Stress management refers to the act of engaging in deliberate strategies to control ones level of stress, particularly chronic stress. Managing employee stress is a priority for advancing worker health in the global mining industry. An elevated industry prevalence of stress and the high associated personal and organisational costs of stress indicates a need for workplace health and safety risk management action. In Australia where this study was conducted, research has identified that psychological distress is significantly more prevalent in Australian mining workforces than in the general Australian population [1
]. More specifically, in an adult Australia population sample, 11.7% of respondents had Kessler Psychological Distress Scale (K10) scores that indicated high/very high psychological distress [3
]. Comparatively, 28% of employees from mine sites in South Australia and Western Australia [1
], and 12.7% of employees from mine sites in New South Wales and Queensland [2
] had K10 scores indicating high/very high psychological distress.
High economic costs of stress related absenteeism and presenteeism have been reported in the Australian mining sector. For example, in a Queensland mining company work-related stress accounted for the highest financial burden (compared across 25 medical conditions) [4
]. Employees who reported experiencing stress at work were 19% less productive than employees who did not report experiencing stress [4
]. Furthermore, based on productive time lost calculations from Queensland and New South Wales mines it has been estimated that psychological distress has an annual economic cost of $
153.8 million to the Australian coal mining industry, representing almost 9% of pre-tax operating profit [5
Work-related stress has been linked to detrimental employee health outcomes. For example, a longitudinal study spanning 14 years found that higher levels of workplace stress were associated with an increased risk of metabolic syndrome, a precursor of coronary heart disease [6
]. Workplace stress has also been indirectly linked to employees’ health through the experience of stress being associated with greater engagement in negative health behaviours such as tobacco smoking, inadequate diet, insufficient physical activity, and alcohol use [7
]. It has been speculated that conditions associated with mining employment including long work rosters and remote work locations may increase the risk of miners experiencing stress [9
]. Concerns for miners’ health have been raised with several recent public enquires into work practices associated with the Australian mining industry, such as fly-in fly-out (FIFO) or drive-in drive-out (DIDO) arrangements, and impacts on mental health and suicide [10
]. Some studies have found that Australian FIFO miners report work-life balance difficulties and relationship stress [12
] and family stress associated with frequent miner absence from home [13
]. McPhedran and De Leo [9
] recommend caution when interpreting associations between mining employment and stress noting that work practices, rather than employment industry, had a direct relationship with some stress measures. In their comparison of male miners to males in other occupations, they identified that mine employees on average worked longer hours than employees in other occupations and working longer hours was independently associated with perceived lower quality family relationships and higher levels of relationship stress [9
There are many workplace risk management strategies with research evidence of effectiveness [14
]. Effective stress management has also been linked to improvements in other health behaviours. For instance, Lipschitz et al. [16
] demonstrated that individuals who improved their stress management also increased their likelihood of exercising and managing their depression over a period of six months. A key challenge for health and safety practitioners is engaging stressed employees to proactively seek stress management assistance. This is particularly important given that low help seeking behaviours have been associated with the male-dominated mining industry [17
Historically, studies have researched stress management strategies for adults assuming that anyone who requires assistance with stress management is ready to change their behaviour, with limited consideration to the actual readiness of the individual [18
]. Although existing workplace based stress management studies have not specified the percentage of stressed employees who are prepared to adopt stress management practices, a population based study including 1085 adults recruited from national market research directories identified that at baseline measurement, over 80% of the sample were not ready to adopt stress management practices [18
]. These individuals were not practicing effective stress management behaviours, including physical activity, regular relaxation, taking time for social activities, and/or talking with others, and not intending to start practing stress management strategies in the immediate future. Applying the Stages of Change Model of behaviour change, these adults were classified as being in a pre-contemplation or contemplation stage of change for stress management [18
]. The randomised clinical trial study found that adults who participated in a Stages of Change Model stage-matched stress management intervention, as compared longitudinally to a control group, had significantly greater progress towards stress management action and maintenance behaviours, significantly lower stress levels, and were significantly more likely to be practicing healthy stress management and avoiding unhealthy stress management behaviours [18
Within a mining workforce, research has identified that stage of readiness was not associated with likelihood of wanting assistance with reducing or quitting smoking [19
], but was associated with wanting assistance with healthy weight management [20
]. It was found that employees who were in the contemplative, preparation, and action stages for improving their eating habits were more likely to desire assistance for healthy weight programs compared to employees in the pre-contemplative stage. Employees in the action and maintenance stages for improving their physical activity habits were also more likely to desire assistance for healthy weight programs compared to employees in the pre-contemplative stage [20
]. Research is needed within a mining workforce to identify the prevalence of employees ready to adopt stress management assistance and to explore whether stage of readiness is associated with stress impairment productivity costs and likelihood of seeking stress management assistance.
