Managing stress the Wall Street Journal way

When a financial newspaper or website posts an article about workplace safety, it is worth reading.  The fact of such an article does not mean, though, that safety management is the focus of the story.

A 17 November 2009 article in the Wall Street Journal, ” Workers Denied Company Help Due to Stress-Related Complaints” understandably reports on new workplace stress statistics in a way attractive to its readers.  Sadly it reports on “how can the problem be managed?” rather than the next step that OHS professionals should always take, “how can this problem be eliminated?”

The paragraph that clearly illustrates this myopia is

“Companies are now faced with critical decisions over how to tackle stress. The first step, according to Dr. Wright, is to provide workers with access to a dedicated help line service. “Picnics, parties … those things are nice to have when the times are good, but it is the fundamental things – like making sure your role fits your skills and having the support of your manager – that matters the most now.”

A help line as a first step?  The article is full of statistics that illustrate the reality of the hazards.  Talking to a sympathetic counselor throws the responsibility (blame?) onto the individual and away from the organisation.

Earlier in the article Aviva’s Dr Wright said that workers are

“…being pushed to work harder, longer hours, in roles they are often not trained for…”

He acknowledges that workload and excessive hours is a contributory factor but makes no recommendations for changing these hazards.  Dr Wright accepts the traditional wisdom that harsh economic times leads to these pressures and individuals must cope, with some assistance from the employer.

It is probably unfair to expect the Wall Street Journal to publish an article that proposes fundamental change to the corporate order on the basis of valuing the mental health of employees.  But OHS professionals and advocates, those speaking from a position of independence, must keep reminding business, and (sadly) some OHS regulators, that long-term sustainability will only come from valuing the workforce as human beings and not as cogs in the race for executive performance bonuses.

Kevin Jones

Below is a list of links to some of the reports mentioned in the WSJ article.

National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence

Aviva UK Health of the Workplace 2009 (report not found)

Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development

2 thoughts on “Managing stress the Wall Street Journal way”

  1. Doris

    Individual empowerment techniques succeed best when they are introduced or applied in a sympathetic work environment and OHS professionals are trying to promote this fact regularly to the corporate sector.

    The well-established hazard control model – Hierarchy of Controls – does not fit all workplace hazards but is an important core consideration when discussing safety with OHS professionals. The hierarchy is

    Eliminate the hazard
    Subsitute the hazard
    Apply engineering controls
    Apply administrative controls
    Use personal protective equipment

    I see your advocation of coping strategies as fitting in as an administrative control, the third level after elimination. The hierarchy is applied in a step fashion so personal training should only occur if the three previous control options have been considered and found to be inappropriate.

    I would value any workplace case studies you may be able to share that show personal coping skills are more effective than eliminating the stress.

    Thanks for reading SafetyAtWorkBlog.

  2. Yes, where is the sanity? Put your money in the exact place where you know you can get an excellent return. Stress is good for us when we know how to cope with it. This means people need to learn how to cope with stress in healthy ways, not by running to the physician to get a drug.

    Stress propels us to greatness. Every company, school and family in America needs to be learning how to reduce the anxiety in their nervous systems so they can perform better at school and at work. This is the biggest downfall of the American system, people do not invest enough in self improvement.

    The very best investment you can make is in yourself. Then you will be prepared for whatever life throws at you.

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