Get social, skilled and chill out, academics told

January 17, 1997

Improved social support networks and the introduction of skills training could help academics cope better with stress, according to a stress expert, writes Chris Johnston.

Susan Cartwright, a senior research fellow in organisational psychology at UMIST's Manchester School of Management, said workers in isolated professions such as academe experienced more stress. Universities should emulate the private sector's human resources approach and introduce a whole organisation strategy.

"There may be some resistance but if you want to operate more commercially you have to structure in that kind of way," she said.

Lack of resources was the most significant cause of stress in universities. Dr Cartwright added that the decline in salaries, increased student numbers, bigger workloads and the drive to generate income were other reasons why academics now suffered from higher stress levels.

Speaking at "Managing Stress at Work", a recent Institute of Personnel and Development conference in London, she told delegates that causes of stress included information overload from technology such as email and voicemail, short-term contracts and longer working hours.

The "psychological contract" between employer and employee was no longer perceived to be one of mutual exchange. Employers also needed to realise that individuals' physical and psychological resources were finite.

Dr Cartwright said that responsibility for the issue of stress must be shared for real and sustained change to be achieved. He suggested that stress audits could identify problem areas and possible interventions.

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