A Comparison between UK and India
Stress has been part of human life ever since the beginning of mankind. Initially, people stressed themselves out hunting for food, finding places to rest, and inexplicability of natural phenomena. With the globalisation of industries and the presence of multinational companies all over the world, organizations may need to consider adopting certain policies to match up to other similar organizations. Stress in organisations has become a major issue in the UK and most organisations now have policies and procedures to help employees avoid this and interventions are often in place to support them. It is not known whether this is common practice in India and the purpose of this study is to try to establish to what extent this is now acknowledged as an issue for companies to address.
This will be a qualitative study comparing the mental health policies in operation specifically considering individuals suffering from stress in the workplace in India and the UK. In both countries three professionals will be approached and interviewed: first, a chief executive of an organisation in order to explore their understanding of stress in the workplace; second, a human resource manager in an organisation to identify to what extent there are policies in place; and third, a medical doctor in general practice as this is where most often stress is initially reported. Thus, the research aims to find - Organizational Mental Health: How do policies compare between India and the UK. This paper aims to understand absenteeism related to stress and compare legal and organizational responses and practices in India and UK.
Stress has been part of human life ever since the beginning of mankind. Initially, people stressed themselves out hunting for food, finding places to rest, and inexplicability of natural phenomena. At that point, there was no work, and it was just life, yet stressful. As agrarianism became a norm of the society, the agricultural activity and eagerness for the result of the hard work created stress. Slowly, there was a demarcation between work and life as different professions emerged, and work slowly became separated from life and that journey for stress-free life continues till today and still there is hardly a balance between work and life. There are numerous definitions of stress and this paper specifically focuses on occupational stress and its relationship with absenteeism. While, almost all studies portray stress as a negative factor, it is to be acknowledged right at the beginning of this paper that stress at optimal levels also induces higher productivity. It is only when stress goes beyond tolerable limits that its negative impact is found on the employees and workplace.
This paper aims to understand absenteeism related to stress and compare legal and organizational responses and practices in India and UK.
Causative factors of Stress
There could be a large number of causative factors that may result in stress, but individuals often differ in responding to stress. Some people tolerate stress well and others do not. Also, the cognitive reaction to different situations plays a great role on how stressful a situation could be, and again this response is factored by the nature of the individual, relevance of the event to the individual’s life and work, and also how ably the individual can manage the event as well as the situation. Any emotional response to a situation is strictly determined by the appraisal of the situation and the coping abilities while temperament plays a key role. Several studies have been done to explain why and how people respond positively or negatively, to the stress creating factors. Several factors like genetic make-up, individual’s health, and behavioural patterns among others are known to influence the stress levels. It is perfectly normal to feel stressed, when the outcomes of the situation are not clear, while facing a difficult or even frustrating decision.
People with sensitive central nervous system (CNS) obviously respond in a state of higher excitement to the environmental events and tend to adapt gradually. Usually, newer experiences or surprising developments cause stress. Studies on chimpanzees have clearly indicated that stress is not caused by familiar or unfamiliar objects. It is rather caused when familiar objects are shown in an unfamiliar way. This tended to scare the chimpanzees away. This looks like a very obvious reaction, and these responses are not based on previous experiences. Majority of the children scared of water, their parents report, do not have an earlier traumatic experience associated with water.
Stress at times, can beget positive reinforcements such as sympathy from relatives and immediate social support systems around the individual. Several psychological theories also state that, stress could also have its origin in internal conflicts, as a struggle between the reality and ideal, differences between unconscious views and needs, as also the difference between self-concept and the reality.
Some psychologists even have said that an individual could actually think themselves into almost every possible emotional state. People are not conditioned by their experiences to react to an individual event in a specific manner. They are conditioned by inner thoughts and feelings that create a sense of stress or calm. People who constantly ask what-if questions, expecting negative outcomes, without actual indicators to that effect simply increase stress in their lives and in situations that actually may not deserve high levels of “emotional, cognitive, or psychological responses.”
Defining Occupational Stress
Occupational stress, predominantly deals with sources of stress at work, and is directly related to the employees’ role at work.
Workplace stress has escalated steadily over the last couple of decades. Increased responsibilities, as seen by individual employees with less control, clubbed with high expectations, have clearly demonstrated a link with higher rates of heart attacks, hypertension, and many other disorders.
