Occupational stress in Australian University Staff

Currently reading Winefield et al (2003) as part of writing my thesis, thought I’d share some of the points and reflections here.

University well-being and staff well-being

The paper abstract ends with the following

At the aggregate level, self-report measures of psychological well-being were highly correlated with objective measures of university well-being (investment income, student–staff ratios, and recent cuts in staffing levels and in government operating grants).

A finding that is particularly relavent/worrying given recent events at my current institution.

Stress and control

Quotes a “demand-control theory of job stress” that suggests jobs with high levels of control/autonomy should not be stressful, even if jobs are demanding. Stressful jobs are those with low control.

The rise of minimum course website standards, fixed and external deadlines and many other impacts of managerialisation seem to be taking a traditionally high control job back to low control.

In fact that seems to the question the paper is looking at, it appears academics are losing control, which means that levels of stress should be rising. Ahh, this paper reports results from the first survey – not yet longitudinal. However, the work seems to have made it into book form.

Method

Apparently paper-based surveys with general demographic information, code identifier (to allow longitudinal comparison), psychological strain (using 12 item General Health Questionnaire) and job satisfaction (15 items from Warr, Cook and Wall (1979))

17 universities participated, response rate of 25% for a total of 8732 noncasual employees – general and academic.

Findings

  • Groups showing highest level of psychological strain were academic teaching and research staff and academic teaching only staff.
  • No difference between men and women.
  • % of people who might be possible cases of psychological disorders
    • Australian population – 12%.
    • Academic staff – 43%
    • General staf – 37%
  • Groups with lowest job satisfaction – teaching only, followed by teaching and research group.
  • Men had lower satisfaction than women.

Implications

The research method was based on fairly standard survey measures. I believe that the context at my host institution is only decreasing the level of autonomy for individual teaching staff. So an application of this survey to current staff should reveal some interesting results. Particularly, if it is done across the board for all staff, including those at campuses which are employed as casual staff. i.e. those that have even less control.

Such information, if gathered appropriately might provide some ammunition to support arguments to the hierarchy for changes in actions.

References

Winefield, A. H., N. Gillespie, et al. (2003). “Occupational stress in Australian university staff: Results from a national survey.” International Journal of Stress Management 10(1): 51-63.

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