Stressing the irrelevant

May 8, 1998

The results of the Association of University Teachers stress survey (THES, May 1) confirm the futility of these exercises and their role in trivialising the problems faced by many staff in higher education and other institutions.

Why is it useful or interesting to know, for example, that most of those surveyed think that there have been too many changes in higher education and that these changes have been a bad thing? How can the fact that almost a quarter of respondents report they have taken time off in the past year because of what they believed was a stress-related illness contribute to any sensible debate about policy?

There is also little evidence that such surveys achieve their aim of persuading employers to improve working conditions. Trade unions which use the stress rhetoric in this way are more likely to be met with the offer of stress counselling or relaxation classes.

Rob Briner Department of organisational psychology, Birkbeck College

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