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Psychological illnesses are the second-most frequent cause of an inability to work, after impairments of the musculoskeletal system. Typical psychological illnesses include depressive and anxiety disorders. Cardiovascular disorders can also be the result of psychological stress.
Usually, psychological illnesses are the result of multi-factorial processes caused by individual and professional influencing factors. It can generally be assumed that not only individual dispositions but also psychosocial stress factors in the working environment and elsewhere, as well as stressful life events, all play a role.
Source: BKK-Gesundheitsreport 2015
Stress in the workplace
Many office workers regard the volume of work they have to do as a problem.
of office workers feel they are swamped by too much work or responsibility. But only 4.5% of workers in Germany complain of being challenged beyond their professional abilities.
Source: BAuA/BiBB Erwerbstätigenbefragung 2012
Stress can also have other causes. Being insufficiently challenged can also cause stress. So can a lack of appreciation, a sense of insecurity due to insufficient feedback about one’s work, contradictory instructions, and a lack of specific agreements. The effects of being always on call are also being widely discussed. In an international survey, the research and consulting company Oxford Economics asked employees whether their supervisors expect them to be reachable outside working hours. A total of 46% of the participants answered 'yes'. By contrast, only 26% of the participating supervisors said they expect this of their employees.
Early risks: Whereas the likelihood of musculoskeletal illness increases with an employee’s age, psychological illnesses can already affect younger employees. Sometimes younger employees are especially at risk because they lack the experience and resources they would need in order to cope with specific problems.
Working conditions that promote health
In IBA/buero-forum specialist publication No. 10 – Kreativität und Gesundheit (Creativity and Health) the psychologists Dr. Jürgen Glaser and Dr. Britta Herbig describe aspects of workplace design that have a positive effect on the physical and psychological health and creative performance of employees. The starting points of the psychosocial design of work are people, activities and organization.
Here, motivation and the ability to learn are paramount. Good ways to boost motivation include the assignment of diverse responsibilities and holistic tasks. It’s also important, this is not always self-evident, to assign employees tasks that they perceive as being meaningful. The autonomous organization of one’s tasks, especially the ability to flexibly choose where and when to do one’s work, are far up on many employees’ wish lists. Feedback and supporting employees’ personal development are also very important.
Here the focus is on assigning tasks that are suited to the individual, personal autonomy in task organization, and diverse responsibilities. Another aspect is the comprehensiveness of the assigned tasks. Work activities are comprehensive if an employee’s work includes the planning and organization of tasks as well as implementation, checking and feedback. In the process, it’s important to take the individual capacities of the employees into account, because the same task can be overly challenging for one person but not challenging enough for another.
Teamwork and leadership are crucial aspects.
Because office work is generally based on the cooperation of a group of individuals, teamwork is a basic aspect of work organization. Four dimensions of the team atmosphere can be influenced: setting a shared goal, distributing tasks, building a sense of security, and providing support.
In the area of leadership, employee orientation and task orientation are important. In this case, task orientation means clearly defining goals and roles within the group.
For many companies and their managers, a tolerance of uncertainty may be a challenge. In complex environments, you often can’t predict where a project may lead, so the planning can only be done in stages. Allowing employees to freely decide where and when they will do their work also requires trust.
If work becomes a burden, this may also be due to the work environment. It’s hard to concentrate if you are repeatedly distracted by conversations or ringing telephones. And if you’re sitting in a workplace that is obviously low-quality, you’re unlikely to believe that your management appreciates you.