Workplace stress levels on the rise

NICOLE MATHEWSON
Last updated 05:00 18/08/2012

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Christchurch workers are becoming burnt out because of the stress caused by the city's earthquakes, a Canterbury University researcher says.

Kate van Heugten interviewed workers and managers in Christchurch and found many were experiencing significantly higher levels of stress because of the quakes. Her research was supported by the experience of business support organisation Recover Canterbury, which yesterday reported that of the 580 businesses that had contacted it for help since the start of this year, more than 45 per cent cited stress and fatigue as major problems.

Van Heugten said stress could be a result of overload, dealing with ongoing uncertainty, inadequate work spaces, and poor social and professional support.

"Some people have found that workloads increased, but for others workload problems have arisen due to clients presenting with more complex problems or because staff members who have left have not been replaced," she said.

Despite an initial period of resilience after the quakes, exhaustion had set in over time, especially for those who had had little respite, she said.

Those facing unrelenting tiredness could experience burnout, which could lead to emotional exhaustion.

Burnt-out workers were also inclined to lose their attachment to their workplace, were less productive and were more likely to take sick leave or resign.

Van Heugten will deliver a free public lecture on the issue at the university's Undercroft building at 6.30pm on Wednesday.

Gary Altenburg considered "getting out of the game" and moving to Australia as stress caused by Canterbury's earthquakes started to get on top of him.

The director of joinery business MWF Manufacturing lost his Brooklands home in the September 2010 earthquake, and his business's Phillipstown premises were destroyed in the February 2011 quake.

Having to rebuild the business from scratch in a new facility in Belfast had been "extremely stressful".

"It's not like relocating an office. It's not an easy task," he said.

"It's just worn me down. The last three to four months, I've been sleeping a lot more and I'm tired all the time. Everything was on the line.

"It's been the toughest year of my life . . . [but] I already have a sense of relief that it is normal and everyone else is going through it," he said.

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