Stress: Reflections on a Misunderstood Phenomenon

Stress. We know all
about that, don’t
Reflections on a misunderstood
Campbell Russell July 5 2014
• To briefly explore how we perceive stress
• To have some understanding of the origins of stress
• To consider the outcomes of an action research project
conducted in Cheshire and Cheshire West and Chester
• To consider how we might address stress issues in our work.
What’s causing you to be stressed?
I’m just snowed
under ....
Problems with this?
• It is unclear
• Our response becomes headless chicken
• We focus on the generic
• We may fail to see the causes of our stress that can be
Know your enemy: What is Stress?
• “a pattern of negative physiological states and psychological
responses occurring in situations where individuals perceive
threats to their well-being, which they be unable to meet”
• Lazarus 1975
Does it exist?
• “Stress doesn’t exist as a syndrome”
• However, there is evidence that people reach the point where
• can’t let go of problems;
• avoid situations;
• become dysfunctional.
HSE definition
• “The adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or
other types of demand placed on them at work”
• Is this broad enough?
HSE Standards
The Management Standards cover six key areas of work design that, if not properly managed, are associated with
poor health and well-being, lower productivity and increased sickness absence. In other words, the six
Management Standards cover the primary sources of stress at work. These are:
• Demands – this includes issues such as workload, work patterns and the work environment.
• Control – how much say the person has in the way they do their work.
• Support – this includes the encouragement, sponsorship and resources provided by the organisation, line
management and colleagues.
• Relationships – this includes promoting positive working to avoid conflict and dealing with unacceptable
• Role – whether people understand their role within the organisation and whether the organisation ensures that
they do not have conflicting roles.
• Change – how organisational change (large or small) is managed and communicated in the organisation.
Task 1
Take one standard
and consider how it
may be breached.
• Groups feedback
• Any burning issues? Examples that must be given?
• What have we learned from the exercise about the sources of stress?
• Key question – have the standards any legal status?
• No, but complying with the standards is a way of avoiding legislation.
Research findings
• 37 schools over an 18 month period. Recently re-run as a pilot
with 3 schools to see if there were any notable changes. There
were not
• Staff are asked to identify stressors
• Common themes
• What do you think were the top 3?
Our results
• Communication
• Relationships
• Technology/admin failure
• Staff meetings that were held to only give instructions
• Vital information withheld
• Too much information
• Failure to give positive feedback
• Strains in the relationship between Head and staff or within staff
body. Favourites; “creeping”, lack of sympathy
• How is the consensus created and maintained
• Professional reliability and inter-dependence. This includes the
“he doesn’t do that for me” comment and colleagues missing
Technology/admin failure
• Photocopier
• Computer crashes
• Office setting deadlines
• Support staff trying to off-load tasks back onto teaching staff.
Case study 1
• Jane has been a KS1 teacher in the same school for nearly 30
years. She teaches in a school that serves a socially
disadvantaged area. Ofsted have recently declared the school
as being one that “requires improvement” largely because of
educational standards in KS1. Jane gained a “good” grading.
• One of Jane’s colleagues, Diane, aspires to headship. She was
rated as “outstanding” She has been teaching year 6 for three
years, and has asked for KS1 experience. The Head announces
that she plans to swap Diane and Jane over. Jane feels highly
stressed by the proposal.
Case study 2
• The staff at a small primary school have always helped out at PTA
events, and more recently have been coming in at weekends and
school holidays at the request of the Head to “manage” their work
• Bob is new to school. Within weeks of his starting, the school was
inspected by Ofsted and Bob’s teaching was rated as “outstanding”.
However, Bob has decided that he also needs a life, and has told the
Head that he isn’t willing to work at weekends and holidays. Bob’s
colleagues have begun to criticise him over small things – whether he
adheres to the washing up protocol for example. He tells friends he
feels uncomfortable at work. His doctor signs him off with depression
Two quick thoughts
“In my experience, teaching is the only job where stress is more
commonly work related than outside life related”
Dr Michael Orton, formerly chief OH Consultant for M&S and Cheshire CC.
Cheshire NUT training 2005
“It’s not your fault, but it is your problem”
Dr Neal Gething , Consultant Psychologist and Senior Partner of “Glowatwork”.
Brent H&S Conference 2010
While we should always look beneath the surface, the source of the
stress is likely to be the job and therefore is a problem you should take
to your union!
However, we cannot simply rely on quoting “standards” or looking to
tackle “management”. The problem is the ours and we need direct
help and support.
Ultimately ....
There are only two things that can change:
1. The situation
2. The individual’s ability to handle the situation
As an individual therefore ..
• If we can change the situation we should do so. This might
mean better time management/prioritising. You need help with
this – the union and supportive colleagues.
• Changing ourselves is equally difficult. Martyrdom isn’t helpful.
• Overcome the need to win; find a place to express emotions;
learn to be “successfully vulnerable”
Over to you

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