Researchers of Riga Technical University (RTU) within the framework of an international project are developing specific training modules and practical tools to help organizations and employees across Europe to recognize, prevent and avoid negative workplace stress.
«We have been complaining about stress a lot lately. But stress should be seen as a normal part of everyday life. Sometimes it can also aid in reaching the goal. Stress can motivate us to get promoted at work or run the last kilometre of a marathon. But if we are unable to recognize and manage stress and it becomes prolonged, it can have a serious impact on the quality of work and also on our health. Each of us has different stressors. According to various surveys, stress at work is at the top of the list, and stressors are different – heavy workload, long working hours, too much responsibility, bad management, unclear results to be achieved, discrimination, no involvement in decision-making, etc. Each stress level will vary by personality and how we react to situations. Stress in the work environment is the result of a number of long-lasting irritants, even everyday things, and then slowly starts moving forward like a giant snowball if we do not notice the stressors that need to be noticed and recognized», says Zane Rostoka, a researcher and doctoral student at the Faculty of Engineering Economics and Management. Stress causes billions of losses
Temporary and mild stress helps an employee to mobilize, it even acts as a driving force, but prolonged stress at the workplace has a negative impact on the mental and physical health of workers. It worsens the work ability and working lifespan of employees – they get tired quickly, work carelessly, make mistakes, are sick more often and suffer from depression. According to the report «Calculating the cost of work-related stress and psychosocial risks» by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, the cost of work-related depression in Europe is estimated at around € 617 billion annually. This amount includes the cost of absenteeism, loss of productivity, healthcare, and disability benefits. Another European study by the agency shows that stress is a major work safety and health concern in approximately 80% of European companies, but only a limited number of these companies or organizations have introduced specific procedures to prevent work-related stress; there is a lack of skills and expertise.
Reducing stress level by at least 10%
RTU Faculty of Engineering Economics and Management is one of the partners in the Erasmus+ co-funded international project «Improving management competences on Excellence-based Stress avoidance and working towards Sustainable organisational development in Europe» (IMPRESS). In the project, scientists and experts from German, Spanish, Latvian and Irish universities and organizations are developing a set of solutions that helps to understand how stress affects all aspects of entrepreneurship, such as management style, cost of absenteeism, work organization, work-life balance, demographic change, staff training, information flow, and also to identify and prevent stress risk factors.
Extensive research has already been carried out in all project partner countries to identify individual factors in the work environment that contribute to engagement and satisfaction (motivation) by analysing interactions with organizational management processes such as work content / asignments, working conditions and workload, team and collaboration, work role and responsibility, attitudes and behaviours, organizational climate and collaboration, control and clarity, role and support of the management, well-being and stress, employee satisfaction and engagement.
The research analyses these processes in interaction with individual factors. The research in Latvia has shown that a factor such as «clarity and control» is ranked higher than «management and support». However, the factor «management and social support» has a greater impact on «well-being and tension». Factors such as «organizational environment and culture», «role and responsibility levels» and «working conditions and workload» all have a significant impact on well-being as well as engagement and satisfaction. Respondents cited poor work planning, excessive workload, controversial demands and unclear work responsibilities as key stressors, along with decision-making regarding employees without involving them in the process, ineffective communication, lack of management and peer support, etc. Overall, only 2.1% of respondents in Latvia reported high levels of tension whereas 56.8% of respondents in Latvia mentioned high levels of engagement and job satisfaction.
This summer researchers also developed training modules, the approbation of which will begin in the autumn. According to their competences, RTU researchers developed modules to cover the following topics: stress, stressors, their recognition in the work environment, organization of work environment processes, impact of working conditions on productivity, changes in work content and environment, management of new forms of work (e.g., remote work), workload and workflow management, organizational work environment, culture, team collaboration, employee attitude and behaviour, demands and tasks for the employee, their compliance with the workload, etc.
Modules developed by researchers of Latvia as well as modules developed in other Member States will be approbated in Latvia. It is planned that they will be approbated by students and experts of RTU Faculty of Engineering Economics and Management.
After approbation, all modules will be combined into an innovative stress assessment and management tool. It will help to recognize and evaluate stress levels, identify how to prevent an increase in individual stressors through e-learning, and use a special test to assess the changes made. IMPRESS aims to reduce the causes of stress by 10%, which could save the European economy more than € 10 billion in 2035.
Currently, the greatest stress for managers is caused by staff shortage, it is difficult to attract specialists and motivate young employees. «Employees set high demands, especially young ones with great ambitions; everyone wants a high salary from the first day of work and wishes to be a manager. For young people, interesting work content in the work environment is essential, but there is often lack of self-initiative to take on additional responsibilities without the manager’s instructions. Young employees work while the job is interesting for them, they are open, they travel, they work for one employer then for another, and they want to enjoy life without making extra commitments», says the researcher at RTU Faculty of Engineering Economics and Management. She admits that managers are often confused and do not know how to manage such an employee. Namely, managers are capable of managing unconscious (hygiene) motivational factors: reward and working conditions. Often employers and also employees mainly operate with financial and other material motivators. However, it is essential to be able to evaluate and manage the unconscious motivators – organizational culture, values and goals; management’s ability to represent values, set goals, motivate and develop the team, involve employees in the decision-making process; sense of belonging; opportunities for professional development and career development (horizontal and vertical), including training and capacity-building programs, work-life integration and interconnection; professional activity as self-expression. Motivators are changing and evolving with economic and societal growth. Today, employees are mostly motivated by the goal, mission, and work-life balance. An international study published in 2014 by Deloitte University Press shows that today employees are more than twice as motivated by work content as their career ambitions.
Using experience, training and assignments
The research carried out within the IMPRESS project shows that stressors are similar across Europe, but with slightly different intensities, namely, which factor has a greater impact. For example, in many European countries more stress is caused by ensuring equality between women and men in the work environment, whereas in Latvia this problem is less topical, although the pay for the same work is still different for women and men, says Z. Rostoka. Latvia, on the other hand, differs with the work environment and the culture of mutual relations – we are more closed, we avoid talking about unpleasant issues, the atmosphere at work is not so free, so there is a greater risk of conflict.
The IMPRESS training modules are developed taking into account that they must be equally effective throughout Europe. RTU specialists combine theoretical and scientifically grounded findings, as well as experience and practical tasks of various experts so that both employers and employees can immediately recognize stressors and make the right decision to reduce them. The experience of local and foreign users and experts will also be taken into account during the approbation.
«Improving management competences on Excellence-based Stress avoidance and working towards Sustainable organisational development in Europe»
Project No. 588315-EPP-1-2017-ES-EPPKA2-KA
Partners: GAIA – «Association of Electronic and Information Technologies in the Basque Country», University of Barcelona, Technical University of Munich, Riga Technical University, «Riga East University Hospital» Ltd., Eurofortis, «IBK Management Solutions GmbH.», «The International Industrial Consult IIC AG», Waterford Chamber of Commerce, NGO «Mutualia»
Implementation time: 01/11/2017 – 31/10/2020
Source: RTU, IMPRESS
How to deal with stress at work can also be found on Latvian Radio’s program «How to Live Better» (19/09/2019, in the Latvian language)