A difficult balance to find

Managing Stress
December 8, 2000

Historically, academic work has been seen as highly satisfying and, in comparison with other occupations, relatively stress-free. Over the past few years, however, dramatic changes in working conditions have placed a new focus on the stressors and strains experienced by the workforce. Managing Stress is one of a series of short books that focuses on issues of key importance to managers in higher and further education. It aims to be a practical handbook that applies stress theory to an academic environment, and provides recommendations and guidance for the development of good practice for individuals and institutions.

It has been said that stress is like pornography: we cannot define it, but we know it when we see it. Ann Edworthy acknowledges the difficulty of clear definition, as stress is essentially a subjective experience, but argues that some convergence of opinion can be found. A brief history of approaches to stress research is provided, together with a discussion on the mechanisms by which stress can impact on health.

The signs and symptoms of stress described in chapter two will be familiar to many readers. The main job-related stressors in higher and further education are identified as including reduced levels of autonomy, poor interpersonal relationships, poor communication and increased administrative duties. The book does not pretend to be a state-of-the-art literature review of stress in academics and these factors are mostly discussed in general, almost anecdotal, terms. Its message is consequently somewhat less compelling than it would have been had it been supported more firmly by research evidence.

Managing Stress is, however, an accessible and practical book for the reader seeking self-help strategies to manage her or his own stress (such as keeping a stress diary, goal planning and adopting the "right" attitude). The book also offers the reader various self-report questionnaires that assess, for example, stress levels, personality type and job fit. Although these are rather similar to quizzes found in magazines, and should not be relied on, they can provide useful pointers.

For those who seek to manage stress in others, or to develop health and safety policy and practice, Managing Stress may not be particularly useful; it might frustrate the reader who is looking to address the root cause of stressors and strains in post-secondary education. Like many other stress-management books, it tends to place the onus for change on the individual to the relative exclusion of institutional factors that may be the cause of stress. The section that focuses on personal strategies for stress management is considerably longer than that which outlines potential organisational interventions to minimise workplace stress. Since the book is designed primarily as a guide to good practice for academic managers, this seems somewhat unbalanced. Nevertheless, as a practical guide offering help and advice at an individual level, many will find the book relevant in a time when university staff are reporting significantly increased stress levels.

Gail Kinman is lecturer in psychology, University of Luton.


Managing Stress

Author - Ann Edworthy
ISBN - 0 335 20405 8 and 20406 6
Publisher - Oxford University Press
Price - £45.00 and £14.99
Pages - 102

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