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Researchers of Riga Technical University (RTU) within the framework of an international project are developing specific training modules and practical tools to help organizations and employees across Europe to recognize, prevent and avoid negative workplace stress.

«We have been complaining about stress a lot lately. But stress should be seen as a normal part of everyday life. Sometimes it can also aid in reaching the goal. Stress can motivate us to get promoted at work or run the last kilometre of a marathon. But if we are unable to recognize and manage stress and it becomes prolonged, it can have a serious impact on the quality of work and also on our health. Each of us has different stressors. According to various surveys, stress at work is at the top of the list, and stressors are different – heavy workload, long working hours, too much responsibility, bad management, unclear results to be achieved, discrimination, no involvement in decision-making, etc. Each stress level will vary by personality and how we react to situations. Stress in the work environment is the result of a number of long-lasting irritants, even everyday things, and then slowly starts moving forward like a giant snowball if we do not notice the stressors that need to be noticed and recognized», says Zane Rostoka, a researcher and doctoral student at the Faculty of Engineering Economics and Management.

Stress causes billions of losses

Temporary and mild stress helps an employee to mobilize, it even acts as a driving force, but prolonged stress at the workplace has a negative impact on the mental and physical health of workers. It worsens the work ability and working lifespan of employees – they get tired quickly, work carelessly, make mistakes, are sick more often and suffer from depression. According to the report «Calculating the cost of work-related stress and psychosocial risks» by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, the cost of work-related depression in Europe is estimated at around € 617 billion annually. This amount includes the cost of absenteeism, loss of productivity, healthcare, and disability benefits. Another European study by the agency shows that stress is a major work safety and health concern in approximately 80% of European companies, but only a limited number of these companies or organizations have introduced specific procedures to prevent work-related stress; there is a lack of skills and expertise.

Reducing stress level by at least 10%

RTU Faculty of Engineering Economics and Management is one of the partners in the Erasmus+ co-funded international project «Improving management competences on Excellence-based Stress avoidance and working towards Sustainable organisational development in Europe» (IMPRESS). In the project, scientists and experts from German, Spanish, Latvian and Irish universities and organizations are developing a set of solutions that helps to understand how stress affects all aspects of entrepreneurship, such as management style, cost of absenteeism, work organization, work-life balance, demographic change, staff training, information flow, and also to identify and prevent stress risk factors.

Extensive research has already been carried out in all project partner countries to identify individual factors in the work environment that contribute to engagement and satisfaction (motivation) by analysing interactions with organizational management processes such as work content / asignments, working conditions and workload, team and collaboration, work role and responsibility, attitudes and behaviours, organizational climate and collaboration, control and clarity, role and support of the management, well-being and stress, employee satisfaction and engagement.

This summer researchers also developed training modules, the approbation of which will begin in the autumn. According to their competences, RTU researchers developed modules to cover the following topics: stress, stressors, their recognition in the work environment, organization of work environment processes, impact of working conditions on productivity, changes in work content and environment, management of new forms of work (e.g., remote work), workload and workflow management, organizational work environment, culture, team collaboration, employee attitude and behaviour, demands and tasks for the employee, their compliance with the workload, etc.

Modules developed by researchers of Latvia as well as modules developed in other Member States will be approbated in Latvia. It is planned that they will be approbated by students and experts of RTU Faculty of Engineering Economics and Management.

After approbation, all modules will be combined into an innovative stress assessment and management tool. It will help to recognize and evaluate stress levels, identify how to prevent an increase in individual stressors through e-learning, and use a special test to assess the changes made. IMPRESS aims to reduce the causes of stress by 10%, which could save the European economy more than € 10 billion in 2035.

Using experience, training and assignments

The research carried out within the IMPRESS project shows that stressors are similar across Europe, but with slightly different intensities, namely, which factor has a greater impact. For example, in many European countries more stress is caused by ensuring equality between women and men in the work environment, whereas in Latvia this problem is less topical, although the pay for the same work is still different for women and men, says Z. Rostoka. Latvia, on the other hand, differs with the work environment and the culture of mutual relations – we are more closed, we avoid talking about unpleasant issues, the atmosphere at work is not so free, so there is a greater risk of conflict.

The IMPRESS training modules are developed taking into account that they must be equally effective throughout Europe. RTU specialists combine theoretical and scientifically grounded findings, as well as experience and practical tasks of various experts so that both employers and employees can immediately recognize stressors and make the right decision to reduce them. The experience of local and foreign users and experts will also be taken into account during the approbation.

The project will close in the autumn of next year.

For information:

«Improving management competences on Excellence-based Stress avoidance and working towards Sustainable organisational development in Europe» 

Project No. 588315-EPP-1-2017-ES-EPPKA2-KA

Funding: Erasmus+

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e-solution: Esperonus