Empowering staff to work flexibly can reduce stress and improve productivity

Author: Liana Cafolla | Date: 20 Jan 2016

Low job control and increased workload leads to elevated blood pressure, finds research

Increased competition leads to heavier workloads, and there’s not a lot employers can do to change that. However, research shows that employers can alleviate the negative effects of workload stress in their staff – and it doesn’t cost a thing. In fact, it can improve productivity.
 
The link between high workloads and stress isn’t a new revelation: employees who are overworked display symptoms such as tension, worry, reduced concentration and tiredness. They can also suffer from serious physical symptoms such as high blood pressure that, if sustained, could result in damage to heart muscles.
 
But, rather than considering more extreme responses - such as changing an employee’s job or reorganising a department – studies are showing that employers can achieve impressive results by adapting their own behaviour, by offering more support and the flexibility to control how they work.
 
According to research by Professor Remus Ilies, who has conducted extensive analysis into employee stress, and Assistant Professor Irene de Pater, both of the National University of Singapore’s Business School, a better work environment that gives employees more freedom to decide how they do their work, and that provides increased organisational support, goes a long way to relieving both the emotional and the physiological symptoms relating to workload stress.
 
They define job control as an employee’s ability to influence his or her job, including the discretion to schedule your work, the autonomy to make decisions about work, and the freedom and independence to decide how to do your job. as to how to do one’s work.
 
Organisational support is defined as the extent to which employees perceive that their contributions are valued by the employer, that the firm cares about their well-being, and that it supports them to effectively carry out their job and handle stressful situations.
 
“Our study found that when employees have control over their job, their blood pressure remains stable even when there is high workload,” say Ilies and de Pater. “Furthermore, their emotional distress is less extreme. On the other hand, when there is low job control, increased workload leads to elevated blood pressure and the psychological stress becomes more extreme.”
 
Similarly, employees whose contributions are recognised and who are supported do not suffer from higher blood pressure when their workloads are high. In contrast, workers whose workloads increased and whose employers were seen as showing no appreciation showed rises in blood pressure.
 
As well as healthier and happier workers, firms that offer employees increased levels of support and control over their work can expect to enjoy higher productivity and lower costs health-care and absenteeism costs, say the researchers.
 
“Knowing that the organisation cares for them, listens to them and values their contributions increases employees’ psychological and physiological resilience and should alleviate the negative consequences of higher-than-normal workloads,” say Ilies and de Pater. “Employers should provide as much support as possible to their employees, especially when workloads are high.”