As part of its mandate, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is directed by the U.S. Congress to study the psychological aspects of occupational safety and health, including stress at work. NIOSH works in collaboration with industry, labor, and universities to better understand the stress of modern work, the effects of stress on worker safety and health, and ways to reduce stress in the workplace.

Job stress can be defined as the harmful physical and emotional responses that occur when the requirements of the job do not match the capabilities, resources, or needs of the worker. Job stress can lead to poor health and even injury. No standardized approaches or simple “how to” manuals exist for developing a stress prevention program.

The first steps in the process of controlling job stress is identifying the critical factors leading to stress and providing some of the organizational changes that need to be made to reduce this stress. Program design and appropriate solutions will be influenced by several factors, including the size and complexity of the organization, available resources, and the unique types of stress problems faced by the organization. NIOSH identified the following factors in the work environment that may lead to job stress:

The Design of Tasks. These include heavy workloads; infrequent rest breaks; long work hours; shift work; and hectic and routine tasks that have little inherent meaning, do not utilize a worker’s skills, and provide little sense of control.

Management Style. These include lack of participation by workers in decision-making, poor communication in the organization, and lack of family-friendly policies.

Interpersonal Relationships. These include poor social environments and lack of support or help from coworkers and supervisors.

Work Roles. These include conflicting or uncertain job expectations, too much responsibility, and too many “hats to wear.”

Career Concerns. These include job insecurity; lack of opportunity for growth, advancement, or promotion; and rapid changes for which workers are unprepared.

Environmental Conditions. These include unpleasant or dangerous physical conditions, such as crowding, noise, air pollution, or ergonomic problems.

Recommendations for an Organization to Control Job Stress

Although it is not possible to give a universal prescription for preventing stress at work, it is possible to offer guidelines on the process of stress prevention in organizations. Such guidelines, which are derived from NIOSH studies, include:

Ensure that the workload is in line with workers’ capabilities and resources.

Design jobs to provide meaning, stimulation, and opportunities for workers to use their skills.

Clearly define workers’ roles and responsibilities.

Give workers opportunities to participate in decisions and actions affecting their jobs.

Improve communications – reduce uncertainty about career development and future employment prospects.

Provide opportunities for social interaction among workers.

Establish work schedules that are compatible with demands and responsibilities outside the job.

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