New Report Examines Teamwork and Stress

A new report shows that teamworking can both increase and decrease work-related stress levels, depending on how it's structured by employers.

A new report from the UK's Health and Safety Executive (HSE) shows that teamworking can both increase and decrease work-related stress levels, depending on the team design and methods of implementation adopted by employers. A team involves more than a group of people working near to each other.

The study defined teamwork as groups of employees who work collaboratively together, coordinating inter-dependent activities, in order to achieve shared goals. Such team working is increasingly common within modern companies as they strive to be more flexible, cost-effective and innovative, according to researchers. The mid-1990s saw 55 percent of UK manufacturers using teamworking, and this usage is expected to increase.

The review identifies two differing views of teamwork. One view states that successful teamworking can reduce employees' work-related stress through enabling greater control over their work environment and increasing job challenge. On the other hand, there is a danger that team working could escalate employee stress levels through increasing workload and raising uncertainty about what is expected of employees under a new approach.

A model for understanding teamworking has been created for the study, showing that teams can be successful if they have a positive impact on aspects such as job autonomy, skill variety and feedback. In contrast, teams that remove job discretion and increase workload are likely to have negative effects for employees. This can be the case with "lean production teams" involving employees working together on tightly-linked tasks that have highly standardized methods.

In addition, the model suggests that employee well-being can be better safe-guarded by designing an appropriate context within which teams work, particularly with regard to an appropriate team design, an effective implementation process, and a supportive culture.

In the context of the model, researchers report on the results of three studies, each examining a different type of production team:

  • Study A is a longitudinal study of the effects of implementing flexible work teams in a wire-making company.
  • Study B is a longitudinal study of lean production teams in a vehicle manufacturing company.
  • Study C is an investigation of self-managed teams in a chemical processing company.

"Implementing team working is implicitly neither good nor bad for employee well-being. Rather, the effects of team working will depend on a number of organizational, design, strategic, individual, and implementation factors," said Dr. Helen Williams, one of the authors of the report.

The important point, said Williams, is that companies need to recognize that they can make choices that have important consequences for employee well-being. "By pro-actively considering the factors outlined in the report, employers can make choices that enrich employees' work characteristics and thereby promote mental health at work. Employers need to be fully informed about the choices available to them, and the consequences of these choices," Williams added.

Copies of "Effective Teamworking: Reducing the Psychosocial Risks" can be ordered online at www.hsebooks.co.uk or are available from HSE Books, PO Box 1999, Sudbury, Suffolk, CO10 2WA.

HSE's Contract Research Reports are available on the HSE Web site at www.hse.gov.uk/research/content/crr/index.htm.

edited by Sandy Smith (ssmith@penton.com)

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