Peer Support Tackles Occupational Stress

Considerable research has examined occupational stress, which is often described as the imbalance between demands associated with one’s occupation and the coping resources employees possess to meet these occupational demands (Lloyd & King, 2004). Individuals who have difficulty meeting occupational demands due to limited coping resources are likely to experience mental stress, which, if experienced over a sustained period, may lead to the development of physical and/or mental illness (Edwards & Burnard, 2003). In 2013, Safe Work Australia published a report specifically reviewing the incidence of accepted workers’ compensation claims for mental stress in Australia. According to this report, mental stress in the workplace is a major issue for Australian workplaces given the impact on individual employees and the significant costs for organisations associated with these claims.

Acknowledging the impact and costs of occupational stress, organisations face an obligation to address these stressors and consider preventative interventions that aim to moderate, minimize or eliminate these stressors. This includes both anticipating and targeting stressors employees may be exposed to during the course of their employment.

One form of support that has received recognition in potentially mitigating occupational stress is support provided by colleagues or peers. According to Creamer and colleagues (2012) peer support programs have become standard operating procedure for supporting staff in high-risk organisations, such as military and emergency services, whose staff are regularly exposed to occupational stressors because of the nature of their work. Although there has been little consensus on how peer support is defined, a core feature is the support and assistance provided between colleagues to address both work related and/or non-work related stressors (Ye & Wang, 2007). Peer support in a formal sense is provided by co-workers who are trained to deliver support, as part of a peer support framework and in this sense differs from the incidental social support provided by co-workers whom they may be friendly with.

The foundation for peer support is built on the premise that peers are best placed to support colleagues to address workplace stress because of their shared experiences and shared understanding of the stressors faced by peers (MacEachron & Gustavsson, 2012). Additionally shared experiences support the development of trust and credibility, which is essential for employees to overcome concerns about stigma in asking for support and allowing relationships to develop that provide support (Money et al., 2011). Peers are also best placed to provide support as they work in close proximity with each other on a daily basis and are able to detect changes in the behaviours of their peers and intervene early to offer support.

Veriti Directors have over eight years’ experience in implementing a Peer Support Program in a large public mental health service and can draw on this to support your organisation implement a program. Our comprehensive package includes development of a Peer Support Program in your organisation, training of peer support workers, and supervision of peer support staff.

Contact us to find out more about Peer Support Programs and how we can assist your organisation to support your staff.

References:

Creamer, M. C., Varker, T., Bisson, J., Darte, K., Greenberg, N., Lau, W., …  & Forbes, D. (2012). Guidelines for peer support in high-risk organizations: An international consensus study using the Delphi method. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 25(2), 134-141. doi:10.1002/jts.21685

Edwards, D., & Burnard, P. (2003). A systematic review of stress and stress management interventions for mental health nurses. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 42(2), 169-200. doi:10.1046/j.1365-2648.2003.02600.x

Lloyd, C., & King, R. (2004). A survey of burnout among Australian mental health occupational therapists and social workers. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 39, 752-757. doi:10.1007/s00127-004-0808-7

MacEachron, A., & Gustavsson, N. (2012). Peer support, self-efficacy, and combat-related trauma symptoms among returning OIF/OEF veterans. Advances in Social Work, 13(3), 586-602. Retrieved from http:// search.proquest.com.libraryproxy.griffith.edu.au/ docview/1417523334?accountid=14543

Money, N., Moore, M., Brown, D., Kasper, K., Roeder, J., Bartone, P., & Bates, M. (2011). Identification of best practices in Peer Support Programs: White paper. Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury. Retrieved from http://www.dcoe.mil/content/ Navigation/Documents/Best_Practices_Identified_ for_Peer_Support_Programs_Jan_2011.pdf.

Safe Work Australia. (2013). The incidence of accepted workers’ compensation claims for mental stress in Australia.  Canberra: Safe Work Australia. Retrieved from http://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/sites/SWA/about/Publications/Documents/769/The-Incidence-Accepted-WC-Claims-Mental-Stress-Australia.pdf.

Ye, Z., & Wang, J. (2007). The success of a nursing peer support programme in China. Journal of Clinical Nursing, 16(7), 1374-1376. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2702.2007.01937.x