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Tolley’s managing stress in the workplace
  1. D Snashall

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    Carole Spiers (£60.00). Croydon, UK: LexisNexis UK. ISBN 0-7545-1269-X

    “Not another book about workplace stress”—emanating in this case, from the “stress industry” would be an understandable reaction. Carole Spiers, the author, unequivocally describes herself as an “occupational stress consultant” and head of the Carole Spiers Group: “International Corporate Well-being Consultants”.

    She faces up to the implications immediately by asking “Why indeed another book about stress? What makes it different from the others?” Well, this one is intended to be practical and user friendly – a handbook that can sit on your shelf and act as a reference manual to be dipped into whenever required. It is aimed primarily at employers, employees, and their representatives rather than occupational health practitioners or academics; this is not a criticism—many occupational health practitioners will appreciate the way in which the subject of work related stress is assiduously presented in all its complexity.

    Far from being all about the practicalities of managing stress in the workplace, there are chapters which go into some detail about the nature of stress, current legislation, and the health and safety framework in the UK and, to some extent, Europe. Naturally there has to be constant reference to health and safety and employment law but also to civil litigation, and here comes one of the problems: very few cases of work induced stress have in fact been litigated and those that have, have not, in many people’s view, been very typical. Moreover, this is a fast changing field and the useful synopsis of appeal cases heard in 2002 may soon be out of date on account of impending House of Lords judgements. In another domain, namely identifying current workplace stressors, the template used: Culture, Demands, Control, Relationships, Change, Role, and Support has already been refined by the Health and Safety Executive as more is learned about measuring psychosocial factors at work.

    However, the approach taken by the author to understanding the problem is straightforward, accepted by most, practical, and will be useful for people who want to systematise their approach to identifying workplace stressors or measure the effects of stress on an organisation.

    There are chapters on bullying, post-traumatic stress, stress and health, and the effects of stress on the individual, whose conclusions will not be accepted by all. There is, unsurprisingly, a chapter on personal stress management strategies which sweeps up much of the advice, good and bad, offered by the self help industry and, to balance it, a chapter on healthy organisations. There is a short chapter on the future of stress.

    In 400 pages the author covers most of what there is to know about the wider world of stress and has usefully interwoven a number of relevant themes. I was surprised how little mention was made of the medicalisation of stress—after all most employers receive their first intimation of an employee’s stressed state by means by means of a sickness absence certificate signed by a general practitioner. This issue is only cursorily examined in chapter 10. I also failed to recognise many of the examples of stressed individuals which populate the book. They are all real cases, but where are the people with relatively undemanding jobs, beset by social problems, domestic difficulties, and unhealthy habits referred by harassed middle managers? It is often a toss up to know who will “go off with stress” first. I am not sure that this book is very enlightening about how to manage those people and how to prevent the seemingly inevitable slide of such individuals into resentment, long term sickness absence, and, eventually, Incapacity Benefit.

    There does, also, seem to be an emphasis on larger organisations and not much about the dynamics within small and medium sized enterprises (where most people work these days), which are different.

    The book does, however, deserve to be “dipped into” because there is a wealth of descriptive material on which to build.

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