Productivity-Increasing Strategies Stress Workers and Families

December 24, 2007 ( - A British study found that employer tactics to extract more effort and higher performance from workers not only stresses them, but can have an effect on their family relationships - especially women.

A study of the British workforce funded by the Economic and Social Research Council suggests teamworking and other modern employment practices can put as much strain on a woman’s family relationships as working an extra 120 hours a year (although, in fairness, that’s only about 2.5 hours extra a week), according to Women’s Health Weekly.

Practices such as team-based forms of work organization, individual performance-related pay, and policies that emphasize the development of individual potential are thought to be good for staff morale and business performance, but the pressure to perform which they generate has a residual effect on employees’ families, the research found.

Pressures Eyed?

The research indicates both women and men are likely to become anxious about childcare arrangements when placed under pressure by workplace practices, but women are less likely to get help at home from male partners who also face the pressures of modern human resource management, the news report said.

In addition, while the research found that by 2000, about one in three employees was taking part in individual bargaining over pay, it also indicated women are less likely than men to bargain over pay when they are recruited, and they are also less likely to be represented by a union. Bargaining over pay is leading to increasing inequality, the research said, as managers and professionals are more likely than other employees to strike personal pay bargains.

A significant new source of stress in the modern workplace, the study found, is ICT surveillance. According to the research, 52% of all British employees reported that a computerized system keeps a log or record of their work, and management in one of five workplaces reported that all employees are now covered by computer-based monitoring systems.

The spread of surveillance has led to a sharp increase in work strain, reflected by feelings of exhaustion, anxiety, and work-related worry, according to Women's Health Weekly. There is an overall 7.5% rise in strain among employees whose work is checked by ICT systems compared with those in similar jobs which are controlled by more traditional methods, the research suggested.

Surveillance "Chimeras?"

"Computers and IT systems are bringing surveillance to most workplaces," commented Michael White, co-director of the research study, in the news report. "Now for the first time we can see how this development is damaging employees' well-being."

The research covers the period 1984-2004, and shows significant changes in the prospects and job conditions of British employees. It also examined a wide range of fringe benefits including occupational pensions, sickness pay, and paid holidays, and found there was a marked class gradient in favor of higher managerial and professional groups across all these. Additionally, the gap was tending to increase rather than decrease over time.

The researchers concluded that inequality in pay and benefits will continue to grow, in part because managerial and professional staff are more able to benefit from the expanding opportunities for personal bargaining over pay increases, and are also the group most involved in pay-for-performance deals - which bring opportunities for substantial bonuses or salary increases.