Efforts have been made to drop lists of most stressful and least stressful occupations. However, these kinds of rankings have little importance because, “it is not a job, but the person-environment fit that matters.” As mentioned earlier, different individuals have different responses to stress. Many individuals actually are productive in high pressure cooker kind of an environment and manage to juggle several things at the same time. This however is when they perceive that they are in full control of the situation. These kinds of individuals would shy away from routine works. Same job profile, say that of a policeman or a teacher, working in sensitive areas would be very different, when they are working in calmer areas and hence sweeping statement observations need to be avoided as stress levels can be dramatically different for the same job role, in different geographies. Stress obviously, is a very personal phenomenon, and it can vary in similar situations, in the same individual for different reasons. Several surveys, have surprisingly indicated that policemen tend to perceive doing paper work more far more stressful than being exposed to dangerous criminals. One straight and simple factor, which changes stress perception, is the ability of an individual to perceive the level of control, he or she exercises.
Many scientific studies have established that, those who perceive being subjected to a higher level of demands, having little control over situations, are at a higher risk of cardiovascular diseases.
Absenteeism and costs associated in the United Kingdom
Government, as well as individual organizations, have put in place, a number of initiatives in the health as well as the well-being of the employees. But, workplace data in 2006 indicates that, approximately 420, 000 employees in Britain were reportedly experiencing stress or depression, as well as anxiety at work, thus became ill . The same statistics, for 2006-07, report that almost 30 million days were lost because of work related illnesses and of these 46% are approximately 14 million days were attributed to stress, depression, and anxiety, making stress the single largest cause of all absences directly attributed to work-related illness. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) reports that stress, depression, and anxiety account for 40% of sick-leave while, the Confederation of British Industry puts this figure slightly lower at 37.5%. The Sainsbury Center for Mental Health records that sickness absence is much higher at 44%, and it is estimated so, for lack of detailed evidence. So, an average figure of 40% looks like the acceptable figure. In the UK’s working population, 175 million working days are lost every year of which 70 million days are due to mental health problems.
CIPD estimates that, the average cost of absence is GBP 659 per employee, per year. CBI calculated it at GBP 537 per employee, per year, and both the organizations mentioned that indirect costs were not accounted for in the estimates. However, other surveys indicate indirect costs at GBP 270 per employee, per year.All the surveys indicated that absences costs differ in various industry sectors. The CBI report applying the average absence costs to the entire workforce, estimated that it is about GBP 20.2 billion in 2006 and if the 40% is applied to this category, then about GBP 8.8 billion would be attributed to mental ill-health causes. The CIPD survey went further and estimated that costs associated with turnover and estimated at GBP 7750 per employee including, training and induction costs, but the cost of time for finding a replacement for a trained employee is not included in this costs. The CIPD, CBI, as well as Sainsbury Center for Mental Health, estimate employee turnover costs directly related to stress and mental health is approximately GBP 1.35 billion.
The Hawthorne studies, conducted during the 1930s and 1940s as stated earlier, forced organizations to shift their attention from the scientific management approach to the human relations approach. The results of these studies suggested that employee productivity was affected not only by the way the job was designed and the economic rewards but also by certain social and psychological factors. Elton Mayo and F.J. Roethlisberger found that the feelings, emotions and sentiments of employees were greatly influenced by such work conditions as group relationships and management support. These soft rewards in turn affected productivity. It was recognized that treating employees with respect would improve employee satisfaction and help in achieving higher productivity.
Presenteeism is defined as a loss of productivity due to employees who are sick and unwell, coming to work and performing at sub-par levels due to the illness. Sainsbury Center estimates the cost of Presenteeism to be about 1.8 times as that of absenteeism. This makes one thing very clear that, Presenteeism is more expensive than absenteeism and that manifestation is more in the form of Presenteeism than absenteeism. Office of the national statistics has indicated that 22.3% people in paid employment experience some kind of mental health problems. Sainsbury Center extrapolates this and advises employers to be wary that one in six of their employees experience stress, depression, and anxiety, or other mental conditions and the worst is that employers do not recognize this.
Organizational change involves a change in the behavior and working style of an employee. The change may occasionally augment the workload of employees considerably and put excessive pressure on them, resulting in stress. Under conditions of severe stress, performance of employees’ deteriorates, and this consequently affects organizational performance.
Productivity at Workplace
There are a number of factors that impact, both positively and negatively, workplace productivity. Increasing productivity and output is a matter of a study and research, ever since the time personnel development became a subject of serious interest in study. One of the primary reasons for the beginning of this subject, as part of management science, is increase in productivity. Lot of developments has taken since, and many theories have come up and personnel management has slowly transformed into Human Resources management, thus taking a much larger and holistic approach to employees at workplace. Things have moved from the concept that workmen need to be always stressed and pressured to be productive and go beyond their own capabilities to produce for the organization. Today, HR managers speak about creating conducive and stress-free environments, to enhance productivity and bring the best of the human mind’s capability. Dr. Jan West, in his article for the National Business Research Institute, titled “Five Factors that affect your employees’ productivity,” indicated attitude, role of supervisor, sickness and health, right equipment, and morale to be playing a great role in productivity.
