respect throughout the organization and encourage active worker participation, input and involvement…a human centered culture is built on trust, not fear…” NIOSH Worklife Institute

Whether the focus is on the health of a workplace or on healing a workplace it all boils down to the same values: trust, respect, and honesty. Without these organizations will fail to thrive and this can’t be good for any of us.

Take care and BE WELL!




  1. […] Reduce Stress and Conflict in the Workplace […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: