Last Updated 08 May 2020

Workload and Work Pace

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When a person's workload in an organisation is clearly defined and understood, and when expectations placed on the individual are also clear and non-conflicting, stress can be kept to a minimum. But this is not always the case in organisations. Employees are often subjected to work overload and underload. Work Overload This is a burdensome workload. It can create stress for an individual in two ways. First, the person may accumulate fatigue and thus may be less able to tolerate annoyances and limitations.

Secondly, a person subject to exorbitant work demands may feel perpetually behind schedule, which in itself creates an uncomfortable stressful feeling. Work Underload Work underload is having too little work to perform, the most general form of under utilisation takes place when an employee is given tasks to perform that he or she thinks could be performed by somebody of less education and training. Work underload creates stress because it frustrates one's desire to make a contribution to the organisation. Research into workload has been given substantial empirical attention.

French and Caplan (1972) have differentiated workload in terms of quantitative and qualitative workload. Quantitative workload refers to the amount of work to be done, while qualitative workload refers to the difficulty of that work. The two dimensions are independent, and it is possible to have work, which involves quantitative overload and qualitative underload. Much short cycle repetitive assembly work is of this nature, and there is evidence that it offers a threat to both physical and psychological health. Work Pace

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Workload has to be considered in relation to work pace; that is, the speed at which work has to be completed and the nature and control of the pacing requirement - self paced, systems paced or machine paced. Within limits, control may be the decisive factor in determining health (Sauter, Hurrell and Cooper, 1989). There is strong evidence that machine and system paced work, particularly if of high rate, is detrimental to both psychological and physical health (Bradley, 1989; Cox, 1985a, 1985b; Smith, Hurrell and Murphy, 1981; Smith, 1985). Work Schedule

There are two main issues, which relates to effects of work scheduling on health: shift working and long hours. Work often involves both these factors. Shift Work Harrington (1978) argued, " whereas good evidence exists to show that shift work, particularly night work, causes disruption of circadian rhythms and sleep patterns, the evidence for there being any major effect on health is slim". He did, however, also conclude that there might be a link between night work and digestive disorders, and between shift work and fatigue. Long Work Hours

Long work hours, from extended workdays of 12 hours to sustained working over several days with sleep loss, has been shown to increase fatigue. Performance can be severely affected by accumulation of sleep debt (Stampi, 1989). Control over work schedule is an important factor in job design and work organisation. Such control may be offered by flexitime arrangements (Landy, 1989). It is interesting to note that although the introduction of flexitime arrangement may be associated with little change in behaviour (Ronen, 1981), they nonetheless can have a positive effect on workers (Orpen, 1981).

In this case, it is likely that it is the perceived control offered by such arrangement rather than the actual exercise of control that is important (Landy, 1992). Lack of control over work schedule may represent a source of stress to employees. 2. 3 The Effects of Stress on Employees and Organisations Part of the reason that stress has become such a big issue is because of its effect on the industry. According to an exclusive research by Personnel Today and the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) 2003, it has revealed the extent of UK's stress overload - an estimated 1,554,256 working days lost to stress every year at an estimated cost of i??

1. 24bn to the nation's employers. A massive 83 per cent of HR professional says they believe stress is holding back UK's efforts to close the productivity gap, with 60 per cent claim it is adding to staff retention problems, and 27 per cent citing that perceived levels of stress damage recruitment efforts. The effects of work related stress both to individuals and organisations are extensive (Cooper and Cartwright, 1997; Lim and Teo, 1999). The experience of stress can alter the way individuals feel, think, and behave, and can also produce changes in their psychological function (Stainbrook and Green, 1983).

Work related stress may affect the individuals physiologically, psychologically and behaviourally (Goodspeed and DeLucia, 1990) and outcomes include too much or frequent frustration at work, leading to a syndrome of physical and emotional exhaustion. This syndrome is called "burnout". Burnout is an adverse work related stress reaction with psychological, psycho-physiological and behavioural components. Burnout appears to be a major factor in low worker morale, high absenteeism, high turnover rates, distress, increased alcohol and drug use, marital and family conflict and various psychological problems.

Other consequences of stress that have been documented include coronary heart disease, asthmatic conditions, chronic pulmonary, tuberculosis, sudden death and ulceric conditions. Data from Europe and North America show that between 50 - 80 percent of all diseases have their origins in stress (Jacobson, 1976). ). According to a recent study (De Silva and Loun, 1978), it is estimated that about 25 percent of all deaths in the US have stress implications.

Felton and Cole (1963) estimate that all cardiovascular disease accounted for 12% of the time lost by the "working population" in the United states for a total economic loss of about four billion in a single year. A report (1969) by the Department of Health and Social Security in the UK shows, as Aldridge (1982) indicates that the sum of incapacity formal suffering from mental, psychoneurotic and personality disorders, nervousness, and migraine headache accounted for 22. 8 million work lost in 1968 alone.

From the organisational aspect, stress has many consequences. Reductions in effectiveness, productivity, and communication are results that are not as easy to identify; however, such outcomes can be debilitating for both the organisation and for the individual. Other results may include accidents in the workplace, high job turnover, low morale, poor work relations, poor organisational climate, and absenteeism (Randolfi, 1996). "Absenteeism, for example, results in 4% of the work hours which are lost, and translates into millions of dollars annually" (Knotts, 1996).

Absenteeism can have severe consequences on organisations, leading to spiralling effects on the rest of the workforce who may be burdened with the workload of absent colleagues. The best advise is for organisations to look recognise that stress is dynamic, and look closely at their own ways of sustaining and developing employee health and well-being. 2. 4 Managing Stress A helpful way to think about what different stress management interventions are trying to achieve is given by Cox (1993).