Happy employees, he said, are productive employees. He compared negative attitude to live streaming of basketball game, both of which, hamper productivity. It is a well-known and accepted fact that positive attitudes mean happy employees resulting in great productivity.
Role of Supervisor
Usually, bosses or the immediate supervisors, surprisingly, can either spur or drop productivity dramatically. When the boss stinks, an employee’s productivity drops. Typically, bad supervisors fail to keep promises, fail to share credit, keep passing negative comments, and never take responsibility for their actions, and continuously blame others for their mistakes. Employees’ productivity in these cases would fall significantly. “A poor supervisor is definitely the No. 1 factor that causes low productivity,” said Barry L. Brown, President of a Florida-based consulting group.
Sickness and Health
Every HR manager knows that, concerns about health and wellbeing actually can drain an employee’s productivity. A survey showcased in SHRM Conference and Exposition in June 2013, almost 85% of the US employers indicated their interest in methods to increase productivity, reduce absenteeism, and improve the health of their employees. Approximately 20 million American adults, those who are under the active working age range of 19-64, are not at work due to a disability or a chronic disease. 69 million workers gave work a miss due to illness, thereby contributing to 407 million person days of work loss. It was also indicated by another study that was published in the January 2014 edition of Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, that 40% of the US workforce experiencing fatigue. In US alone, fatigue contributed to USD 136 billion losses in productivity.
Creating a feel-good environment, while being important, without the right tools and technology, an employee would not be able to be productive.
Corporates, often have resorted to outsourcing because, they wanted to cut costs. While using cheap labour force is important to reduce the cost and improve profitability, the flop side to this is that it impacts employee morale. While the downsized employees go, the remaining employees take a hit on their morale, feeling a Damocles sword hanging on their heads perpetually.
On closer inspection of the above five factors, except possibly for the tools, the opposite of the first three factors creates an enormous amount of stress on the employee and is universally true. If these three factors boost productivity, the contrary depresses productivity. While the fourth factor emphasizes on using right tools for productivity, the fifth factor straight away talks about stress caused by professional calamity in neighbours’ professional life. All these are stress factors causing loss in productivity and leading to absenteeism, which again impacts productivity.
Stress and its Symptoms
Stress can cause a number of changes in the person experiencing it. In a few cases in people with stress, exhibit symptoms that can be identified at early stages and handle the problem accordingly. In these kinds of cases, it is easy to decrease and ultimately removes the causes that might be resulting in stress. At workplace, it is important and vital that everybody is on the lookout for stress and the changes it can cause on the person. In many cases, stress is without external symptoms and is identified only by the person experiencing stress. Hence, it also becomes an individual’s responsibility to evaluate own feelings and potential issues that might be causing stress and take it up with the immediate supervisor. Stress can be seen in a number of ways, and it impacts the human body in a plethora of ways. Some of the most common symptoms in mental health are exhibition of anxiety, negative thoughts, emotional, moody and changes or disturbed sleeping patterns.
Stress impacts on heart, lungs, and circulatory systems, by causing changes in the heart rate, increasing blood pleasure, and occasionally palpitation. Long term exposure to stress could cause hypertension and heart diseases. Impact of stress on skin is seen by sweating, reddening, and occasionally even blushing. Long-term impact could even cause of Psoriasis. Stress has long-term impact on metabolism, increased cholesterol, and possibly diabetes too. Stress also has its impact on muscular system and joints, as well as causes dryness of mouth, suppression of digestion and also nausea. Long-term stress could also cause ulcers, and even irritable bowel syndrome. While all these impact the overall wellbeing of the individual, it also impacts negatively the workplace and has become one of the prime reasons for loss of productivity. Any form of health related issues that are caused by stress, in due course would ultimately affect employee productivity.
One of the other key forms of stress in the modern workplace is the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PSTD). Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a condition or a stress disorder which is caused due to terrible or life threatening experience which may also be highly unsafe. PTSD is normally classified as an anxiety disorder. The people suffering from PTSD normally keep experiencing their traumatic experiences repeatedly and hence they avoid places, people, and other things which may remind them about the terrible experience that they had. PTSD sufferers are extremely sensitive to normal life experiences and this condition is medically referred to as hyper arousal. Even though this medical condition has existed since the times human beings have suffered trauma, it was only in 1980 that this state of health has been properly diagnosed.
Complex PTSD is the case where there is prolonged exposure to traumatic incidents and a series of such events and is typically characterized by long-lasting issues related to emotional and social functioning.
PTSD tends to occur in any individual irrespective of his or her age and can follow a natural calamity like flood or fire, or events like war, an imprisonment, sexual or physical assault etc. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, in the United States may have resulted in many people having PTSD. Such victims may be the people who saw this mishap happening, who were present at the scene of the incident, or people who might have lost their loved ones in the mishap. Such incidents may produce stress in any individual, but every individual might not essentially develop this syndrome. People who have developed PTSD may revisit their traumatic experiences in their dreams and memories about the incident, and become upset at frequent time lines. PTSD typically alters the response of the body towards stress. It affects the hormones of stress and the relevant chemicals that carry information through the nerves which are otherwise referred to as neurotransmitters.
Overview of Interventions and Treatment
There are a few types of medical and treatment interventions for treating PTSD. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Family Therapy, and medication are a few among them.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a systematic approach to psychological treatment. This form of treatment was predominantly designed to manage people suffering from depressions. However, application of CBT is now extended to a wide range of neuro-cognitive disorders, and today has turned to be the most sought after choice of treatment for treating anxiety, trauma, and depression .
“In recent years, CBT has become recognized as a promising psychosocial treatment in schizophrenia. Researchers in the United Kingdom and abroad have identified CBT as significantly reducing distress, psychotic symptoms, and negative symptoms for individuals diagnosed with PTSD and other psychotic disorders.”
The primary concept in the cognitive therapy area assumes that beliefs, assumptions, and cognitive assessment of an individual’s self, the atmosphere surrounding the individual, and the nature of the problems being experienced by the individual deeply affect how perceptions of an individual are and how he/she approaches the same. This finally ensures key success factors in helping the individual achieve his personal goals.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy for PTSD and trauma entails vigilant and steady “exposure” of one’s self to opinions, feelings, and circumstances that take you back to the trauma. CBT for trauma also comprises of identifying distressing thoughts about the traumatic incident–predominantly thoughts that are imprecise and illogical—and substituting them with more objective picture.
All forms of CBTs chiefly attempt bringing about a better cognitive, behavioral, as well as emotive change to the psychotic event by proposing new descriptive model of fear and the same is called the vulnerability-stress model. This model encompasses different stages and objectives. Some of the contemporary cognitive therapies target corrections to certain fundamental cognitive deficits or altering the very psychotic indicators of the disease as well as the distress caused because of such indications. Alternatively, meta-cognitive therapies can also be considered as an alternate option to CBT as even these are aimed at altering and streamlining certain situational schemas for enabling psychological development as well as creating better-suited and generally practiced strategies of cognition. There are other forms of CBTs like Exposure Therapy, Cognitive Processing Therapy, and Stress-Inoculation Therapy which are found to be extremely successful in reducing the symptoms of people and also enhancing their quality of life.
As already stated, people suffering from PTSD, usually re-experience their traumatic experience, and get reminded about the incident when they see some people, place, or a thing. The fundamental objective of emotional therapy is to help the patient in reducing the fear and anxiety which is connected with such reminders and eventually lessening the avoidance. This form of treatment is normally done by having the patient face the reminders about which the patient fears without avoiding them. This can be normally done by exposing the patients to the common reminders which he may have or even at times through imagination.
Stress in UK Workplace
As early as 2011 October, alarming reports were coming in on how stress has begun to impact the British workplace. “Tougher workloads, having a “bad” boss and the fear of being made redundant are among the top factors piling the pressure on UK employees, the research revealed.” At that point in time, the uncertain economic climate increased financial worries of the workers in UK. This added strain on personal relationships too. Almost 40% of the workforce, according to the CIPD survey, reported sick because of stress. Almost 50% of the public sector companies and organizations also reported absenteeism due to stress, which looked fairly under control in the manufacturing sector, reporting only about 33%.
The Office for National Statistics, reported that, for the year 2013, about 131 million days were lost due to sickness in UK.
In a Survey conducted by CBI titled “Fit for Purpose”, Absence and Workplace Health Survey 2013, sponsored by Pfizer, UK, also highlights certain important aspects about impact of stress on workplace absenteeism. This was a survey that was done after the 2011 survey, which had organizations of all sizes responding to the survey, thereby giving it a very universal nature. The key findings of this survey are that the average absence rate in 2012 dropped to 5.3 days per employee from 6.5 days in 2010, and also there was a consistent fall in the average absence level since the 1980s. The survey also highlighted the fact that minor illnesses caused substantial amount of absenteeism. Illnesses like common cold, and back problems were among the highest contributors, while stress, anxiety and depression contributed to nearly 31% of the absenteeism.
Stress, anxiety, and depression were found to be the leading causes of long term absence to work. Mental health conditions emerged as the largest contributors to long term absenteeism across workers, averaging to about 48% of all reasons for absenteeism. The report calls the mental health as the Cinderella of Occupational Healthcare, and tackling this particular area, the report says, would contribute to a substantial reduction in improving workplace performance.
More than 92% of the organizations had some kind of stress and anxiety management policies. While more than two-thirds of large business houses had formal systems, almost half of the smaller organizations had similar systems and policies to manage mental health. Typically, these organizations resorted to flexible working arrangements, counselling, and occupational health support in order to support the employees who were undergoing stress.
Organizations resorted to a variety of methods to combat stress and anxiety at workplace including adoption of flexi-working hours, which enables employees to juggle between home and work responsibilities, counselling that enabled and empowered employees to understand and manage their work-life situations better, as well as case management studies, training programmes, and also risk assessment. More than half of the employers had regular risk assessment for stress at workplace, and other workplace related mental health issues, conducted regularly at their place of work.
Stress and the Indian Workplace
A survey conducted by Associated Chamber of Commerce and Industry of India (ACCII), in the year 2012, concluded that almost three-fourth of the Corporate Indian employees, working out of India, sleep fewer than six hours daily, and this led to severe sleep disorders. About one-fifth of the Indian employees reported depression, and 33% had severe prevalent lifestyle diseases like hypertension, and diabetes mellitus. It was in 2010 that, a fitness freak, CEO of SAP India, became a victim of a massive heart attack. He was just 42 when he died. Despite being a fitness freak, the abnormal level of stress got to him. He slept for less than just 4 hours a day. Unfortunately, stress is a silent killer, which builds up over a period of time and affects a large number of organs in the body, including the brain, which impacts how people make decisions. Stress forces them to make irrational decisions, and they increase stress further. Factors like economy being in prolonged slump, reducing incomes, and downsizing at work, have turned the private sector in India, a difficult place to work. At work, job expectations are not clear, too much of pressure, and noisy workplaces, only manage to add more to the existing stress. On the family front, the need to take care of children, nuclear family structures, difficult marriage conditions, health concerns of aged parents, among others, cause enormous amount of stress on this sandwich generation Indian.
The Sandwich generation is that generation, which has the moral obligation to take care of elderly parents, as well as raise young children. Adding to the woes, is the volatile political situation, where there are street blocks, missed electricity connections, transport strikes, utility breakdowns etc., which make office commute nightmarish.
The psychiatry department of JSS Medical College and Hospital, Mysore (Karnataka State, India), conducted a survey among several IT professionals in the country, and ended up realizing that more than 50% were professionally stressed, and almost 50% were at the risk of getting into a clinical depression.
A different perspective to this is that, all jobs cannot be stressful. The real issue looks more like fitting a round peg into a square hole. Some of the people have this innate requirement for pressure cooker environment and the adrenalin rush with those types of jobs. They would not fit into calm, assembly line of work. The other kinds of people enjoy routine, single-tracked jobs, working without testing their horizons. It is when these two people types and job roles cross, that there is havoc that gets created. The myriad range of mental health problems, spread across the spectrum of anxiety, substance abuse, to depression, increases as the stress levels in workmen increases. Depression is strictly a disease and is referred to as a neurological insult and continuous such neurological insults with psycho-social pain, leads to a feeling of helplessness which finally paves way to total loss of rational judgement.
Princeton study conducted in 2011, recorded that alpha and delta males, across different strata of the society, suffered stress. Depression impacts on the pleasure circuitry in the body, and an individual ends up feeling no joy. The brain gets foggy and ultimately, no right decisions are made. While there are simple and complicated ways to beat stress, it is up to the individual to adopt them.
K. Satheesh Kumar, et. al, published an analysis of work related Stress Factor in Selected Industries in Kerala, India, which concluded that there have been significant modifications in workplace conditions over the last fifteen years or so, triggered by economic, social and technological advancements, and the result is in today’s workplace, people are exposed to increased competition because of ruralized economy.
Legal Provisions for Stress at Workplace in UK
Despite the importance of mental health and stress and a variety of agencies, both public and private, studying it and working on it, as well as reporting millions of work days being lost, there is very little one piece legislation that deals with stress at workplace. There are a variety of laws that deal with it and some of they are:
Health and Safety at Work Act 1974
This is the most important legislation, and this mandates that employers ensure a workplace which is safe and healthy, and also the personnel do not fall ill because of work related stress.
Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999
This Act puts the onus of identifying health risks on the employers and directs them to be proactive about it. This mandates a risk assessment to periodically assess problems that might be impacting health and safety at workplace, which includes stress, and also ensure there are sufficient numbers of controls in place to deal with any place that may be seen. And this law also mandates that, if there is “reasonable likelihood” that stress could negatively impact the employees’ health, employers are mandated to ensure health surveillance for all the affected employees.
The Working Time Regulations 1998
This looks like a mere regulation that exists on paper and this law regulates or seeks to regulate and limit total working hours in a week to 48 hours. But, several companies could ask their employees to do away with this right and they may even oblige the employer.
Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992
This Act recognizes the importance of posture, provision of right furniture, and placement of computer screens, all of which could add to stress at workplace. This Act regulates as to how employees’ must use these equipment and mandates the employers assess risks for the use of display screen in their respective organizations.
The Health and Safety Offences Act 2008
This revised Health and Safety Offences Act 2008, does not change the employers’ obligations towards effectively managing all those causes that create work related stress. This Act empowers the courts with larger range of powers and sentencing options as well as greater flexibility of trial at different levels.
The previous laws and their breaches had a maximum fine of GBP 5000 in the Magisterial Courts. However, the new law increased this to GBP 20, 000. In addition to this, some of those earlier offences that could be put on trial only in the Magistrate Courts, have now been made triable in the Crown Courts also, and there is a possibility of a two year jail sentence in addition to fines of unlimited amounts.
Workplace stress may have impact on an individual when looked at from a typical office kind of a perspective. However, workplace stress has deeper meaning and impact when used in the context of transport. If an airline pilot or a railroad pilot is stressed, and is prone to erroneous decisions, the results could be disastrous, and below is a case study of an Alaskan Airline, where the maintenance staff were fatigued and stressed for a variety of reasons that resulted in a disastrous air crash, killing over 120 people.
Flight 261 of Alaska Airlines crashed violently into the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California in the year 2000. Investigations revealed a plethora of maintenance issues as the primary causes of that fatal crash. The flight was scheduled to fly to Seattle from Lic. Gustavo Díaz Ordaz International Airport (PVR), Mexico. Before it could reach its intermediate stop which was at San Francisco, it crashed into the Pacific Ocean 2.7 miles away from California, resulting in the death of every passenger on board.
The findings of the investigations revealed that there was a fundamental flaw in the basic design of the aircraft, whose model number is MD-83. It was also revealed that there was also no fail-safe mechanism in the aircraft which might evade the disastrous impacts of total acme nut thread loss. There were numerous similar fatal accidents that have occurred in the past and each one of them were identified to have caused because of a spate of maintenance-related factors which were identified and termed as the Dirty Dozen – Errors- Human Factors. In this paper, the various elements of the Dirty Dozen are identified with relevance to the Alaska Flight261 accident with a brief description of each of the Dirty Dozen factors and a report is presented.
Firstly, why are the various human conditions like stress level, complacency, and fatigue given such significant prominence in aviation maintenance? Such conditions, along with a plethora of other similar conditions are termed as human factors (see Figure 1). The so called human factors are the direct contributors to many fatal aviation accidents in past and remain the same even today. Universally, it has been concluded and agreed that more than 80% of maintenance errors in aviation are a result of human factors and the same if not detected can result in injuries at workplace, massive amount of time waste, and more importantly fatal accidents.
Alaska Flight 261 Accident - Human Factors
Human factors that were identified in this case were lack of communication, distraction, and lack of awareness. The pilots contributed to human performance variability. As a result of the unclear check lists pertaining to the situation they were in, they started trialing with checks, controls, and autopilot settings for regaining control over the aircraft. According to Leveson, “the effects of less successful actions are a natural part of the search on the part of the operator for optimal performance”. This explains the kind of situation of the pilots of Alaska Airlines flight 261, when they tried to regain control over the aircraft. “Understanding the interaction between organizational, work group, and individual factors that may lead to errors and accidents, AMTs can learn to prevent or manage them proactively in the future”.
Fatigue has been noted as the major human factor that has resulted in numerous errors related to maintenance errors and also in consequent fatal air accidents. Fatigue can be either physical or mental. Besides, individuals might also be experiencing mental fatigue which might badly impact physical performance and mental performance as well. Fatigue results in the decrease of alertness and attentiveness and also might affect the individual’s focus and be attentive about the task that is being performed.
