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Support: Dealing with Stress in the Workplace

Recruitment and Retention Toolkit   Dealing with Stress in the Workplace 2.10.0   Introduction: Dealing with Stress in the Workplace

Introduction: Dealing with Stress in the Workplace

Frustration, stress, compassion fatigue, and burnout are the byproducts of the many challenges that the behavioral health workforce must face. Staff members are required to upgrade and refresh knowledge to meet changing client and government demands; they deal with a complex, stigmatized client populations. Many have difficult working conditions, ranging from heavy caseloads to community indifference and budgetary restraints [1]. Solutions to help clients or the community are not always obvious or easy to obtain, resources continue to be depleted or removed, and staff may feel dissatisfied with accomplishments.
Behavioral health workers are often in the thick of a frustrating, stressful environment. Controlling these stressors is particularly important. Charles Glisson at the University of Tennessee Children’s Mental Health Research Center has examined the effects of stress on various mental health settings. Behavioral health employees’ stress is often associated with the perceived quality of services and client outcomes.The Research Center has developed the Availability, Responsiveness, and Continuity (ARC) model for improving organizational culture and climate to help control these stressors. A randomized study of the intervention found that it reduced turnover rates by two-thirds in urban and rural case management teams. The intervention is documented in the report “The Effects of the ARC Organizational Intervention on Caseworker Turnover, Climate, and Culture in Children's Service Systems.Some of the steps in the intervention include team-building, participatory decision-making, and job re-design.
Some stress in the behavioral health workplace is difficult to control. Dr. Hannah Knudsen and her colleagues have identified sources of stress that management might not be able to influence in their study entitled “Clinical Supervision, Emotional Exhaustion, and Turnover Intention: a Study of Substance Abuse Treatment Counselors in the Clinical Trials Network of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.” Examples of stress include the pressure to deliver more and better services for less money, pressures associated with dealing with clients who relapse and are seen again, and the inherent stress of dealing with others’ significant personal problems.
While acknowledging and addressing employee stress is important, concern for the employee must be balanced against concern for clients. In his book Effectively Managing Human Service Organizations, Ralph Brody warns that the supervisor should not confuse the supervisory relationship with providing therapy. He suggests that when an employee’s personal problems negatively effect clients or other employees, that the supervisor should help the employee seek help—for example, through an employee assistance program—rather than trying to address the personal problems.
According to Dr Tim Cantopher in “Coping with Stress, the Curse of the Strong:” [2]
”Strong people go on and on, constantly striving, way beyond the point that the body is designed for. Eventually the wheels begin to fall off and symptoms appear, yet those who are strong can’t stop. They keep on going until eventually the fuse blows and they are in crisis.”
This portal offers recruitment and retention materials which include information, resources, and tools on the related topics of employee frustration, the impact of stress, and compassion fatigue/burnout. These resources are discussed in relation to the behavioral health field and offer support for the employers and employees of behavioral health organizations.

[1] Skinner, N., Freeman, T., Shoobridge, J., & Roche, A. M. (2003). Workforce development and the alcohol and other drugs field: A literature review of key issues for the NGO sector:National Centre for Education and Training on Addiction (NCETA), Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia.
[2] Cantopher, T (2008, February 21). Coping with stress: the curse of the strong. Retrieved March 12, 2008, from Accountancy Age Web site:

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