Although companies need to equitably provide health support for all employees, to maximize return on program investment targeted program promotion is critical to engage employees at risk of stress related health issues. In addition to understanding the employee characteristics associated with stress and readiness to change, practitioners would benefit from understanding if employee characteristics (including socio-demographic and work characteristic variables, e.g., age and job role) are associated with stress productivity costs and likelihood of seeking stress management assistance.
Research within the Australian mining sector suggests that certain employee demographic and work characteristics are associated with greater risk for psychological distress [1
]. More specifically, Bowers et al. [1
] found that mining employees aged 25 to 35 years and shift-work employees (rostered as two weeks on, one week off) were more likely to report psychological distress. However, it is unclear from the available literature which employee characteristics are associated with high stress-related productivity impairment costs. Similarly, empirical research indicates that females and middle-aged persons [21
] are significantly more likely to access professional services to address stress management and other mental health concerns. Previous studies using a mining workforce also indicate that gender and age influence preference for health promotion programs [19
]. For example, females and employees aged 24 years and under have been found to be more likely to want assistance for smoking cessation [19
The limited available research to date suggests that employee characteristics and employee readiness for change may be associated with preference for health promotion programs such as those that target stress management. The aim of this study was two-fold: (a) To investigate, within employees’ who reported high levels of stress, the relationship between employee characteristics, stage of change for stress management, and productivity impairment costs; and (b) The relationship between employee characteristics, stage of change for stress management, and desire for assistance with stress management through a workplace health promotion program. Although this case study focuses on the Australian mining workforce, it is likely that the findings will have practical application for the development of stress management strategies in the global mining industry.
Within a mining workforce sample, this study identified employee characteristics and stress management stages of change associated with high stress-related productivity impairment costs and desire for assistance with stress management. Of the employees who reported experiencing stress at work, employee groups associated with significantly higher productivity impairment costs included: day shift workers; permanent contract employees; employees who reside within the mining towns; frequently stressed employees; employees intending to better manage their stress in the next six months; and employees who are actively managing their stress. Although previous research has reported that FIFO miners were at risk of stress due to their work arrangements [12
] in the current study they had lower stress impairment costs than permanent day shift employees.
The lower productivity impairment costs associated with alternating rosters, contractors and FIFO/DIDO employment may be related to the roles and responsibilities associated with the different types of employees appointed to permanent day shifts versus alternating contracts. To protect participant anonymity the current study did not gather data regarding job position, however, the researchers are aware that within the current sample, employees working permanent day shifts included managers, professionals, administrative, and operational staff. Comparatively, employees with alternating rosters, FIFO/DIDO employment, and contractual work were more likely to be appointed to operational mining roles. A study by Ling et al. [5
] showed that managers within the coal mining industry had higher average lost productivity time costs compared to machine operators and trade workers. Managers were also associated with higher psychological distress [2
In this mining workforce sample, employees in the contemplation stage for stress management had the highest average annual stress-related productivity impairment cost ($
53,761 per employee). Although individuals who are classified as contemplative intend to improve their behaviour in the next six months, they are considered not ready to self-initiate immediate changes [18
]. Research has shown in a national population based sample that a stage-matched stress management intervention was effective in achieving rapid progression through the stages of effective stress management strategy adoption [18
]. Given that the contemplation group for stress management in this study had high impairment costs, savings could be achieved by assisting these employees to manage or remove stress that is impacting on their work productivity. Future research should be conducted to identify if implementation of a stage of change matched stress management intervention could achieve similar results in a mining workforce as achieved in the population based sample.