There is constant pressure for individuals working in aviation maintenance. In such an environment, personnel are reported to perform better and faster. Regrettably, such kind of professional pressures may impact the capabilities of the maintenance personnel in performing the job right. In order to combat the self-induced pressure at work, it is advised that the maintenance personnel seek help in situations where they feel overwhelmed and also situations having time constraint for accomplishing the task. The maintenance personnel were under tremendous pressure by the management to release aircrafts that were deemed not to be safe according to mandates and regulations.
The job of aviation maintenance is a highly stressful one and this can be attributed to a variety of factors. Stress handling varies from person to person and might result in varied extents of ordeals for different people. Stress might be physical, psychological, and physiological. Study of the thread stress by the NTSB revealed that load transfer among the 32 thread revolutions of the jackscrew was not uniform along the length of the acme nut, with the top and bottom ends of the thread receiving greater loads than those in the centre. The investigation and study established that “the maximum load carried by any individual thread revolution was approximately 30 per cent of the applied load, whereas the Safety Board/Stony Brook study concluded that the maximum load carried by any individual thread revolution was approximately 23 per cent of the applied load
Human Performance variability in the case of the Alaska Flight 261 accident is highly related to insufficient and limited. The study of human factors and the application of the same are highly intricate as there exists no mere and a sole answer to fix or modify the way people are affected by various circumstances. The overall goal of the Aviation maintenance human factors research is to ascertain and improve the factors affecting human performance with relevance to maintenance and assessment. Proper and profound understanding of each of the disciplines and relating the same to various practical situations or human behaviours helps in appropriately identifying potential human factors and addressing them before they transform into a problem or result in catastrophic accidents.
Legal of Aspects of Stress at Workplace in India
The workplace safety and stress related laws in India are guided by Industrial Safety and Health and various Acts and Regulations under this division. All these come under Ministry of Labour and Employment, Government of India. There are a variety of Acts and Regulations comprising of the Industrial Safety, and predominantly these are the Factories Act 1948, Mines Act 1952, and Dock Workers (Safety, Health, and Welfare) Act 1986. All these laws fundamentally speak about either the age of the person employed in a variety of situations, or the nature of physical safety to be provided at workplace. Despite the fact that services today contribute to approximately 50% of the national GDP, the Indian Legal System is slow to create framework for tackling workplace stress. Even in some of the cases that strictly come under the Factories Act 1948, like for instance, the Maruti Suzuki Factory at Manesar, (Haryana, India), which witnessed lynching and killing of a General Manager at workplace by the workmen mob was a direct result of stress at workplace. There was a consequential stand-off between the workmen and the Management of this particular factory, but it was again dealt under the various existing Acts and there was little recognition that it is attributed to stress. Another similar incident that took place recently was the brutal lynching and killing of the CEO of North Brook Jute Mill, Mr HK. Maheswari, in Bhadreswar (Hooghly, West Bengal, India) by the factory workers in the factory premises itself, and consequently the perpetrators of this act simply vanished, is also an indication of non-recognition of workplace stress. While these incidents have been reported in the so called old economy companies, today the new era of software, BPO, and KPO companies in India witness another kind of stress and that is having disastrous results. Almost one gets to read either a case of an attempted suicide or successful suicide or murders that are directly attributable to workplace stress. The Indian workplaces, in a misguided attempt to drive productivity, pay extremely low levels of salary, offer difficult workplaces, limited workplace resources typically compliant archaic laws, and limited attention to mental health. Stress, as a factor, is barely recognized in India and the employees exhibiting any of the symptoms like irritability, anger, lack of team coordination, etc., are only summoned to the so-called HR office to be reprimanded severely and told to fall in line. The fact that these employees are victims of workplace stress and could greatly benefit from an intervention of a psychologist, does not occur to the HR professionals at that juncture. Absenteeism that arises because of this stress is routinely attributed to number of other factors, and there are no strict studies or evidences that speak of absenteeism related to workplace stress. It is a well-known fact that men in uniform – police, paramilitary, and the military are routinely under intense stress, doing a perpetual thankless job, not acknowledged by the people they serve to protect, nor by their superiors, generally have a feeling of being ignored. This problem is further compounded when families complain that they do not get adequate attention at home, because of prolonged work hours. It only leads to severe stress on the mind of the personnel. This results in erratic behaviour, feeling of helplessness, and could transform into psychotic behaviours that result in either bullying, or in extreme cases, even substance abuse, which is a routine problem. Very few studies have been undertaken and, in the last twelve months or so, there has been certain amount of recognition that is cropping up in the minds of these agencies and, in spite of all these reported and unreported incidents, there is very little legal framework that is seen in India to manage stress at workplace, leave alone studying factors like absenteeism, loss of productivity, and consequential evaluation of these in monetary terms in India.
