Posted by: healingtheworkplace | November 7, 2009

Stress Is An Organizational Problem

Good morning to you all!

I haven’t written about stress in the workplace for awhile.  This week a colleague emailed me an article from about the effects of stress on bosses in the workplace. But first let me digress!

A few years ago I had the pleasure of meeting and working with Marci Cohen. At that time Marci was a leader with the Hospital Employees Union in B.C. and Marci was on a mission. She had the goal of helping thousands of health care employees (front line) fight workplace stress.

When I first met Marci she had just finished putting the final touches on a program called The Anti Stress Initiative which involved education & training of union employees and health care leaders.

What was unique about The Anti Stress Initiative was its strong emphasis on the need for organizational change.

At the time that Marci began working on The Anti Stress Initiative there was a growing awareness, backed by research, that dealing with workplace stress was as much the responsibility of the organization as it was of the individual worker.

Prior to that time it was widely believed that individuals were responsible for dealing with stress on their own.  

“The only way to really reduce toxic stress is to change the work and change the workplace.”  … the Workplace Anti-stress Guide

The Whitehall Study, a famous research project, was cited in the Anti-stress Guide.

What made the Whitehall Study famous was that it established a clear link between social hierarchy, stress, and health in the workplace. It tracked 18,000 male English civil servants (now there’s term that could use some updating) for two decades. Secretaries, filing clerks, senior managers and everyone in between took part in this study.

The main findings of The Whitehall Study were that

“the lower a worker’s position in the hierarchy, the greater his or her likelihood of suffering from angina, chronic bronchitis, heart and circulatory problems, and other stress-related conditions.”

Employees were at risk if they had jobs with high demands but little control over their work.

This can be explained in another way:

People are under a lot of stress when they have a high-strain job. A high-strain job is one where you face many demands and have little control and support.

A low-strain job is one where you face demands and have a good measure of control and support.

Guess what? People in low-strain jobs are less likely to suffer from the negative effects of chronic stress.

The Whitehall Study put managers in the low-strain category.

However, recently researchers at the University of Toronto have discovered that “being the boss can take its toll on health”.

More about this in the next post! Enjoy your weekend!                                    Lesley


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