The fall of work stress and the rise of wellbeing

David Wainwright and Michael Calnan

in Work, Health and Wellbeing

Published by Policy Press

Published in print December 2011 | ISBN: 9781847428080
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9781447305637 | DOI:
The fall of work stress and the rise of wellbeing

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This chapter seeks to deconstruct the notion of stress. The discourse of work stress is collapsing under the weight of its own conceptual and methodological contradictions, only to be replaced by a new discourse of wellbeing. Much of the work-stress literature adopts a positivist epidemiological standpoint that sees stress as a response to ‘objective’ job characteristics, such as demands, control or support. As such, it fails to recognise the multi-factorial nature of mental health or the role of subjective appraisal in mediating the stress response, and is therefore unable to explain why individuals in objectively similar jobs report radically different levels of stress, or why the stress epidemic emerged at a time when work was arguably substantially less demanding than in earlier times. Interventions based on the work-stress model have spectacularly failed to reduce the incidence of work stress or the number of working days lost because of it, despite a major campaign by the HSE since 2001. Various attempts to overcome the limitations of the work-stress concept by empirical innovation have not proven successful.

Keywords: work stress; wellbeing; occupational health; resilience; illness behaviour

Chapter.  9594 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Social Stratification, Inequality, and Mobility

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