Psychological health at work is an important subject of investigation, because it negatively impacts not only on work performance and levels of absenteeism, but also on the health and wellbeing of workers. To assist WorkSafe in developing policy and practice in this area, ISCRR researchers have completed several evidence reviews on the topic of job stress and other work-related psychological issues.
Professor Tony LaMontagne and Dr Tessa Keegel, then both working within the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, led ISCRR's first evidence review in this field which was a rapid review of evidence relating to proactive organisational-level workplace stress interventions.
To identify whether an intervention is required, organisation need to be able to reliably measure existing stress levels in work environments. With this in mind, Dr Tracey Shea and Professor Helen De Cieri from Monash's Faculty of Business and Economics reviewed evidence surrounding workplace stress evaluation tools, starting with the Stress Satisfaction Offset Score (SSOS).
The SSOS is four-item scale developed in 1999 to facilitate the assessment of workplace stressors and their impact on health. Dr Shea and Professor De Cieri wanted to ascertain whether the SSOS was a suitable tool for inspectors assessing the presence of stress in a workplace.
They were then joined by fellow Monash researcher Ms Trisha Pettit, to complete a subsequent review of existing evidence around the impact of physical work environments on workplace stress.
Studies from the field of environmental psychology had previously indicated that there was potential for certain aspects of a physical work environment to impact negatively on the psychological health of employees. This review's objective was to identify specifically which aspects (e.g. space, lighting, noise, vibration, confined spaces, temperature) were most important to consider.
The rapid review evaluating organisational-level workplace stress interventions was completed in 2010, finding that organisational-level interventions tend to have a broad positive impact, leading to positive outcomes both at the individual level (e.g. health outcomes) and organisational level (e.g. reduced exposures, sickness absence, etc.). These findings provide strong support for growing efforts nationally and internationally to address job stress through organisational interventions.
The review of workplace stress evaluation tools concluded not long after, finding that neither the SSOS nor any alternative scales had not been validated to an acceptable level for use as a workplace stress evaluation tool. On this basis, the researchers recommended that an existing scale be validated through a new study, or a new scale be developed using standard psychometric techniques.
The review investigating the impact of physical work environments was completed a few months later, confirming that evidence of a negative relationship between the physical work environment and psychological health is limited. Researchers recommended further research to identify the specific factors in this field that most significantly impact on worker health. This information can then be used to develop targeted workplace interventions.