Is workplace stress heightened by technology?
A new report from the International Labour Organization (ILO) says that the stresses of the modern workplace is wreaking serious damage to workers’ health and well being in both developed and developing countries, with estimated global economic losses in the trillions of dollars.
The report places a considerable portion of the blame at the feet of both globalization and the technological progresses achieved over the past few decades, asserting that the challenges of global competitiveness have put pressure on employers to cut corners in terms of working conditions and workers’ rights, while advances in technology have both upped the speed of workplace transactions and made it easier for work-related activities to creep into employee off-hours.
“With the pace of work dictated by instant communications and high levels of global competition, the lines separating work from life are becoming more and more difficult to identify,” says Valentina Forastieri, ILO expert on occupational safety and health. “An appropriate balance between work and private life is difficult to achieve.”
The ILO identifies the recent global economic crisis as a prime contributor to today’s higher levels of stress, with the costs of work related depression in the European Union alone estimated to be about €617 billion annually. Past experience shows that as businesses attempt organizational changes to respond to times of crisis, what often gets the least amount of attention is proper management of workplace risks and pressures. “As safety and health at work is still perceived by many enterprises as a cost rather than an investment, some of them reduce costs by disregarding occupational safety and health (OSH) standards,” says the report.
Although in general terms stress involves any effect, positive or negative, of an outside force upon an object, in a psychosocial context it is most often described as a harmful physical or emotional reaction to what are perceived to be excessive demands placed on a person, coming from either an external or internal source. In terms of workplace stress and anxiety, the sources can be work content related (the type of work, amount of hours, working conditions) or work context related (the effect of work and the role it plays in a person’s overall life and goals).
In Canada, a recent study of officers in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police found that workplace anxiety is directly linked to lower job performance. The study surveyed 267 RCMP officers from across Canada and found that a key to decreasing job stress turned out to be the quality of relationships that officers developed with their peers and supervisors.
“Police officers, like all of us, have a finite amount of resources they can draw on to cope with the demands of their job,” says Julie McCarthy of the University of Toronto Scarborough and Rotman School of Management. “If these resources are depleted then high levels of workplace anxiety will lead to emotional exhaustion and this will ultimately affect job performance.”
The ILO advocates protection of workers’ mental health rights and the use of preventive strategies as the most important measures to take in combating the rise in work related stress.
“Assessing and managing psychosocial risks at their origin will help craft the collective and individual measures needed to improve the quality of working life for women and men,” says ILO Director-General Guy Ryder.
Yet, there is evidence of a growing distaste for the complete enterprise of the modern work world, as a new survey from Harvard University of young adults between ages 18 and 29 found that a majority of them (51 per cent) said that they did not support capitalism, suggesting that unlike for past generations for whom capitalism might have brought to mind the Cold War dichotomy between the constraints of the Soviet Union and the freedoms of America’s brand of capitalism, today’s young adults are more apt to link the idea of capitalism with the recent financial crisis.
Yesterday marked World Day for Safety and Health at Work.