The issue of psychological distress is something that is not often highlighted; but, like high blood pressure, it remains a silent killer within the workplace. It is but an acute illness which many employees contract because of the pressures they encounter and endure in the workplace.
Research has revealed the absence of statistical information to give a picture of the extent of this phenomenon in small developing countries. According to researchers Hoel, Zaft and Cooper (2002), over the past 20 to 30 years, workplace stress has been a feature in the developed or industrialized countries around the world. It is said to have resulted from workplace changes and existing economic conditions.
The National Mental Health Association estimates that psychological distress suffered by employees, costs American businesses $193 billion a year.
The cost reflects the magnitude of the problem which employers face and the pressure that can be placed on the state health care system. Employers have to contend with the fallout that comes as a consequence of this state of illness that befalls employees. This includes attendance, the fall-off in productivity, the reduction in efficiency and the turnover in staff.
Today’s workplace has become a literal minefield for employees, as they have to face the many mental and physical stresses with which they are unable to cope. Stress at work serves as a demotivator.
Chester Spell, Rutgers University’s professor of management, concluded that “psychological distress is often caused by an injustice, either real or perceived, which can lead to depression, anxiety, irritability, exhaustion and disengagement from fellow workers”. He observed that “organizations need to understand and address employees’ mental health which can have a significant impact upon corporate effectiveness and profitability”.
As employers face the challenges that come with psychological distress that overtake workers, they ought not to be oblivious to the factors that contribute to this development. As it stands, the workplace has been transformed by globalization, privatization, mergers, acquisitions and strategic alliances. These have paved the way for restructuring and downsizing to take place.
The result of this is that workers experience job insecurity. They basically live in fear of losing their jobs. On the other side of the coin, some employees face the problem of increased workloads. This can lead to resulting stress.
It is to be recognized that there are external factors such as family life or domestic issues and financial pressures that can lead to stress. However, peer pressure or pressure brought on by the relationship between employee and management can be a burning issue.
Apart from the mental stress, there is the physical. Physical stress is tied to group relationship conflict, group task conflict, role conflict and ambiguity of one’s role.
Irrespective of whatever accounts for the psychological distress which impacts on workers, it is important to note the concerns which are shared by health experts. They identify hypertension and depression as major health issues.
This raises serious concerns for the level of non-communicable diseases that are now prevalent amongst workers. The increase of heart attacks and strokes are serious consequences which many workers suffer.
Many workers suffer burnout and the symptoms of extreme fatigue. Signs of poor self-esteem, anxiety and the tendency to increase consumption of alcohol or resort to illicit drug use are indicators of stress taking its toll.
The problem of psychological distress in the workplace must not be overlooked by employers, trade unionists and governments. There is a case to be made for lobbying to ensure occupational safety and health legislation addresses these issues.
(Dennis De Peiza is labour management consultant with Regional Management Services Inc.
Visit the website www.regionalmanagement services.com
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