Section 6 – Workplace Stress Audit
The Stress Audit
As identified previously in this series, workplace stress is the harmful physical and emotional response that occurs when there is a poor match between job demands and the capabilities, resources, or needs of the worker. Stress is the emotional and physical strain caused by our response to pressure from the outside world. Common stress reactions include tension, irritability, inability to concentrate, and a variety of physical symptoms that include headache and a fast heartbeat.
It is crucial to understand the stress level within the workplace, the likely causes of stress, and the impact stress is having on the workforce. In order to accurately investigate the health of your working environment, there needs to be a Stress Audit to look at these issues. The Workplace Stress Audit uses a questionnaire, which establishes the likely causes of stress, and its probable levels, in an organization or employment setting.
The Stress Audit is a valid tool, which can identify stress within different departments, job categories, from a gender perspective, age group, and can establish likely stress levels and indications of impending health problems. There are three very compelling reasons why an employer should tackle stress:
Employers do not generally wish to make their employees ill, and would even seek to prevent it as far as possible. Work-related stress can make employees ill, so the ethical approach is to do everything possible to prevent stress. That means, first of all, measuring how much stress there is, finding out what is causing it, and where it is in the workplace and how to eliminate it.
All companies have a legal obligation to make a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks to the health and safety that their employees may be exposed to while at work. It is the legal responsibility of employers to ensure that their employees are not made ill by their work. Where stress caused or made worse by work could lead to ill health, employers must assess the risk. If necessary, [they] must then take reasonable steps to deal with those pressures. There has, over the last ten years, been a significant rise in litigation. An increasing number of employees have taken their employers to court for stress-related illnesses caused or made worse by their work, and have received compensation from the courts.
Mental illness causes more lost work days than any other chronic condition, costing the Canadian economy $51 billion annually in lost productivity. Mental health claims are the fastest growing category of disability costs in Canada. According to Statistics Canada, Absenteeism due to stress has increased by over 300% since 1995. The average direct cost of absenteeism is $3,550 per employee per year, according to Watson Wyatt Canadian Staying @ Work Survey.
There are also many other hidden costs associated with staff who are suffering from stress, such as: lack of commitment, high staff turnover, costly mistakes, and poor customer service.
The questions in the Stress Audit cover the main factors associated with workplace stress:
This type of audit produces viable data from which recommendations can be made, so that limited resources can be targeted more effectively on the areas of greatest need. The audit is the simplest and most effective way of finding out what levels of stress exist in an organization and where particular problem areas are.
How to Conduct Stress Audits
Conducting workplace stress audits is a comprehensive procedure that should be undertaken by trained individuals who are fully knowledgeable of all contributing factors associated with workplace stress. In order to conduct a stress audit, you will need to use validated methods and techniques. One of the crucial components of conducting accurate workplace stress audits is to ensure all respondents have equal opportunity to participate in the survey, and especially important, is that all employee respondents have a safe and confidential opportunity to fully disclose their true feelings. This process with lead to correctly identifying the potential stressors in your organization and will offer you with a concise summary highlighting the significant issues.
The Stress Auditor will need to work with your company to identify the demographic data that can be gathered and the best method to conduct the audit. Once the demographic categories are identified, and the audit parameters are identified, the questionnaires can be developed. This can be done in a variety of ways, such as an online survey, mail outs (with pre-stamped returned envelopes), or a workplace interview format. Once all replies are received by the respondents, the data will be captured, analyzed and results tabulated. These results should then be explained in detail by the audit team to management. It is important to note that although the audit is based on research it will not lead to scientific outcomes, where results are exact. The report is accurate based on the results that are received on the completed questionnaires but in interpreting the report, you may need to allow for slight deviations caused by human emotions. These occurrences will in the minority however, and like any survey, the results will be accurate of the majority of people, most of the time.
Implementing Change, Using the Results of a Workplace Stress Audit
The workplace stress audit results are based on responses from a group of employees and will describe a reasonable and credible ‘picture’ of the perceived stressors in the group. It is therefore logical that appropriate measures may be taken based on the findings, and these measures are likely to lower stress levels that are work-related.
The results from the audit will provide you with details on the type and location of existing problems, as well as any positive points, which will enable you to target resources where they are most needed. The action to be taken will depend upon the employment culture and available resources and supports. You will find with a detailed stress audit, areas are clearly identified for action. For instance, if ‘poor communication’ is identified as an issue within the workplace which causes stress, there are several options that may be utilized. For example:
- Bring all employees affected on a communication training course
- Change al current training procedures already in place to include this training
- Implement policy within the workplace to increase positive communication
- Make methods of communication, i.e., notices, policies, job duties, etc more available to all employees
Decisions on action should emanate from the management team, however should involve employee representatives, as it is very important that decisions are made by persons who understand the culture of the organization, its resources, and know the employees.
When Should you Conduct the Next Stress Audit?
It is recommended that organizations conduct a follow up stress audit in 12 to 18 months after implementing action from the first audit. It is important to allow enough time to implement any necessary interventions, balanced against any changes that may occur in the organization to make the first audit out of date. In some circumstances you may wish to audit more frequently to assess the impact of any major changes.