Insecurity pushes stress buttons

POORLY-MANAGED and implemented workplace change is contributing to employee stress levels across a range of industries, according to Edith Cowan University School of Management lecturer Joy Hocking,

Research undertaken by Ms Hocking and her colleague, senior lecturer Dr Charlie Huang, into the effects of organisational issues on employees has found job security and interpersonal relationships have a significant impact on employee stress.

“The organisation focuses on the individual ‘wellness’, and what organisations do not realise is that by not focusing on the organisation as well, they are getting sick and the way policies are being implemented is making employees sick,” Ms Hocking said

“The implications we can draw from this research is to reduce an employee’s level of stress, the employer should focus on organisational issues such as restructuring, job security and promotional opportunities as much as individual stress-management techniques.”

The results have sparked interest from the researchers, prompting examination of these organisational effects in greater detail.

“The physical aspects of stress were not as high as the psychological effects – the feeling of insecurity, always feeling tired, and not being able to get out of bed in the morning,” Ms Hocking said.

“These are burn-out effects, and we want to do a study of those effects and link it to why this happens.”

Research into the effects of organisational change on its employees found similarities to the experiences of prisoners of war, she said. “It had the same effect as brainwashed POWs. It’s a destabilisation of what you know,” Ms Hocking said.

Initial research showed that, while organisations may be preaching the idea of change management, improper implementation or poor employee relationships were contributing to high levels of stress in the workplace.

“I think the idea of little job security is because there is no stability. The constant restructuring that goes on means that the day-to-day stuff often changes. You think you have a handle on it and then it changes,” Ms Hocking said.

“The ‘change management’ rhetoric is there but when you interview employees its totally different.

“The job insecurity is an indication that the implementation is not effective at all. It’s also flagged at work and the commitment of employees is reflected with their relationship with their superior.

“The professionals that we dealt with in engineering and science showed less commitment to the organisation if they did not get along with their superior.”

The research revealed that, for middle mangers, relationships with subordinates proved to be a stressor, highlighting the need to better train managers with interpersonal and managerial skills.

“When a manager is under stress and they delegate in an aggressive fashion, it’s going to be taken badly,” Ms Hocking said.

“The literature about burn-out says emotional commitment is affected by the relationship to the superior. It won’t work if there is bullying or the manager is aggressive or authoritative. I suspect this becomes more apparent in the change process because people don’t know how to get people to change.”

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