Stress in the workplace can have a range of negative impacts on employee health and performance. The effects of workplace stress can be significant, from decreased productivity to increased absenteeism.
A robust Quality management system can help reduce and manage stress in the workplace and thus improve employees' health.
This article will examine the relationship between stress and quality management and discuss how organizations of all sizes can use quality management system values to address workplace stress.
First, we'll take a quick look at some theoretical contributions and previous research on workplace health, stress, bullying, and quality management.
Ill health at work is a big problem. It affects job performance, causes depression and work/family conflicts, and is a high cost to society and employers. In Sweden, sick-leave levels have gone up since 2011, costing the Swedish Social Insurance Agency 40 billion SEK in 2019. People also go to work even when they are ill (called presenteeism).
Organizational and social factors (like how managers organize the work, the management style, communication, and how people interact) were the third most common cause of work-related disease in Sweden in 2015. These factors accounted for 44% of the cases for women and increased by 83% between 2011 and 2015.
Sweden created workplace health programs to address these problems. Research has shown they can have positive effects.
Two types of programs exist:
- Addressing individual lifestyles (like smoking, exercise, diet, or stress management)
- Targeting the organizational climate and social work environment.
Although organizational factors are just as important as individual ones, employers mainly focus on the latter.
Stress is the main reason people take sick leave in Sweden (Source: The Swedish Social Insurance Agency). It usually arises from terrible working conditions.
On the other hand, working in good conditions can positively affect our health - this includes support for health-promoting activities, a health-supporting environment, health activities as part of the business strategy, and helping employees improve their lifestyle (Addley, 1999).
So, it is essential to understand how to create a health-promoting workplace.
The Demand-Control-model (Karasek, 1979; Karasek & Theorell, 1990) is often used to study organizational work-related stress. Two factors contribute to this model:
- Demands – the work-related challenges employees need to face. It includes physical and psycho-social aspects like a heavy workload, repetitive tasks, role conflicts, and a lack of leadership.
- Control – the ability of employees to influence the demands. It includes the possibilities to change the work situation, how much they can use their skills and options for developing their skills.
The combination of the two factors gives rise to four different work situations and their effects on health and well-being.
- High-strain work has high demands and low control. There is a high risk associated with this combination. Psychological pressure often leads to fatigue, depression, anxiety, and illness. It often results in low satisfaction and high levels of sick leave. A conveyor belt job with an uncontrollable pace is an excellent example of this type of work.
- Passive work has low demands and low control. It is often seen in cleaning, maintenance, and security jobs. This type of job can lead to low motivation and morale. Employees have few chances to use their skills, and the work could be more stimulating.
- Low-strain work comes from low demands and high control. It can apply to manual laborers who are self-employed. Since the strain is low, there is a lower risk of illness. The work can be tedious and there are few opportunities to develop.
- Active work The work involving active control and demands can be challenging, interesting, and stimulating. Academic positions are an example. Academic positions have fewer health risks but still face health issues.
Social support is another factor that affects work situations. It can protect against too much strain and is essential for a well-functioning workplace. People's social support experience depends on how they perceive it (House, 1981). Research also shows that the level of social support someone experiences is related to the risk of cardiovascular disease and arteriosclerosis (Bernin, 2002).
Workplace bullying is when someone is repeatedly mistreated negatively or aggressively (Einarsen et al., 2011). It can lead to lower well-being for individuals and organizations (Bowling & Beehr, 2006).
In addition to mental health problems like depression, it also causes physical health problems like heart disease (Kivimäki et al., 2003). Bullying can also cause victims to misbehave in response (Fida et al., 2018). Individual and environmental factors can affect how likely workplace bullying is to happen (Bowling & Beehr, 2006).
A power imbalance or a trigger event, such as a change in a workgroup, often triggers it (Salin, 2003). People can cope with bullying by finding meaning in life (Pheko, 2018) or being resilient (Jackson et al., 2007). But organizations and leaders should take responsibility to prevent bullying from happening in the first place (Ahmad, 2018).
Quality Management Background
Walter A. Shewhart developed Statistical Process Control (SPC) from his work at Western Electric and Bell Telephone Laboratories.
He wrote two books about it:
- 'Economic Control of Quality of Manufactured Products in 1931 and
- 'Statistical Method from the Viewpoint of Quality Control' in 1939.
Dr. W. Edwards Deming brought SPC to Japanese manufacturing during their rebuilding after World War II. It led to Total Quality Management (TQM), which combined SPC with a process improvement approach. Among the contributors to TQM were W. Edwards Deming, Joseph M. Juran, Philip B. Crosby, and Armand V. Feigenbaum.
