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Only 40 per cent of Irish firms have policies on job stress

04 Dec 2018 / employment Print

Only one third of Irish firms have policies on job stress

Job stress among employees in Ireland has doubled from 8% in 2010 to 17% in 2015. However, only 40% of Irish firms have policies in place to deal with job stress, a new ESRI report reveals.

It urges greater engagement by both senior management and employees to maximise efficacy and tackle reasons for stress.

And in a warning to professionals working in environments where long hours are expected, the survey shows that those working more than 40 hours per week experience higher levels of stress. 

“Current legislation prohibits average work weeks in excess of 48 hours. However, stress reactions appear to accelerate before this threshold,” the survey reports.


Unsurprisingly, differences in job stress are also observed across occupational groups with technical and associate professionals, managers and professional workers experiencing higher levels of stress. Managers are the most time-pressured group and work the longest hours. 

The study draws on the effort/reward imbalance model of research, which focuses on organisational justice.

Distributive justice within an organisation means that resources and rewards are allocated between workers, based on some fair criterion, such as merit or equality.

“Effort/reward imbalance is a symptom of an absence of distributive justice, because all else being equal, we would expect greater effort to lead to greater reward in a just environment,” the report says.

Job stress and the factors that cause it are linked to behavioural outcomes, the ESRI report says, including increased alcohol consumption. 

Other relevant behavioural outcomes relate to the spill-over of work stress into family life, and a decline in the quality of relationships.

The ESRI also points to evidence that job stress brings about negative outcomes at the organisational level, with a strong link between burnout and poor work performance. 

Negative correlations

There are substantial negative correlations between exhaustion and work performance, and customer satisfaction. 

Stress is also an important factor in predicting job turnover, the study shows.

Work-related stress can increase absenteeism and presenteeism, and can even lead to early retirement, with studies estimating that 30% of sickness absence is directly caused by stress.  

Profound effects 

These outcomes are likely to lead to reductions in overall productivity, with a particularly profound effect when work interferes with employees’ personal lives.  

However, the level of job stress in Ireland is still below the average for ten Western European countries in 2015, when it stood at 19 per cent.  

The report uses two waves of a European-wide dataset, the European Working Conditions Survey (carried out in 2010 and 2015) to examine the working conditions that are associated with job stress.

Ireland was one of the countries showing the steepest increase in job stress between 2010 and 2015. 

Health and safety legislation in Ireland, and the EU more widely, specifies that employers have a duty of care to ensure that the safety, health and welfare of employees are not unreasonably compromised by work. 

The duty of care extends to personal injury and the mental health of workers, the ESRI report points out.

Nationally, job stress is covered by the  EU Health and Safety Directive (89/391/EEC),and the Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005, which both set out the roles and responsibilities of employers in preventing mental and physical ill-health among workers. 

Under part two, section 8 of this act, employers have a general duty to take all reasonably practicable steps to ensure the health and welfare of their employees, which includes protecting against any personal injury to mental health arising from job stress. 

Other relevant legislation in this area is the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997, which lays down minimum provisions for leave and maximum limits on hours of work.


Job stress occurs where demands are too great for the worker to cope with, leading to stress reactions, the report explains. 

In the ESRI study, excessive job demands include factors such as time pressure (for example having to work at speed), emotional demands, physical demands, and exposure to bullying and harassment. 

Job resources, in contrast, are thought to have a more positive impact on worker well-being and to moderate the effect of job demands on stress. 

These job resources include supportive relationships in the workplace, autonomy or control, and intrinsic rewards.

The main job stressors listed are: 

  • Emotional demands of dealing with angry customers for example,
  • Time pressure,
  • Bullying or harassment; 
  • Physically demanding work, 
  • An effort/reward imbalance where workers feel underpaid for the work they carry out,
  • Long working hours. 

However, job resources were found to have a weaker relationship with job stress than job demands. 

Intrinsic reward or a feeling of work well done, and a feeling that the job is useful, were associated with a lower risk of job stress.  

The report says there is also sufficient evidence to show that it is in the interests of employers to address workplace stress.

Reasonable demands

Under current legislation, employers are required to ensure that the demands placed on workers are reasonable, and that control measures are in place.

Employers must ensure that the risks of job-related stress are assessed and managed.

However, employer survey data suggest that only 40% of Irish firms have policies in place to deal with job stress. This is much lower than the proportion of such systems for workplace bullying.

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