India, with all its rich culture and history, also has certain deep-rooted beliefs in its social system. Any erratic behaviour is typically attributed to an evil spirit or black magic or ill-health of an individual, caused by enemies. Psychiatrists and psychologists are seen as options only for those who are insane. Even today, a visit to a psychiatrist carries significant social stigma, and is kept seriously under wraps. It is construed that, if a person needs to visit a psychiatrist, he is certainly insane, and this spells disaster for the individual’s social and marital life. Consequently, the numbers of practicing psychiatrists in India are extremely limited, and probably the psychiatrist to population ratio is one among the lowest in the world.
A series of interviews were conducted and one CEO, one HR manager, and a Medical practitioner were interviewed in India as well as UK. The purpose of these interviews was to evaluate the following:
- The legal provisions that they may be aware of?
- The organizational policy for employees showing symptoms of stress?
- How stress was identified, among others.
Responses and analysis of the Data Collected
The responses for this survey of the six individuals in UK and in India were analysed using NVIVO software Version 10 for Windows. Raw voice file and their transcripts were used as an input for the study in NVIVO software. Due to extremely limited data, there was not sufficient analysis that was forthcoming in the software. Six nodes were created in the software, titled legal provisions in India, Legal provisions in UK, Stress processes in India, Stress processes in UK, Symptoms of Stress in India, and Symptoms of Stress in UK, and appropriate tagging from voice files was done into these six nodes. Despite all these efforts, there was no clear analysis that could be derived from the software, and hence manual observations have been filed as part of this report.
The following were the manual observations:
Comparison of legal provisions Awareness in UK and in India
Across all the positions in UK there was a very level of awareness of the legal provisions and the systems in the country. May be this is because extensive publicity and the stress the framework places on the wellbeing of the employees in that country.
Comparatively, India the awareness was seen to be limited and at most hazy and limited despite. This is because there is hardly any law that directly regulates the modern day work place and whatever is reported in the press is what creates that awareness and this is extremely limited. Possibly the increasing awareness now and also the new government that has taken over recently will put in place legal systems that are required to manage the stress at work place. The same could also have some serious limitations considering the size of the workforce in India and limited care provision facilities in the country. This could become a challenge in itself. Also the number of psychologists to the total population ratio is also a serious challenge.
Processes and Procedures in place for Work place stress
There is a quiet a contrast in the approach of workplace towards stress in India and United Kingdom. With a statutory legal requirement there also seems to be generally genuine concern for the wellbeing of the workforce and the recognition that it could actual impact productivity which could be expensive to the organization exists. The concern could be driven because of monetary considerations or genuine interest in the wellbeing of the employees, whatever it is there is a great level of sensitivity among all the people interviews in UK.
However in India there seem to be limited processes and their implementation can at most be seen as weak. Other than in very large organizations that have great global exposure and who have moved their workforce across borders and the value of human life is seen as high and the individual contribution is important it is only in these kind of organizations that there is certain growing concern towards mental health, stress and its impact on absenteeism at work place. For instance organizations like Infosys, Indian Air Force, Air India, Indian Navy, few public sector organizations there is recognition of the importance of mental wellbeing and health as well as impact of stress on employee productivity. Otherwise in almost all the other organizations stress is treated by the normal general medical practitioners and there is hardly recognition of its impact on employee productivity and absenteeism.
Almost all the people who were interviewed gave out the correct symptoms and identification of stress both in India and UK. This implies high levels of awareness of the problem at workplace and the symptoms thereof.
Stress at workplace is a matter of great concern for employees at workplace world-over. Especially in the contemporary workplace where there is an accent of use of mental capabilities over sheer physical labour and the fact that the services are contributing significant amount of GDPs around the world management of mental wellbeing is a definite concern for all stakeholders. Mental wellbeing, mental health and stress are directly interrelated and impact deeply on productivity, absenteeism and have great costs associated with it.
Having said that there are formal studies that have been undertaken in developed economies like UK and the U.S. and developing countries like India are still lagging behind.
While there is awareness both in India and UK there is hardly any measurement that has been undertaken in India and whatever exists is extremely fragmented and very little of it is available in public domain. In full contrast to this is, there is a lot of formal effort that has gone into recognition of impact of stress on workplace and detailed investigations have been done by government and industry bodies as well as by agencies with interests in the role of stress at workplace.
Stress has been definitely seen as having a deep impact on loss of productivity, costs associated with absenteeism and more importantly even Presenteeism. UK as recently as in first week of June 2014 has adapted several formal measures and has made offering flexible work hours mandatory to help workforce manage work-life balance better and reduce workplace stress.
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