Because work is a defining characteristic for many people’s lives, companies have a responsibility to provide their employees with a safe and healthy working environment. This issue has been formally studied here in the U.S. since the 1930’s, when it was commonly referred to as “mental hygiene”, and “occupational health”, as the field is now known, has accumulated a large body of evidence linking employee physical and emotional well-being to organizational efficiency and profitability. This issue is of more importance than ever, as levels of workplace stress in industrialized countries are already high and are getting higher. Note that the concept of “burnout” was actually first observed in the “caring professions”: nursing, social work and teaching. Intensive care nurses, for example, often have heavy workloads and demanding care giving responsibilities which can elevate their risk of burnout. Researchers have identified three components of burnout that seem particularly common in the healthcare and human services areas: emotional exhaustion, feelings of depersonalization, and feelings of insufficient personal success and accomplishment.
Industrial psychologists who study the topic of stress and burnout often center their advice to organizations on the following areas:
1. CONTROL: Do people in your organization feel that they have sufficient control over their work activities, and do they see a clear link between their behavior and the consequences that follow from it?
2. INTERPERSONAL CONTACT: Do your employees have the opportunity to build positive social relationships with their co-workers, and do they feel as if they are part of a larger community?
3. ROLE CLARITY: Are your employees given clear roles, in which rules and standards are well-defined and they get frequent, accurate performance feedback?
4. ROLE CONFLICT: Are the task demands that you have given your employees incompatible with one another, or are they simply given too many tasks and roles to fulfill at the same time?
5. SKILL USE: Do your employees have the opportunity to utilize the abilities and skills that they already possess, and are they given chances to develop new skills?
6. VARIETY: Are your employees provided with a work environment that provides choices and options, as opposed to be required to work in a very repetitive manner?
BTW, for an interesting view of how stress levels in the U.S. break down by congressional districts, click here: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/03/06/weekinreview/20110306-happiness.html?ref=weekinreview