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Case study: workshops for stress reduction

For this weeks blog, we have a focus on a study performed by Vicky from WorkingWell. We’ve included all of the scientific and literature review information so the true scientist in you can get into the data! We’ve also included some easier to explain explanations at the end of the results section for you to understand better. Below is just one example of how working well uses research practice to make evidence based decisions on work related stress and management solutions for large companies to keep a healthy, happy workforce.


Introduction

Work-related stress can affect both psychological and physical health and even life expectancy (Fletcher, 1988). Trades unions claimed that 25 employees of the European telecommunications company France Telecom, committed suicide over a 2-year period, due to stressful working conditions (Kivimäki, Hotopf, & Henderson, 2010).


Work-related stress has been linked to many issues, including episodes of depression: reduced mood and interest lasting at least 14 days (Bonde, 2008) and anxiety disorders: excessive or persistent anticipation of a future threat (Bonde, 2008; American Psychiatric Association, 2013; Plaisier, et al, 2007). Workplace psychosocial factors impacting psychiatric disorders can have a major impact on dependency, sick leave, lost productivity, long-term disability and even mortality (Bonde, 2008).


Additionally, stress has been linked with a higher risk of type 2 diabetes, as Nyberg, et al, (2014) show in their analysis of over 124,000 pan-European employees and subsequent longitudinal study, the largest prospective study of work-related stress and type 2 diabetes to date. A meta-analysis by Kivimäki, et al, (2012) of over 197,000 participants, twice as large as most recent meta-analysis of the topic of work-related strain being a risk factor for coronary heart disease, shows that job strain is associated with more than doubling the risk of coronary heart disease.


Linton, et al, (2015) undertook a systematic review of 22 studies researching the effect of the working environment on future sleep disturbances. Insomnia is now the second most frequent health complaint after pain and has increased in the last decade. Insomnia is associated with symptoms like fatigue, decreased functioning and well-being, along with health problems such as heart disease, diabetes and mental health problems. Insomnia is often attributed by its suffers to their working environment, with factors including: stress, work schedules, organizational factors and psychosocial factors, such as work demands, pace of work, social support, perceived control, justice and job security. The results of their review show that the working environment likely impacts on how employees sleep, with factors such as high work demands, job strain, effort-reward imbalances and bullying being related to more future sleep disturbances.





Method

In total data was used from 13,730 respondents working in large UK or European organizations of 2,000 employees or more. The organizations were from the banking, fast moving consumer goods, defence, construction and public utilities sectors. No demographic data was known about participants, who anonymously completed an online questionnaire.


Data was provided securely by WorkingWell Ltd (2018), from respondents who completed an on-line questionnaire containing 14 items (see Appendix 1), 8 of which form the first part of the questionnaire, identifying the sources of work-related pressure. The second set of items focus on respondent’s ability for everyday functioning. Four items chosen from part one as independent variables for the multilinear regression using IBMÓ SPSSÓ v24: demands, control, relationships and support and one item from part two: self. The dependent variable was self-report perception of stress (labelled Performance Pressure Curve PPC).


Participants gave each sub-scale a rating of 1 to 6 with 1 = very definitely a source of pressure, through to 6 = very definitely not a source of pressure for items in the first part of the questionnaire. The overall self-reported perception of stress (PPC) question asks respondents to self-report their perception of how they felt in relation to work-related pressures over the past 4 weeks, with 1 = bored, through to 6 = overwhelmed. Items in the second part of the questionnaire ask respondents to rate each sub-scale from 1 = very strongly disagree, through to 6 = very strongly agree.





Results

Multiple linear regression was carried out to determine the effect of support, control, demands, relationships and self on the self-reported perception of stress (PPC). This was a statistically significant model (F(5, 13837) = 1242.06, p = .000), indicating these results were unlikely to have arisen by chance (assuming the null hypothesis to be true). The adjusted R2 indicated that 31% of the variance in the self-reported perception of stress (PPC) can be explained by the five predictor variables. The analysis suggested that demands (b = .5) was the most influential predictor and relationships (b = -.003) was the least influential predictor in the model. Control (t = 4.32, p = <.005), support (t = 4.09, p = <.005), demands and (t = 57.21, p = <.005) self (t = -5.38, p = <.005) were shown to be statistically significant predictors of self-reported stress (PPC). Relationships (t = -.37, p = .71) was shown not to be a statistically significant predictor of self-reported stress (PPC).


To test the hypothesis that attendance at a half-day workshop would reduce the self-reported perception of stress (PPC), an independent samples t-test was performed to compare group one (G1), who completed an online questionnaire once, with group two (G2) who attended a workshop and completed the online questionnaire for a second time, 3 months post-workshop. Results in this study show a small numerical difference in self-reported perception of stress (PPC) between G1 (n = 12564) m = 3.05 (sd = .94) and G2 (n = 1166) m= 3.07 (sd = .91), which is not significant, as can be seen in the independent samples t-test.


So what does this all mean?

For a lot of the respondents, the demands of the job, or inadequacies between expectation and productivity were responsible for feelings of work place stress. Interestingly, relationships was the lowest predictor. This suggests that the support and delivery of tasks and information to individuals is critical in relieving feelings of pressure in the work place, and having care strategies in place for employees is key.

With attendance of a stress reduction, there was a numerical but not statistically significant difference between attendees and control groups who did not attend. This suggests there is a much more complex relationship between stress and the workplace demand, and that acute mechanisms used to relieve stress may be lacking in efficacy.


For most individuals, the feelings of pressure and demand will continue until a resolution arises in the workplace, normally with the individual leaving their role. But alleviating stress in the work place should not HAVE to result in vacating a position, but rather adequate staffing to spread more widely the demands on individuals during times of pressure.


This case report has provided an insight into some of the complex factors which predict workplace stress and the management of stress in career settings. Clearly, there is no one size fits all approach, and future research should aim to investigate further factors in larger cohorts to identify whether acute sessions of psychotherapy or meditative like practices can aid in the long-term reduction of work place stress.


Currently, no psychological model exists that applies well to workplace stress, and in due time a model should be developed to aptly theorise the relationship between demand and productivity in the work place.

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