Overview of Prevention Methods for Workplace Stress
The terms eliminate, isolate, and minimise mean the same for stressors as they do for other workplace hazards and should be explored in that order of priority.
- Eliminating a stressor means removing it altogether.
- Isolating the stressor means regulating and limiting employees’ exposure to it – either by limiting the time of exposure or by limiting the exposure to people or groups of people specially selected or trained for the work.
- Minimising the stressor means reducing its extent and impact or reducing the time for which people are exposed to it.
Primary, secondary, and tertiary prevention methods exist to eliminate, isolate, or minimise stressors.
- Primary prevention: creating a healthy place of work. Identifying and controlling stressors so that the work is interesting, rewarding and paced within the person’s capabilities (i.e. elimination of the hazard where that is possible).
- Secondary prevention: improving the fit between the person and the job by selection, on the job training, performance feedback and monitoring of problems (i.e. isolation of the hazard to adequately trained and equipped personnel).
- Tertiary prevention: helping the person experiencing stress or harm that may have resulted from it (also called stress management).
The approach used will depend on the resources available, the category the work falls into and what you are aiming to achieve.
Employees from all levels of the organisation should be involved in the development of solutions that are specific to each workplace. All staff have a part to play in managing and preventing workplace stressors.
Details of prevention methods
Primary prevention (elimination of work organisation stressors) focuses on identifying and removing stressors in the workplace and creating a healthy place of work. Examples are:
- designing work so it is safe and healthy
- creating flexible, balanced work schedules
- providing family-friendly work (e.g. flexible hours, assistance/leeway in times of emergency);
- hazard identification – having systems for detecting the presence of stressors – either by hazard ID methods or the ability for employees to report stress
- avoiding isolation and crowding in the workplace
- providing physical barriers to deter violence (e.g. in banks).
Secondary prevention focuses on improving the ‘goodness of fit’ between people and tasks. Examples are:
- providing needed training
- providing any needed mentoring and supporting for the person in the skills required for the job
- providing performance feedback
- assessing the workload – ability match
- moving the person to a more suitable job
- using best practice personnel selection procedures.
Tertiary prevention focuses on helping the person who is regularly exposed to stressors and/or who is suffering the effects of stress or harm related to stress. This is also called ‘stress management’. Examples are:
- controlling the timing and duration of the exposure to stressors;
- inducting/training employees into ways of dealing with shiftwork (and perhaps including partners);
- training in dealing with the demands posed by the work. This should be directed at helping the person achieve the required results – rather than on how to deal with the effects of not coping (e.g. training in how to identify the levels of threat posed by aggressive customers and how to respond to each different level is more effective than training in how to deal with the effects of customer aggression);
- training in time management, priority setting, and clarifying goals;
- providing practical assistance for specific personal issues;
- temporary reduction of workloads;
- making short personal exercise programmes a reality (e.g. is there enough time for a short run at lunchtime?);
- appropriate management after a traumatic incident (see section 7.7)
- promoting employee involvement
- providing contact details for centres that can assist staff.
Note that evidence suggests that stress management by itself produces only short-term improvements in self-reported well-being and no effects on job satisfaction.