These brief stress audit case studies from PGA Group Consulting Psychologists show how the presence and the effects of stress at work were identified, addressed and relieved to the benefit of three organizations and their people. Several links to resources on this site, including an overview of the stress audit method and process are provided after the stress audit case studies below. Jump down to: Introduction | Company A | Company B | Company C | Lessons | Links Introduction
The stress audit is an important stress management diagnostic process which combines organizational development survey methods with sophisticated stress tests and stress testing techniques. The stress audit’s purpose is primarily to identify stress symptoms and stress causes in the workplace, how individuals are coping with stress and managing stress at work, and how possibly to improve the work environment and /or the organization in such a way as to reduce stress levels and the negative effects of stress, improve satisfaction and well-being, and improve organizational and individual performance.
In short, as these stress audit case studies will show, the stress audit can show organizations and individuals how to deal with stress in the workplace. All the organizations discussed in these stress audit case studies were able to relieve stress at work by bringing stress under control through the use of a stress audit. The organizations brought about positive change in the workplace for the benefit of their people and for their own benefit. Stress Audit Case Study A This stress audit case study is about Company A, a 100-year-old UK manufacturing organization.
The company employs 15,000 people and operates on 50 sites. It primarily supplies the agricultural machinery markets. The company set itself the objective of pulling itself out of a stagnant loss-making situation and to regain market dominance. It set out to accomplish this by completely redesigning its manufacturing techniques through lessons learnt from Japanese companies. The company also implemented a large-scale programme of organizational restructuring involving decentralization and the establishment of cost centres. However, the payoffs were not as great as expected, even after several years of development.
The programme of large-scale change, in the context of an already ailing business had improved performance at a slower than expected rate. Individuals were experiencing stress also. Changes were being implemented and performance was being improved slowly but at a high personal cost (in terms of health) and high organization cost (in terms of disappointing efficiency increases). Senior managers presumed that middle managers were experiencing the worst stress, being caught between upper management and the work force. A stress audit was conducted with middle managers at each site.
The hypothesis was confirmed by the stress audit. An analysis of the stress audit results indicated that stress levels were greater than expected and that many middle managers had adopted stressed styles of behaviour. The stress audit revealed that many of the middle managers perceived also that several of the changes going on around them were outside their influence or control. Analysis of stress sources and stress coping strategies employed by the middle managers revealed that the organizational development effort itself had the effect of being a source of stress.
This in turn made it difficult for people to cope with the change of working practices. The organization decided therefore to implement additional programmes of stress counselling, and to address the issues of roll clarity and participation in change planning. The latter were seen as complimentary inputs to the development process. Efficiency gains and a reduction of stress were realized as a result. [Top] Stress Audit Case Study B This stress audit case study is about Company B, a 20-year-old UK financial services organization.
It employs 350 people and offers a wide range of financial services to a varied portfolio of clients, from charities to blue-chip companies. The organization has experienced massive growth over the last five years, based on acquisition rather than internal growth. While this has been well managed and the company does not appear to be a series of fragmented businesses, there are some problems the organization cannot shake off. The company values competitiveness and efficiency. These are encouraged not just in how the organization acts on clients’ behalf, but also in relationships between employees.
Although the organization is involved in the money market business, which requires high energy, company B did have a reputation within the industry for demanding heavy commitment from its employees. Recruitment, selection and management practices were all geared accordingly and staff turnover figures were no worse than their best competitors’. However, senior partners within the organization were concerned about the apparent stressful experiences of those involved in money dealing. Everyone in the industry knew this to be a stressful occupation.
Informal information filtering back to the partners also indicated that company B did have a particular reputation for high stress. Dealer performance was good but success was being achieved at a high personal cost. The nature of the job could not be redesigned, and indeed dealers had an active life of seven or eight years until aged in their mid 30’s when they either left the organization or were promoted to manage the accounts of larger clients and to generate new business. The latter group created a ‘ripple’ effect of stress experienced throughout the organization.
A stress audit analysis revealed stress symptoms and sources of stress and gave the partners some insights into how this particular group was coping. Three sources of stress proved to be of importance: the nature of the job itself, relationships with people, and career development opportunities. The personalities of individuals selected into the dealing department were found to be stress prone. An analysis of stress coping behaviours revealed no coherent picture. The absence of clear stress coping strategies was seen as important.
In this case, a stress management programme was introduced to explore further sources of stress and to enhance stress coping skills and strategies with the longer term goal of ‘prevention rather than cure. ’ Career counselling was introduced also for those approaching the end of their active dealing lives. [Top] Stress Audit Case Study C This stress audit case study is about Company C, an old established UK retail store. It is a household name in its home city and employs around 200 people.
Although a large percentage of the sales force are female part-time employees, traditionally people tend to stay with the store, having been attracted by its openly paternalistic approach to management. The store had been taken over by a national chain, itself a household name. As part of a decentralization programme implemented at around the same time as the acquisition, the administrative headquarters for the national Group organization were moved to the same city as company C and now occupy adjoining premises.
The Group was concerned about new graduate turnover in the Marketing function. Graduates were not leaving the organization but were instead moving from Marketing to other functions, Human Resources being a popular choice. This turnover was seen by the Group management as a legacy of management consultants’ reports of several years ago which had identified Marketing’s failures as having been a major contributor to the Group’s historical slump in profits. The image stayed within the company and Marketing was regarded as a ‘high stress’ department.
The Group used a stress audit to diagnose the nature of stress in Marketing. It also applied the stress audit analysis to the Human Resources department to see what was so attractive about it and to see what stress profiles were like in this supposedly desirable function. From the analysis of the stress audit, the Group decided to redesign some key areas in the Marketing department. They decided also to embark on small-scale restructuring to enhance communications and relax formal relationships.
The Group embarked also on a campaign to change the internal attitudes towards the Marketing function. It accomplished this by setting up interdepartmental task forces to tackle major issues. This idea was prompted in part from the Human Resources Department stress audit which found therein a commitment to team building and communication skills. [Top] Lessons From the Stress Audit Case Studies An important feature of the stress audit case studies above is that the application of a stress audit was itself ‘managed. It is essential to take a planned approach to conducting the stress audit and its stages rather than to conduct the stress audit in an isolated or haphazard manner. Specific plans will depend on the situation of course. The outcome of a stress audit must be carefully considered beforehand. As the stress audit case studies suggest, the use of a stress audit will create expectations within the workforce and the resulting changed perspectives and heightened expectations should be considered.
As part of the overall plan, it is vitally important that someone is seen as owning the stress audit, preferably a senior figure. In other words, someone must be seen to be responsible for the stress audit and seeing the project through. A stress audit can be seen as an integral first step in problem identification. As with all forms of planned intervention, management programs (whether stress-related or not) must be targeted in order to be fully effective. A stress audit can provide that focus, as these stress audit case studies show