Consistent with previous research that found females were more likely to exhibit help-seeking behaviours and access professional stress management or mental health support services [21
], the current study found that females were significantly more likely to report wanting assistance with stress management. Although males and females had similar average impairment costs, the higher proportion of males in the mining workforce and the lower likelihood of males to want assistance suggests that practitioners need to ensure that stress management promotion is appropriate for engaging males. Male employees appear to be unlikely to initiate help seeking behaviours despite experiencing stress at work. Given that this study found that higher frequency of experiencing stress at work was associated with higher impairment costs, it was encouraging to identify that higher stress frequency was also associated with greater desire for assistance with stress management. This suggests that workplace provided stress management assistance will likely appeal to high productivity impairment cost employees that were frequently experiencing stress at work.
Similarly, stage of change for adoption of effective stress management behaviours analyses revealed that employees in the contemplation stage had the both the highest cost impairment and highest likelihood to report wanting assistance. By contrast, employees in the pre-contemplation stage who believed their stress management habits did not need changing, were found to have both the lowest cost impairment and lowest likelihood to report wanting assistance. This again indicates that workplace provided stress management assistance will likely appeal to high productivity impairment cost employees that were intending to improve their stress management in the next six months.
4.1. Limitations and Future Resarch
Limitations include the recruitment process, use of self-report data, and generalizability of results. Specifically, the recruitment of participants was restricted due to the operational demands to those whom attended the work site on the day and the researchers were unable to record the number of employees who were present but declined to participate. Therefore, it was not possible to accurately evaluate the extent to which the sample reflected the wider workforce of approximately 8000 employees or response rate. Furthermore, it is not possible based on this case study to determine the extent to which the results outlined herein are reflective of employees within the broader mining industry both in Australia and globally. Additional studies are needed to longitudinally examine if demographic and work characteristics and employees’ readiness to change is associated with actual participation in workplace stress management programs. The voluntary recruitment of participants could also have exposed this study to a selection bias, with research participants potentially being more likely than the average employee to engage in healthy lifestyle behaviours.
4.2. Practical Implications
From a research perspective, future studies should explore whether permanent day shift and local employment are significantly associated with higher productivity impairment costs after controlling for the potential contribution of job role related responsibilities, job demands, and salaries. However, from a practical point of view, regardless of whether role or work arrangement is directly related to productivity cost impairment, based on the current findings stress management strategies should be available to all employees with a particular focus on engaging employee groups with high impairment costs. Employee groups associated with average annual productivity impairment costs in excess of $
50,000 per employee included: permanent day shift employees; employees who experienced stress at work most of the time; employees who experienced stress at work all of the time; and employees who were contemplating better managing their stress in the next 6 months. To guide effective stress management in the Australian mining industry, future research should be conducted to identify whether implementation of a stage-matched stress management intervention achieves similar results in a mining workforce as achieved in a population-based sample [18
To effectively design and tailor stress management strategies for a mining workforce that will deliver a high return on investment, practitioners must identify high cost employee groups and those receptive of participation in a workplace health promotion program. This study makes a novel contribution to the workplace health literature by identifying characteristics in a mining workforce associated with: (a) high stress related productivity impairment costs; and (b) characteristics of stressed employees who desire assistance with stress management in an Australian mining company.
Overall, it is likely that the observed high productivity impairment costs associated with roster and residential status (i.e., permanent day workers and local residents) is reflective of employee job roles within these groups which may include persons who reside locally and are employed in supervisory or management roles. Therefore, a targeted workplace stress management program aimed at employees in such roles may result in the greatest return on investment.
Stage of change for stress management reflects an individuals’ readiness to change and desire for assistance with stress management. According to the Stages of Change Model, individuals in the precontemplation and contemplation stages are not attempting to manage their stress. Only 13.2% of employees in the precontemplation stage and 52.1% of employees in the contemplation stage reported wanting assistance with stress management. Therefore, workplace health promotion programs targeting stress management must, in the first instance, convince employees of the value and benefit of participation in order to ensure high levels of enrolment that would result in the greatest benefit for employees and return on investment for the organisation.
Overall, these findings suggest that, within the organisation presented in this study, workplace provided stress management assistance will likely appeal to over a third of the high the productivity impairment cost employees. Furthermore, strategically targeted health promotion will be required to engage the remainder of the stressed employees with high productivity impairment costs and low desire for stress management assistance.