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  • Writer's pictureAustin Aloysius Tay

Psychological Stress – Cost to Society and Intervention Approaches

Updated: Oct 20, 2023

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In this 3rd part of the psychological stress series of articles, I would like to touch on how psychological stress can impact society and what intervention approaches can be adopted.

As we discussed previously, psychological stress can cause organisations in terms of lost productivity and employees’ absence from work. Broadening the scope, how, then, can psychological stress impact society?

If people take sick leave to stay away from work, this will inevitably affect the costs of increased health care and welfare spending to support those stressed working adults. It has been found in the United States that healthcare expenditures for employees with a high level of stress were 46 per cent higher than those with a lower level of stress. (Goetzel et al, 1998).

On the other side of the pond, it has been reported that among the European Union member states, an estimated cost of 3 to 4 per cent of GNP is related to mental health problems. (Seymour & Grove, 2005) . Black (2008) found that every year in the UK, an average of 200,000 working adults were dependent on welfare due to a mental health-related problem. All these should sound alarms for any government to take swift action to curb this issue. While I am not aware of any written legislation to deal with psychological stress, there are, however, thankfully, intervention approaches that can be used.

These interventions, also known as stress management interventions (SMI), can be categorised into organisation-focused and individually-focused SMIs. Those SMIs that are an organisation-focused tend to look at how to change aspects of the work to reduce psychological stress. These are known to be the primary level of prevention as they deal with work-related stressors as their source. (Cox et al, 2000; Giga, Cooper & Faragher, 2003 ). The programs use a highly participative approach whereby employees are involved in identifying problems and implementing solutions. It has been found that such an intervention method can help people to have better control over their jobs. (Bond, Flaxman, & Bunce, 2008; Holman, Axtell, Sprigg, Totterdell & Wall, 2010).

On the other hand, individual-focused interventions seek to change how individuals look at stressful events and help to improve the individuals’ coping resources. One of the common approaches is stress management training (SMT) programs. Such programs are conducted in small groups using Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) techniques. It has been found that using such CBT-based programs is an effective way of improving mental health in the workplace. (Murphy, 1996; Richardson & Rothstein, 2008; van der Klink, Blonk, Schene, & van Dijk, 2001).

Psychological stress in the workplace is and will always be an issue that individuals, organisations, and society cannot avoid. While there is no silver bullet to eradicate this phenomenon, preventive measures can be taken to reduce or alleviate the issue.

1. Goetzel, R.Z., Anderson, D.R., Whitmer, R. W., Oziminkowski, R.J., Dunn, R.L., Wasserman, J., & Health Enhancement Research Organisation (HERO) Research Committee. (1998). The relationship between modifiable health risks and cost database. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 40, 843-854.

2. Seymour, L., & Grove, B. (2005). Workplace interventions for people with common mental health problems: Evidence review and recommendations. London: British Occupational Health Research Foundation.

3. Black, C. (2008). Working for a healthier tomorrow. Report commissioned by the Secretaries of State for Health and Work and Pensions. Norwich, England: Stationery Office.

4. Cox, T., Griffiths, A., Barlowe, C., Randall, R., Thomson, L., & Rial-Gonzalez, E. (2000). Organisational interventions for work stress: a risk management approach. Health and Safety Executive research report 286/2000. Norwich: Stationery Office.

5. Giga, S.I., Cooper, C.L., & Faragher, B. (2003). The development of a framework for a comprehensive approach to stress management interventions at work. International Journal of Stress Management, 10, 280-296.

6. Bond, F.W., Flaxman, P.E., & Bunce, D. (2008). The influence of psychological flexibility on work redesign: Mediated moderation of a work reorganisation intervention. Journal of Applied Psychology, 93, 645-654.

7. Holman, D.J., Axtell, C.M., Sprigg, C.A., Totterdell, P., & Wall, T.D. (2010). The mediating role of job characteristics in job redesign interventions: A serendipitous quasi-experiment. Journal of Organisational Behaviour, 31, 519-542.

8. Murphy, L. R. (1996). Stress management in work settings: A critical review. American Journal of Health Promotion, 11, 112-135.

9. Richardson, K.M., & Rothstein, H.R. (2008). Effects of occupational stress management intervention programs: a meta-analysis. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 13, 69-93.

10. Van der Klink, J.J. L., Blonk, R.W.N., Schene, A.H., & van Dijik, F.J.H. (2001). The benefits of interventions for work-related stress. American Journal of Public Health, 91, 270-276.



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