Workplace stress in Victoria - developing a systems approach

In recent years we have seen a rise in stress across all spheres of life, particularly in the workplace. Approximately 7.7 million Australians spend one-quarter to one-third of their waking lives at work so it is not surprising that we are seeing workplace stress emerging as a major cause of physical and mental health problems.

The direct cost of workplace injury and disease in Australia has been estimated at over $7 billion per year nationally. Research shows clear links between an individual’s occupation and their health, with distinct differences between the experiences of blue-collar and white-collar workers, men and women and older and younger employees.

Numerous studies have also documented the relationship between people’s working conditions and their health behaviours such as smoking, unhealthy eating and lack of exercise. Economists have demonstrated that economic factors such as income and labour market status are also prime contributors to the psychological and physical health of individuals.

The Victorian Health Promotion Foundation (VicHealth), as part of its Mental Health and Wellbeing Plan 2005-2007, is exploring the links between work, stress and broader health outcomes to gauge the extent of the problem and identify ways of addressing it.

VicHealth has commissioned a University of Melbourne team, led by Associate Professor Anthony LaMontagne, to work with our Mental Health and Wellbeing unit to review national and international job stress research and investigate the effectiveness of using a ‘systems’ rather than ‘individualistic’ approach to address the issue.

Workplace stress publication coverThe resulting report: Workplace Stress in Victoria: Developing a Systems Approach, offers compelling evidence that job stress is substantial contributor to the burden of mental illness, cardio-vascular disease and other physical and mental health problems.

More importantly, this report also outlines ways forward to address these issues.

Notably, the intervention review demonstrates that VicHealth’s use of the determinants, or systems, approach to a range of other health issues is also the most effective approach to dealing with issues of workplace stress. We are pleased to see that VicHealth’s general approach to health promotion also adds value to understanding and responding to this growing concern for working Victorians and their employers.

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Further reading and listening

Job strain-attributable depression in a sample of working Australians: Assessing the contribution to health inequalities
Study by Anthony D LaMontagne, Tessa Keegel, Deborah Vallance, Aleck Ostry and Rory Wolfe. BMC Public Health 2008, 8:181 (27 May 2008)

A systematic review of the job stress intervention evaluation literature: 1990-2005
by LaMontagne AD, Keegel T, Louie AM, Ostry A, and Landsbergis PA (2007). This article first appeared in Intl J Occup & Environ Health.
Download A Systematic Review of the Job-stress Intervention Evaluation Literature

To read the full document of the reviewed studies
Download Appendix to A Systematic Review of the Job-stress Intervention Evaluation Literature

Work and you - stress, mental health and wellbeing podcast
Listen to the ABC Radio National Life Matters program (24 August 2007) which featured Tony LaMontagne in a national broadcast of the National Science Festival panel discussion on "Work and you - stress, mental health and wellbeing", Canberra, 20 August 2007.
Download the radio forum Work and You - Happy Together?