Stress Test

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Apart from the use to which it is put, a job stress test (of which there are various forms of varying quality) is only as good as its concepts. If all stress is assumed to be limited to "pressure", as it is in Chinese ("ya li"), the test designed on that basis will miss other, equally important dimensions of stress, e.g., fatigue, irritation, tension or frustration. But even if the test is comprehensive, clear, reliable (in retesting and over a large population) and valid (in measuring what it purports to measure), it may be pointless if not administered, interpreted and utilized wisely.

Pressuring employees to take a stress test that determines whether they experience stressful levels of pressure is not only ironic, but also problematic. Likewise, collecting stress test results only so that they can collect dust may make the test administrator imagine something proactive has been undertaken, but, in fact, without interpretation and application of the results, employee testing could be replaced with free fortune cookies-At least they'll pleasantly, if only temporarily, ease some stress the tests could have been used to address.

A stress test is a questionnaire about an individual's job and/or personal life that indicates whether he or she is in a situation that may cause prolonged stress. Questions may cover feelings, physical symptoms, or recent events.

All members of an organization should consider taking a self-stress test on a regular basis. Human resources departments should make self tests available along with resources on how to cope with stress. Managers should see that their employees have access to the tests and assure them that they may respond anonymously. If the organization is putting too much pressure on employees and causing high levels of stress, executives and management should find ways to remove the stressors and provide employees with ways to relieve stress.
Of course, management promotion of and employee participation in the stress test should not itself generate its own kind of stress.

Some tests use 1 month, 6 months, or 12 months for a frame of reference. Therefore, depending on the type of test, it could be administered to employees monthly, semi-annually, or annually. To ensure anonymity, an online test can be considered, especially because of the flexibility of venue and time it provides. In-house, paper-and-pencil tests may also be considered; however, employees must be given the opportunity to return the tests anonymously.

Measuring stress is important because prolonged stress can cause physical harm to an individual. At best, the individual will underperform on an acute or chronic basis. At worst, he or she will have a catastrophic health crisis, e.g., a cardiovascular incident. By gauging and addressing the level of stress, an organization can make employees feel they are cared about, decrease absenteeism, increase productivity, decrease the number of accidents, decrease the risk of workplace outbursts and violence and decrease healthcare costs.

Although abnormal or underperforming behavior of a stressed employee serves as direct evidence of stress, it may not be self-explanatory with regard to identification of the stressors, e.g., pressures, fears, tensions, frustrations, irritations, exhaustion and other factors and experiences of stress. Depending on the sophistication of the stress test, it may be possible to pinpoint the form, intensity, duration and frequency of stress to better understand how to address it and prevent future recurrences. For example, even though the UK's NHS stress test narrowly equates stress only with "unhealthy pressure", it does provide useful diagnostic questions that can serve not only to identify employee stressors, but also to redesign the workplace to eliminate them.
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