Research into practice

Stress is a well researched issue. But despite available good advice, implementing solutions in the workplace is problematic due to lack of time, interest, investment and knowledge or because of a negative organisational culture. Yet it is important to help staff identify stress early on, to determine when it becomes a negative and intolerable experience and develop ways to manage it effectively. As stress has become a major source of absenteeism,1 it is important to prevent its domino-effect upon other staff in terms of increased work and overload.2

A study by Anglia Polytechnic University3 involved staff in a social services department and was aimed at promoting mental well-being in the workplace through participatory research – where those involved have an active role in developing the research. It enabled the department to use the findings as both a baseline measurement of stress and mental distress in the workplace and as a tool to develop solutions identified by staff. The study highlighted the following.

  • A general perception of a lack of consultation, planning and listening to staff.
  • A negative blame culture within the organisation that stifles attempts at positive change.
  • Retention problems because of organisational culture and the sharp increase in house prices.
  • Dysfunctional senior management relationships creating confusion and lack of support to staff.
  • Loss of control within job role and lack of clarity over responsibilities contributed to stress.

Questionnaire returns found that:

  • Stress is perceived by most staff as negative and makes them less effective at work.
  • A perceived unsuccessful departmental restructuring and continuing frequent smaller scale changes across the organisation added stress.
  • Staff would first approach a family member about their stress even if the source originated from the workplace. However, the most helpful sources of support were colleagues, friends and relatives.
  • The physical environment (overcrowding) and lack of access to space (such as a garden or rest room) contributed to feeling stressed.

Solutions identified included:

  • Improving work environment.
  • Improving IT and health and safety assessments.
  • Developing a dialogue with management through planning.
  • Reducing the blame culture and developing praise and good supervision.

It was encouraging to have a group of staff committed to the idea of change and ready to tackle some of the issues raised to counteract negative stress. However, this type of research is not conducive to organisations that are unwilling to listen to its workforce. The negative perception of the work may be exacerbated if organisations are unwilling to recognise the personal and professional investment by the workforce.

The final phase of the study aims to help people to return to work through a support group and self-management pack. It is hoped that staff and care organisations can benefit from this resource to enable staff to receive support in tackling stress. However, the question remains as to why so little is done about stress despite the many partial solutions on offer.

1 More to Work Than This, Health Education Authority, 1997.

2 S Oynett, T Pillinger, M Muijen, “Job Satisfaction and Burnout among Community Mental Health Teams”, Journal of Mental Health (6) 1, 1997.

3 Mental Wellbeing in the Workplace: an Action Research. For further information call Lana Morris on 01223 363271 ext 2528 or e-mail

Lana Morris is research officer for the Phoenix Project, Anglia Polytechnic University, school of community health and social studies, Cambridge.

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