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February 22, 2012

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Economic crises linked to major rise in stress

One in four workers experiences work-related stress in times of recession, according to new research.

The study published yesterday (21 February) in the scientific journal, Occupational Medicine, is based on interviews with tens of thousands of civil servants in Northern Ireland and an analysis of data from two surveys – one conducted in 2005 prior to the onset of the latest recession, and the second in 2009 while the economy was in trouble.

Researchers at the University of Nottingham and University of Ulster assessed how exposed respondents were to the pressures of work by looking at a range of factors, including the demands of the job, control over work, and the support they felt they had from managers. They also measured workers’ perceptions of how stressed they were at work and how much time they had taken off because of work-related stress.

The findings show that work-related stress increased by 40 per cent during the financial slump. It also found that the number of staff taking time off because of job stress increased by 25 per cent, and total time off on account of these types of psychological problems rose by more than a third.

Jonathan Houdmont, the study’s lead author, commented: “We were fortunate to have access to staff survey data collected before the emergence of initial signs of a forthcoming recession and, again, four years later, at the height of the recession. The stark differences in the responses given at these two time points clearly show that national economic crises can have substantial implications for workers’ health and organisational performance.

“The findings suggest that those businesses which seek to reduce work-related stress during austere economic times are likely to experience lower staff absence and greater productivity.”        

The Society of Occupational Medicine said the results underlined the importance of firms engaging with occupational-health services if they want to avoid a long-term reduction in productivity. 
Said the Society’s president, Dr Henry Goodall: “Occupational-health provision is even more important in times of recession, as specialists can help with the stress caused by mounting workloads, organisational change and job uncertainty. We can help businesses look at how they manage stress levels and improve the working environment for workers.”
Alongside the provision of good occupational-health services, effective communication is vital, added Dr Goodall. “When recession hits, management needs to be proactive in letting staff know what is happening so that they remove any uncertainty, he explained. “When people are worried about their job security they can sometimes over interpret signals and hold irrational beliefs. Clear and timely communication is vital.”

The union Prospect expressed dismay at the findings and emphasised the need for government, employers and unions to work together to combat the problem. Its health and safety officer, Sarah Page, said: “Employers have a duty to ensure workers’ health, safety and welfare at work, and that includes mental health. It shouldn’t be about trying to mop up the mess when it’s too late, but about introducing preventive measures and support networks. People also need to feel they are being treated fairly, and to be told upfront what is going on.”

“Involving union health and safety reps is pivotal,” added Page. “They can ensure that workers’ rights to consultation and information are upheld and press for open and fair procedures. They can also point members in the direction of support services at times of need.”

‘Psychosocial factors and economic recession: the Stormont Study’ is available at:

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12 years ago

Really interesting article. It is clearly evident that Employers have a responsibility to work effectively with their workforce, and communicate effectively about what is happening. I think alot of managers need to learn how to work with their employees, instead of dictating what they should and shouldn’t do. The practice of compeition and unrealistic targets only exacerbates the feelings of stress. Motivation, working together, having a manager that is approachable and enthusiastic helps alot..