A little time well spent...

Stress gurus often suggest impractical solutions to dealing with problems that affect us at work. Chartered Clinical Psychologist, Simon Easton, offers simple and practical advice about coping with stress in the real world.

Improving Quality of Working Life: worthwhile benefit from a little time well spent

For most of us, the solutions to stress presented in popular magazines give rise to responses which fall somewhere between “I know all this” and “Yes, but that is not the real world”. Taking time out to relax, practising Yoga, slowing down or being assertive with the boss are fine in theory but often impractical when it comes to making changes at work.

That is not to say that these are not good ideas, but often we predict that they may have undesirable repercussions – saying “no” to the boss might cause more stress than just doing it anyway and feeling overworked.

Sometimes of course the prediction is wrong, and when we finally change our behaviour, the consequences are not as bad as we had imagined they will be.

Another reason why those simple stress management ideas feel inadequate springs from that underlying oversimplification of the real world work setting.

Our research into the broad picture of Quality of Working Life (QOWL), shows just how the widest context in which we work contributes to stress and strain, to job satisfaction, to health and affects in a whole range of ways that might not at first sight seem obvious.

What is more, each of these factors can impact another – demands in one area (pressures at home, for instance, poor physical health, childcare problems, poor relationships with colleagues) can then lead to consequences in another area (poor performance, de-motivation, absence from work).

Of course the influence of one area on another can also be positive, as when clear and inclusive leadership can enhance job satisfaction and commitment to work.

The QoWL approach aims to review all the key factors and so help organisations and individuals tease out the relevant factors for their specific settings, and thereby identify changes that can make a real difference.

A proper understanding the broader picture helps ensure that important factors are missed, such that changes fail to have the desired consequences. If it is the working conditions that lead to dissatisfaction at work, then provision of childcare facilities or changes to the canteen fare will have little impact on the issue in hand.

Some recent research on UK government employees has highlighted these links between various facets of QoWL Research has shown that poor relationships with colleagues can for example lead to poor health; lack of sense of control at work can lead to increased alcohol intake; high job strain can be associated with higher risk of heart problems.

So that feeling that the magazine article’s tricks can not really make a difference for you is substantially valid – the real trick is not to take no action, but to take the time to work out what you need to do to actually make a difference. A little time completing a questionnaire or assessing the situation with someone who can take a detached view can be very well spent if it helps you identify what actually stops you enjoying a better Quality of Working Life.


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Stansfield,S. Head,J. Marmot, M. (2000). Work related factors and ill health. The Whitehall II Study. HSE Contract Research report 266/2000.

Stansfield,S. Fuhrer, R. Head,J. Ferrie, J. & Shipley,M. (1997). Work and psychiatric disorder in the Whitehall II Study. Journal psychosmatic research. 43 1 73-81