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The man who could change your life

Dr Robin Briner, an occupational psychologist from Birkbeck College, Lodon, has developed a
new approach to dealing with a problem which he claims supersedes all existing solutions to the
biggest cause of absenteeism and ill-health-stress.
Dr Briner is critical of the multi-million pound stress industry’s use of the questionnaire widely
employed to measure stress levels in businesses, and the way their results are used. He complains
that the questions, being too generalized in their content, lack sufficient detail and do not produce
accurate results. In addition, he feels that the majority of stress management techniques for tension –
from office massage to relaxation training and full-scale job redesign – have no real sustained
benefit for staff.
For example, a study in the US looked at part-time mature students who were working in
demanding jobs while simultaneously studying. They were given advice on managing pressure but
afterwards, their levels were worse. Dr Briner says, “too often, stress management training simply
makes people aware of problems they weren’t aware before. It’s like showing a hypochondriac a
medical dictionary”. He emphasizes that he doesn’t doubt work can have harmful effects on our
health, but different people react in different ways to tension at work.
Dr Briner’s lack of faith in these conventional means of dealing with stress is borne out by the
increasingly alarming statistics. According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) around half a
million of us are suffering from work-related anxiety or depression at levels that make us ill. Stress-
related illnesses accounts for the loss of 6.5 m working days each year and costs employers around
370 million pounds. The latest survey by the Industrial Society found that 86% of workers felt stress
was the problem in their organization and 36% believed it to be a significant issue. Now, however,
Dr Briner thinks he has found a solution.
Speaking at a recent British Psychological Society’s Occupation Conference, Dr Briner
announced a new method of talking this work-related problem: the Management Standards
Approach. He describes the Standards as a checklist, which will alert companies to the main causes
of workplace stress and advise managers on how to combat it.
Not surprisingly, considering his dislike of vague terminology, Dr Briner’s new standards are
highly detailed. In essence, he calls for a realistic assessment of the nature and quantity of the
workload when designing and recruiting for jobs, and training in workload management for staff. He
came to this conclusion after investigating in this cause of stress in two companies by using a
questionnaire more specific in content, asking fewer questions but getting more detailed descriptions
of the problems people was facing. Instead of merely identifying the extent of the harm done by
stress, the danger signs were recognized and so, ways of controlling these hazards were developed.
One solution he recommends is that managers, through to senior level, should be able to
redistribute workload where necessary and make sure when planning new projects or organizational
change, that the number and type of staff available are taken into account. If workload becomes
excessive, management should have contingency plans to fall back on. This is the basic good
practice that every company should be following but Dr Briner points out that when profits are at
stake, many managers fail to adopt this common sense approach.
Colin Mackay of the HSE also envisages the standards as a form of prevention rather than cure.
“We’re trying to make stress management a formalized, integral part of management. The standards
will highlight areas where things commonly go wrong and suggest remedies so managers are
thinking ahead about those problems.”
Not everyone is so impressed. Richard Chiumento, director of an HR consultancy which
specializes in stress management, thinks management standards are similar to a Big Brother
approach. He says, “It’s not workable. You can centrally manage areas such as workload through
government. It’s a matter for individual companies to work out for themselves.” Mr Chiumento also
takes the view that individuals should learn to manage their own tensions and anxieties.
Professor Cary Copper, organizational psychologist at UMIST and an expert on stress at work,
doubts that workers will make use of the “formal mechanism” for reporting problems to
management unless they can remain anonymous. “Our experience tells us that people feel so job
insecure today they won’t use appraisal systems to complain. How do you report to your manager if
he’s the one doing the bullying?”
TUC Health and Safety Officer, Owen Tudor, welcomes the new approach in principle.
However, he questions whether manager will adhere to the standards when the pressure is on.
“Obviously we would prefer them to have legal status, as then they would have no choice but to
implement these measures.”
Janet Fairweather agrees. “Few managers would do it off their own back. In theory, we know
that happy staff make for a more productive workforce but in practice companies are more
concerned with immediate profits. To have any teeth, these standards would have to be made law.”
So, despite the growing awareness that stress related illnesses cause major disruptions to
productivity and thus, the economy, little real progress is being made in combating it. Even though
Dr Briner has created a means pre-empting this destructive consequence of modern working life,
unless managers are more active in implementing his suggestions, the problem will remain part of
daily working life in Britain.

Questions 27-32
Following statements are referring to:

Rob Briner RB
Richard Chiumento RC
Cary Cooper CC
Janet Fairweather JF
Colin Mackay CM
Owen Tudor OT

27. People need to learn to deal with their stress by themselves.


28. Procedures for grievances at work are not always followed.
29. Companies should estimate the requirements for a job before appointing manager.
30. Companies put financial gain before staff welfare.
31. Managers must learn to anticipate problems that may arise.
32. Stress management courses bring previously unacknowledged problems to the fore.

Questions 33-40
Complete the summary below. Choose one word from Reading Passage for each answer.

It is s disturbing fact that stress at work is a major cause of ……(33) amongst of the workforce.
According the HSE, as many as 500000 people may be off work with … (34) problems at any one
time. however maybe there is some hope on the horizon. A detailed ….(35) has been developed to
help determine exact levels of stress in the workplace. What the survey reveals is not only the …(36)
of the damage caused by stress but also points out that ….(37) of potential problems can be
identified. This new document is an improvement on previous versions in that it focuses on …(38)
details and its …(39) does not deal with as many vague issues. From the results of the survey, a
checklist of standards has been devised, which help managers …(40) stress in the work place.