He identifies three broad aims of stress management interventions, and illustrates the way they can be characterised at individual and organisational levels. Primary interventions, are concerned with the prevention of stress in the workplace, typically through risk assessment and hazard control. Secondary interventions can be characterised by the timely reaction, often based on management and individuals being alert to or monitor for potential problems. This helps to improve the organisation's ability to recognise and deal with problems as they arise.

Tertiary interventions are to do with rehabilitation, often involving offering support (including counselling) to help staff cope with and recover from the ill effects of stress. All too often, stress management interventions are brought into an organisation in response to concerns about stress levels, without any analysis of specific problems and identification of appropriate strategies. The interventions can only be successful if they are aimed at resolving specific problems rather than if they are assumed to provide solution in a very general, non-specific way.

Just as occupational stress covers a whole multitude of work factors, so also stress management refers to different techniques and activities with different targets and objectives. It becomes essential for an organisation to have very clear understanding of the nature of the specific problem with which they are concerned if they hope to implement appropriate solutions, with clear targets and objectives. Managers, employees and the organisation should be actively involved in making the reduction of stress in the workplace a reality.

Measures should be aimed at enhancing the recognition of stress related sickness absence as a major threat to health and safety, productivity and service efficiency. Sadly, good quality evaluations of stress management interventions are relatively sparse. In addition, stress management interventions are diverse, and as a result, research findings can be difficult to compare. There are many approaches managers and supervisors can take to prevent work related stress. However, any attempt made by management to institute a stress prevention program would constitute the first step in the process: identifying the problem.

The organisation should then provide all employees, supervisors, and managers with information on occupational stress. The information should include the nature; causes/sources; suggested measures/best practices for the reduction and elimination; information on regulations covering occupational stress and information on the services available to assist workers exposed to workplace stress, including information concerning assessment and referral, counselling, treatment and rehabilitation programmes. There are also steps that can be taken to improve the work organisation.

These are: Selection and Placement The most efficient way is for organisations to ensure that individuals are suitable in fulfilling job demands is at the selection stage. Researchers have also suggested that realistic job previews reduce uncertainty by encouraging reasonable expectations and provide support with the transition into new work environment (Schweiger and DeNisi, 1991). Training The organisation in cooperation should provide training to cope with occupational stress with employees, supervisors and managers.

Training for employees should be tailored to individual's needs and aimed at improving their ability to identify potentially stressful situations and improving their coping and problem solving skills. However, training programmes are not designed to reduce or eliminate sources of stress at work but only to teach workers more effective coping strategies. Individuals experiencing stress should be trained to build defence mechanisms and develop a coping style, such techniques as progressive relaxation, yoga, meditation, deep breathing, cognitive strategies should be emphasised in the reduction and prevention of negative effects of stress.

Training for supervisors and managers should enable them to explain and respond to questions about the organisation's policy regarding stress; identify changes in employees behaviours and performance that may indicate a risk to stress; assess the work environment and identify conditions that could be changed or improved to prevent, reduce or eliminate workplace stress; provide support and advise to recovering employees; ensure confidentiality of any information on employees exposed or suffering from workplace stress and manage and create a stress-free work environment.

Job Design Job design is an essential factor in limiting occupational stress. An effective job design should have its tasks clearly defined and meaningful, and the assignment of tasks should reflect the skills and experience of the staff. There should also be room for feedback on task performance and opportunities for the development of employees' skills. Managers should always ensure that the workload is in line with the employees' capabilities and resources. They should also design jobs to provide meaning, stimulation, and opportunities for workers to use their skills.

Along with these essential steps, the workers' roles and responsibilities should always be clearly defined. Communication Improved communication can greatly reduce the risk of workplace stress. Communication between management and employees and among employees can be enhanced if communication channels are established on an ongoing basis for sharing information. Employees should be given the opportunity to be involved and participate in the planning and organisation of their own work.

A consultation and involvement process should be put into place where staff can be informed of changes and also be given the opportunity to contribute their ideas. Regular meetings where people can get to meet to make suggestions, and also feedback information to their team members should be put into operation. Individual Level Programmes Two recent studies have demonstrated that counselling and psychotherapy is of substantial benefit to distressed employees. Allison et al (1989) evaluated the effects of a workplace counselling service for Post Office workers.

It was set up in response to concern about objective evidence that mental health and psychological problems were the second largest cause of early retirement after muscular-skeletal illness. The result obtained from those who went for counselling indicated that mean levels of depression, anxiety and sickness absence level were significantly reduced after counselling. Relaxation, that is, focusing on breathing and muscle calming activities to release tension. This practice enables participants to take charge over emotional behaviours (McGuigan, 1994)

Meditation, this has been reported to help reduce stress, anxiety, tension and insomnia. The most popular method of meditation is the Transcendental Meditation technique that enables participants to progressively develop a mental state of "pure consciousness" during which the mind is relaxed yet remain completely attentive (Alexander et al, 1993). Exercise, routine exercise training protects individuals from harmful physical and mental health effects of stress by developing a process that grants continual resilience to stress.

Improvements in vitality and mood have been measured where relatively mild or moderate exercise has been conducted (Salmon, 2001). Improving the Work Environment The physical features of the work environment are key factors in reducing occupational stress. Measures should be taken to provide and maintain appropriate temperature and ventilation in the workplace, reducing the level of noise and maintaining good lighting in all areas. The workspace provided should be comfortable and sufficient. Workstation design should conform to ergonomic criteria. Rest areas should be provided for staff, especially those in highly stressful jobs.

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