Can Job Stress Lead to Shortcuts in Safety?

job stress

Much has been written about workplace safety climate and the impact on employee safety, but can job stress negatively impact performance?

We’re emerging from a pandemic, and the focus is on getting back to work as quickly as we can. Our economies and companies are under threat, and increased production is critical to bounce back and try to recover what we lost during the lockdown. Jobs are at risk, and many businesses are hanging on by their fingernails.

This sets up the perfect environment where production pressures are in overload, for safety to take a back seat. It is for this reason that we discuss some recent research that investigates job stress, or work pressure, which is defined as

The tension felt when working safely is perceived to be at odds with effectively performing one’s job.

Employees who perceive greater job stress are more likely to engage in deviant work behaviour that violates significant organisational norms and in so doing threatens the well-being of the company and its employees. This goes beyond groupthink in that deviant behaviour lies in the experience and sense-making of individual employees. So how can we focus on increasing productivity and at the same time relieve job stress for employees to ensure we leave sound safety practices intact?

I’m Rushing Around Just Trying to Get the Work Done!

The more job stress increases, the higher the risk to employee safety and personal health. This is because employees experience a conflict between completing their work and doing so in a manner that is consistent with safe practices. When there is high perceived job stress employees are more likely to exhibit unsafe behaviours and to experience injuries.

The study identifies two types of deviant behaviour as a result of high perceived job stress: workplace incivility and production deviance.

Workplace incivility is where employees are rude and disregard others. Mutual respect is no longer a priority as they try to complete their work. Aggression, harassment and conflict become part of the workplace climate.

Production deviance is where employees ignore the organisational norms regarding the quantity and quality of work performed. This is where employees take shortcuts, ignore safety best practice and safety takes a backseat.

When employees perceive high job stress and pressure to produce at a faster rate, there is a tendency to reserve resources. While trying to reserve resources so they can get the job done, stressed employees may become defensive, aggressive, and irrational.  In these cases, stressed employees require self-control may be unable to self-regulate their interactions with others given the need to conserve existing resources. Their focus is purely on having what they need to get the job done.

See our article, Psychological Resilience and Stress: Reduce the Risk.

I’m Too Busy to Worry About Whether I Am Being Rude to You!

When employees who are overly busy and are rushing around trying to get the work may also feel that if they don’t perform that they may lose their job. During these times, rudeness to their co-workers is of little importance, and civility goes out the door.

The results from the study show that reducing or eliminating felt tension between work and safety may relieve employees to some degree of experiencing job stress. Reducing feelings of job stress means a workforce that is a lot more civil towards each other.

It would help if organisations considered how they structure and deliver work because managers and co-workers can fuel the perception of job stress. Try to get input from your employees about practical ways to reduce work-safety tension. After all, they are the ones completing the work and may have ideas to redesign the job to reduce the stress.

Training Delivery Methods That Reduce Job Stress

One area that creates a rise in job stress is the requirement to undergo regular training to meet compliance requirements. Valuable time away from doing their job can be a source of frustration and increased pressure on your employees.

Of course, regular training is critical to ensure that we safely complete work and that practices don’t result in injuries. However, you can significantly reduce the time you use to train and refresh critical risks by tapping into technology. Consider online, eLearning and Micro-Learning delivery methods. Generally, these training methods require reduced time to get the essential messages across.

The Tap into Safety Training Platform can help to reduce time away from work in that we have substantial out-of-the-box safety and mental health online and mobile-friendly training courses. We know you need to meet compliance, and we know you need to address critical risk, so we offer courses that can be completed in 15-30 minutes. Many clients use our software for their safety awareness training, inductions and VOC’s for high-risk tasks. Contact Us for more information or try a free 7-day trial.

See our article, No Time to Deliver Safety Induction Training.

To Conclude

Work pressure, or job stress, is alive and well and likely to increase as we move into the recovery phase after the COVID-19 pandemic. The problem is employees who experience feelings of job stress have a higher risk to their safety and mental health. They are more likely to hoard resources to get the job down quickly, take shortcuts and become defensive, aggressive, and irrational.

Organisations should consider ways to relieve feelings of job stress by examining the structure and delivery of work. They need to keep in mind that managers and co-workers can fuel the perception of job stress. Getting input from employees about practical ways to reduce work-safety tension should lead to a safer and happier workplace. After all, no one likes working around grumpy, rude and unsafe employees.

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