Workers who receive regular feedback and recognition from their employers have higher levels of wellbeing and lower stress levels, but a new study shows that fewer than half of working Australians receive this support.

The Australian Psychological Society’s (APS’s) 2013 Stress and wellbeing in Australia survey of 1548 people, including 999 workers, was released yesterday for National Psychology Week, which runs until 16 November.

It found workers reported significantly lower overall workplace wellbeing and lower levels of job satisfaction in 2013 than in 2012 and 2011.

Nearly half of workers (47%) rated workplace issues as a source of stress.

The survey asked workers to report what workplace factors they felt contributed to a psychologically healthy workplace. These included having:

  • an employer that values their contribution and cares about their wellbeing;
  • a clear idea about what is expected of them in their work role;
  • sufficient opportunities for learning and development;
  • a supportive manager;
  • an employer that provides regular feedback and recognition for their work;
  • an employer that is serious about safety at work;
  • an employer that supports workers with physical and mental health issues; and
  • an employer that supports workers who need to deal with family demands.

The survey found, however, that only one in two workers (52%) felt their employer valued their contribution and cared about their wellbeing, and only 50 per cent of the working participants had employers that supported staff with mental health issues.

Some 62 per cent said their employer supported staff with physical injuries.

Fewer than half of workers (46%) claimed they regularly received relevant feedback and recognition for their work, while 40 per cent felt they had insufficient opportunities for learning and development.

The survey also found that 70 per cent of workers felt their employer was serious about safety at work.

Help your employees manage stress

APS executive director Professor Lyn Littlefield says work-related stress not only affects employees’ health and wellbeing, but also workplace productivity.

“Stress can occur in a wide range of situations, but is often made worse when employees feel they have little support from supervisors and colleagues or little control over their work,” she says.

“Organisations that focus on factors linked to psychological health are likely to see a happier, healthier and more productive workforce.”

To help employees manage stress in the workplace, employers should encourage them to:

  • express their feelings and communicate with colleagues, rather than “bottle up” issues;
  • be willing to compromise but be more assertive;
  • improve their time management; and
  • take control of their work environment by creating a to-do list and becoming more organised.

The survey notes that other ways workers can manage stress include:

  • identifying warning signs of stress – “Signs you are stressed could include tensing your jaw, grinding your teeth, getting headaches, or feeling irritable and short tempered,” the report says;
  • identifying triggers of stress – “If you can identify and anticipate [triggers] you can practise calming yourself down beforehand, or even find ways to avoid them. Triggers might include late nights, deadlines, seeing particular people, hunger or over-tired children”;
  • establishing routines – “Having predictable rhythms and routines in your day, or over a week, such as regular times for exercise and relaxation, meal times, waking and bedtimes, can be calming and reassuring, and can help you to manage your stress”;
  • spending time with people who care – “Spending time with and sharing your thoughts and feelings with people you care about and who care about you can help you to feel less stressed”;
  • looking after their health – “Make sure you are eating healthy food and getting regular exercise. Take time to do activities you find calming or uplifting, such as listening to music, walking or dancing. Avoid using alcohol, tobacco or other drugs to cope”;
  • noticing their “self-talk” – “Saying things to yourself such as: ‘I can’t cope’, or ‘I’m too busy’, or ‘I’m so tired’, or ‘It’s not fair’ is called unhelpful ‘self-talk’. Try more helpful self-talk like ‘I can cope’, or ‘Calm down’, or ‘Breathe easy'”; and
  • practising relaxation – “Consider learning a formal relaxation technique such as progressive muscle relaxation, meditation or yoga, or make time to absorb yourself in a relaxing activity such as gardening or listening to music.”