Human Resources Division

Work Related Stress: A Short Guide for Staff

This guide is concerned with work-related stress: that is, stress that arises from, or is made worse by, work. Work related stress is not an illness, but it can lead to increased problems with ill health, if it is prolonged or particularly intense.

What is work - related stress?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines stress as "the reaction people may have when presented with demands and pressures that are not matched to their knowledge and abilities and which challenge their ability to cope." It is not a disease. However if stress is intense and goes on for some time, it can lead to mental and physical ill health (eg depression, nervous breakdown, heart disease). Workplace stress, if not properly managed, is associated with poor health and well-being, lower productivity and increased sickness absence.

Historically stress used to be divided into positive stress (eustress) and negative stress (distress). In this older view, "to be alive was to experience some form of stress". Nowadays the term “stress” is synonomous with negative stress and the word "pressure" is frequently used to describe positive stress.

You are not alone if you feel very or extremely stressed. In the country as a whole, as many as one in five people could be feeling the same way. Ideally tackling work-related stress is a partnership between you, your manager, and the University: a partnership based on honesty and trust, where you all say what you feel about the situation.

Stress is not a weakness and is not something you have to suffer. The University has a responsibility to protect your health and safety at work and as a good employer will work with you to better manage workplace stress and assist you in dealing with the adverse effects of personal stress.

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Symptoms of Stress

The symptoms of stress can manifest themselves in a variety of ways over time and, of course, in combination with each other. There are three broad areas of symptoms:

Symptoms of Stress

There are other symptoms. There can also be longer-term issues which may develop into more complicated conditions. Equally, any one of these points could be nothing in itself but if you recognise a number of features of your life outlined above, then now may be a good time to identify the cause.

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Personal Checklist - How well do you manage your stress?

Answer the questions below to help you to understand how well you currently manage your stress.

Personal Checklist - How well do you manage your stress?

No one can ever be in control of all the stresses in their life, but we can learn how to manage them better. The University through the Staff Development Program offers individual staff members the opportunity to build their confidence and skills in areas such as communication skills, managing change and conflict resolution. Some faculties and other areas run local health and well being programs. The Division of Student Life website has some useful information and resources. In the community there are a range of programs that also address individual issues or interests such as insomnia, diet, yoga, aerobics and healthy heart assessments.

The more detailed checklist is at : Stress Self-Assessment Checklist for Staff Members (67 KB)

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What can you do at work?

You can help at work by:

  • 'doing your bit' for managing work-related stress by talking to your managers: if they don't know there's a problem, they cannot help. If you don't feel able to talk directly to your manager, ask an OHS representative or contact Health, Wellbeing and Safety to raise the issue on your behalf
  • explore options for helping you deal with the stress. This may involve changes to work hours or duties or the way your work is managed
  • supporting your colleagues if they are experiencing work-related stress. Encourage them to talk to their manager, OHS representative or contact Health, Wellbeing and Safety
  • trying to channel your energy into solving the problem rather than just worrying about it. Think about what would make you happier at work and discuss this with your manager.

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What can you do personally?

  • talk to someone early if you are feeling distressed or not coping. You may feel overwhelmed, irritable, anxious, unable to sleep, lack concentration, or just disinterested in work. It may help to talk to a friend or you may want professional assistance through a counsellor in the University's Employee Assistance Program. There are also a range of community resources that can give you help.
  • don't isolate yourself from work colleagues, friends and family. It is likely that someone from your workplace will be in touch with you if you are absent from work. This is to establish the reason for your absence, your expected return date, and to discuss what assistance they can offer. Be open to alternative ideas and duties that may assist your return to work
  • review your health status with your general practitioner. There are effective treatments that could help you if you are suffering from anxiety or depression. The beyondblue website has information that may assist you

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What can you expect of your supervisor or manager?

Deakin expects managers to be supportive of staff and assist them, specifically:

  • Treat stressed staff in the same way as those with a physical health problem
  • To discuss the issue with you and demonstrate that they are concerned about your health
  • Ask if there is anything they can do to help
  • Advise you about sources of help within or outside the University
  • Actively follow up stress problems and continue to demonstrate their wish to support you
  • Consider any simple modifications to work
  • Review and if necessary modify your work tasks and responsibilities in consultation with you.
  • Develop a return to work plan if you have had sickness absence due to stress or depression
  • Monitor your rehabilitation and return to work progress

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What to do after a stress - related illness?

If you have been off work with a stress-related illness, talk about it with your manager or with your Human Resources Partner. You may also want to discuss your situation with Health, Wellbeing and Safety or the Equity and Diversity Unit especially if you have an ongoing condition. Say how you feel, explain what led to the event and what you would like to see happen. Take a work colleague or representative with you if you do not feel you can do this on your own. If possible, try to do this before you return from leave so any arrangements can be put in place before your return.

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What can you do out of work?

There are usually more areas than we initially think where we can take control of our own lives. A key component of any approach involves making a change, doing something different. The following advice will not prevent work-related stress, but may help you take care of yourself and ensure that you don't make the problem worse. You can:

What can you do out of work?

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Where can I get more help?

  • If work is affected, discuss the problem with your Human Resources Partner who may refer you to suitable counselling.
  • You can directly access employee assistance counsellors through the Employee Assistance Program.

    Employee Assistance Program (EAP) - this program provides professional, confidential, voluntary and free counselling to employees with difficulties which meet certain criteria and which affect work performance. Individual counselling will be short-term (up to 5 sessions); when requested, counsellors may conduct mediation between a staff member and his/her supervisor; when a group of staff are facing similar difficulties managing a situation, counsellors may conduct a group session. Staff can contact the EAP independently by making an appointment to see a counsellor on their campus or supervisors can suggest that a staff member use the program.
  • Staff training workshops have been designed upon request to meet the collective needs of work groups. Such programs include Critical Incident Debriefing, Stress Management, Managing Change, and Coping with Difficult Behaviour. Please contact Staff Development.

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Where can I get more information?

  • Other information can be obtained from the

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10th December 2012