Combating negative stress in the workplace

According to the 2018 Pro Bono Australia Salary Survey, building a strong sense of purpose in workplaces can help combat negative stress and lower staff turnover.

The report found that while negative stress was a significant challenge for many employees, the factors that motivated and engaged people at work could also protect them against negative stress.

This is crucial as report author, Andrew Beveridge from Beveridge Consulting, said the findings highlighted a risk that where stress was not addressed, employees would start voting with their feet.

“We see 82 per cent of leaders who feel their work is demanding and stretching them. We have almost half, 46 per cent, who feel like they often experience negative work related stress. And coming off the back of that we also see 17 per cent who aren’t sure whether they would like to stay with their organisation for the next 12 months,” Mr Beveridge said.

“If you bring all of it together there’s a risk that if we don’t address the pressure and demands that are being placed on people in a constructive way, we could see even greater staff turnover.”

According to the survey, those who felt they often experienced negative work-related stress had 16 per cent lower levels of engagement.

Negative stress was also associated with lower job satisfaction, a decreased likelihood of staying with the organisation, less willingness to recommend the organisation as a place to work and less willingness to recommend the organisation’s services.

However, the research showed some people were able to remain positive and effective even when work demands were high, due to a range of motivational factors including purpose, development, connection and autonomy.

The analysis looked specifically at those with the highest ratings of work demands (39 per cent of those who responded). It found positive ratings for these motivational factors were not only associated with lower negative work-related stress, but also increased engagement levels and increased likelihood of staying with the organisation.

Beveridge said it appeared that the factors that motivated and engaged people at work also protected them against the negative stress typical in demanding jobs.

“When these motivational conditions are present, the high work demands don’t appear to be as negative in their impact,” Beveridge said.

“You see dramatic shifts for those who have a sense of purpose about the organisation’s direction and their role within that, versus those who aren’t sure or who are negative when they think about the purpose of the organisation. The first group demonstrate much higher levels of engagement, are much more likely to stay, and also experience significantly less negative stress.

“It’s an intriguing picture where the factors that are motivating for people, those things that really hook them in with the organisation, actually lead to less negative stress, despite those people experiencing high job demands.”

Based on the findings, the report provided five ways to increase retention and engagement, while reducing negative stress: build a sense of purpose, encourage and support ongoing development, encourage connections, provide greater autonomy, and benchmark and structure pay.

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