What causes stress in the workplace? Too many things to do?
Not necessarily, a seminal Swedish study shows. The important factor is if you consider your tasks purposeful and fair.
In the study, more than 1500 physicians were surveyed twice. First, they rated to which extent they had to perform what they considered unnecessary and unreasonable tasks. The doctors answered questions like ”Do you have to do tasks, that you really think need not be done at all? Do you have tasks that you think should be done by another person or profession? Or, that puts you in uncomfortable situations?”
In a second survey, the same group answered questions about stress, anxiety and mental exhaustion.
The results showed ”an increase in risk that is rarely shown in occupational studies”, the researchers say.
Stress-related cognitive problem were almost five times more frequent in the group with high levels of ”chores” – unnecessary and unreasonable tasks: 29 percent compared with 6 percent among those with low levels of illegitimate tasks.
More than 50 percent in that group reported that they often were totally exhausted at the end of the workday and 37 percent felt that they often were near the limit of what they could manage.
The study was carried out at Stockholm University, and published in the Swedish Medical Association’s journal Läkartidningen in November 2012.
Recent years have seen an explosion of new administrative tasks in many professions. Ever increasing demands for detailed documentation of every step is one common factor. And new IT systems have made cutbacks on administrative specialists possible; instead various so-called ”self-service solutions” have been introduced.
But such internal, administrative IT systems are generally reported as having low usability, with scores of unnecessary clicks, and structures that are hard to understand. Doctors, as well as teachers, social workers, even policemen, now complain that this is turning them into part- or full-time administrators – spending time with the computer instead of with the patients, fighting arcane IT systems in the office instead of crime on the streets.
The point is that chores, like administrative work with no real sense of purpose, hit the individual’s self-image. Am I a doctor – or a data technician? To maintain a good self-image is seen as a fundamental human need, why stressors that constitutes an attack on the self are assumed to have strong effects.
In responses to another survey from the American EHR partners, physicians commented that electronic health records requires a lot of extra work, with a low sense of purpose: ”Many systems require you to at least click through a variety of screens if only to accept their entries.” ”… has added multiple lists I need to click through, including re-affirming all office visits even after I dictate.” ”Pages and pages of repetitive nonsense”.
The benefits from this new way of work may, the Swedish study suggest, come at a very high cost.