Job design must be considered to reduce workplace stress

by Tiffany Paczek
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With more and more Australians reporting work to be a major source of stress and research suggesting that one in six working age persons are suffering from mental illness, managers need to take more responsibility in an effort to reverse this worrying trend. Workplaces need to move beyond promoting mental health awareness and focus on mentally healthy workplaces. This suggests thinking about how the way work is designed and what changes can be introduced to prevent psychological harm to employees.

Mental illness is one of the leading causes of absence and long-term incapacity and one of the main reasons for reduced work performance. The mental health of a workplace can be enhanced by minimising the impact of known risk factors such as workload and lack of control, and maximising the impact of potential protective factors like a supportive team and manager and re-designing work tasks. Awareness of possible stressful factors is required along with intervention or accommodation to an individual when necessary. The primary tool that can reduce stress in the workplace is job design.

“Many managers have begun to realise that fast paced jobs with multiple demands, as well as dull and repetitive job roles, are designed for the task and not the person,” explains Sally Kirkright, CEO, AccessEAP. “When employees are performing these types of tasks, they risk becoming disengaged with their work and start making mistakes. As a result, we are starting to see a growing trend towards a greater emphasis on work and organisational design in recent years.

Work and organisational design or job design requires organising tasks, systems and structures so that people have some level of control and autonomy at work. This involves clarifying roles and responsibilities, improving supervision and workplace relationships and ensuring variety. Good workplace and work system design is achieved through consultation about how to best complete the task in the allocated time. Learning and development for senior managers needs to cover skills such as difficult conversations, negotiation and supporting staff and managing psychological risks.

When considering job design, the following elements should play a significant role:

Demand and control

Jobs with high demand but low control are considered ‘high-strain’ jobs and bear the greatest risk of illness and reduced wellbeing. There is also evidence of a link between ‘high-strain’ jobs and mental health disorders. People who do not experience stimulation or satisfaction are at risk of ill health.

Resources and engagement

Providing employees with significant resources to perform their work enables them to more actively engage with their tasks. Having the right kind of support in the workplace reduces the adverse impact of ‘high-strain’ jobs on an employee’s wellbeing. For example, a culture where team members help each other and providing opportunities for fun and humour is one way of creating a positive culture.

Job characteristics

Jobs that allow for skill variety, task identity, task significance, autonomy and feedback are associated with higher levels of psychological wellbeing. Regular communication and feedback to employees on how their job impacts others and the greater business and the interdependence of roles helps people to feel valued.

Exposure to trauma

Regular exposure to traumatic events can lead to an accumulation of emotional stress and without support and acknowledgement there is an increased risk in resulting mental health concerns.

Job design is not fixed. It is constantly changing to ensure the best possible working conditions and the lowest risk of mental illness for employees. When creating a new role or working to improve an existing one, managers must consider the following;

  • Does the job provide meaning and stimulation as well as opportunities for the employee to use their skills?
  • Does the job allow for employee input?
  • Is the work schedule compatible with demands and responsibilities outside the job?
  • Is the schedule flexible?
  • Is the workload in line with capabilities and resources?
  • Are there opportunities for development and growth of people?

For more information on job design, please visit

Image: baranq / 123RF Stock Photo

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