In the 1980s, Business Process Reengineering (BPR) encouraged people to start over when implementing significant information systems changes thoroughly. It eventually became Six Sigma.
The principles of TQM, BPR, and Six Sigma then developed into Business Process Management (BPM), which is about understanding, documenting, managing, and controlling essential processes in a business.
Research on Quality Management Levels and Values
Quality management has changed from focusing on Total Quality Management (TQM) to emphasizing the values, techniques, and tools needed to create a quality culture (Dahlgaard-Park et al., 2013).
Several authors believe there are different levels of quality management (Dale, 1999; Dale & Lascelles, 1997; Lagrosen & Lagrosen, 2003). There are three levels of increasing complexity (Figure 1).
- The first level includes a lot of practical techniques and tools based on statistics.
- The second level involves various whole systems (e.g., the award models and ISO 9000).
- The third level, which is the most important, is made up of values (Hardjono et al., 1997), principles (Dahlgaard et al., 1998), key elements (Dale, 1999), and cornerstones (Bergman & Klefsjö, 2010).
These values should be spread throughout the organization and supported by core values like trust and honesty (Dahlgaard-Park, 2012).
In these studies, six values were identified as commonly important, but the list can vary.
- Customer orientation
- Leadership commitment
- Participation of everybody
- Business process focus
- Continuous improvements
- Management by fact
Workers who know the above values are in the organization and have better health. So, the research findings used these values to examine how good quality management affects health, stress, and bullying in the workplace.
Standards for Quality Management Systems
The ISO 9000 series is the most widely recognized and accepted quality management system standard across various industries. They are the national standard in 178 countries, and over a million organizations are registered. ISO 9000 series has been around since 1987.
ISO 9000 quality management systems (QMS) help organizations develop, set up, register, and maintain an appropriate QMS. It differs from traditional standards like engineering, measurement, terminology, test methods, or product specifications.
The ISO 9000 quality management system standards are based on the idea that a well-designed and managed QMS can make sure a product or service meets customer needs and expectations. However, certification of the QMS does not guarantee the quality of the product or service.
How Stress and Health of Employees Impacts The QMS Areas In a Company
A research team conducted a study to examine associations between quality management values, workplace health, and workplace stress. Researchers gave Swedish secondary school teachers a questionnaire based on theory and previous research. Workplace health and quality management values were included in the questionnaire. There were also constructs to measure stress, demand, control, and bullying. Findings were reported by doing Correlation analyses and cluster analyses.
The research team chose 90 Swedish public upper secondary schools with the help of the random number function in Excel. They were sent an email with a link to a questionnaire.
Here are some key numbers from the research:
- 311 responses were received. Due to the unknown number of school employees, it is impossible to calculate the response rate.
- 183 respondents identified as female, 127 as male, and one as other.
- 23 respondents were younger than age 20.
- The highest number of respondents were in their fifties (84), followed by their forties (76).
Findings from the research:
Researchers carried out cluster analysis to have a structured view of the participants. After several runs with different theoretically relevant cluster numbers, a solution with four clusters was found to be most informative using K-means clustering. The results are in Table 1.
The clusters were labeled and can be described as follows:
- The problematics- The situation of this group is the least favorable of all. Quality management values do not exist in their organizations, and their health could be better. They have shallow control while the demands are high and thus are stressed.
- The quality enjoyers- On the other hand, this is the group with the best situation. They experience quality management values to a high degree, and their health is good. Their level of control is high, which means that although their demands are substantial, their stress level could be higher.
- The unmotivated- In this group, the levels of stress and demands are low. However, their control could be higher, and they must experience more quality management values. Thus, their health could be better.
- The ambitious- This group has the highest levels of stress and demands. However, the control is also relatively high, and they reasonably experience quality management values. Consequently, their health is relatively good.
Key Observations From the Study
Stress was negatively correlated with values such as participation of everyone, process orientation, and management by facts.
According to quality management values, customer orientation leads to higher demands and increased control, which mitigates stress. Some values have a stress-reducing effect.
The study confirms previous research showing quality management values associated with workplace health. Self-reported health corresponds with objective measures of morbidity, likely leading to lower sick leave levels.
High control is associated with higher workplace health, but demands don't matter much. Quality management values are correlated with control and are associated with lower bullying levels, which is linked to lower workplace health.
Quality management values can create a quality culture in an organization, leading to higher employee well-being and a decrease in bullying. Managers should be encouraged to implement quality management to ensure a safe and healthy work environment.
What improvements would you make to your Quality Management System (QMS) that would lead to better workplace health and lower stress levels?