10 Ways I-O Psychologists Help Alleviate Occupational Stress

alleviate workplace stress

What is Occupational Stress?

According to the American Psychological Association, occupational stress is “a physiological and psychological response to events or conditions in the workplace that is detrimental to health and well-being.”  Things that can influence occupational stress include:

  • workload
  • level of responsibility
  • job security
  • physical environment
  • type of work
  • relationships with coworkers and supervisors

Studies show that occupational stress is detrimental to both the worker and the employer.  A study conducted by the National Institute of Health found that as workplace stress increases, productivity appears to decrease.  Another study showed a correlation between occupational stress and:

  • job burnout
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • pressure

By studying human behavior across an organization, industrial psychologists can help identify ways to reduce organizational stress and boost both efficiency and productivity.  They use psychological principles and research methods to improve employee performance and well-being.

How Industrial Organizational Psychologists Improve the Work Experience

Why is Industrial-Organizational Psychology Important?

  • Addressing Social Dynamics
  • Conflict Resolution and Mediation
  • Workspace Ergonomics
  • Opening Communication Channels
  • Policies and Programs
  • Job Analysis and Redesign
  • Leadership Development
  • Work-Life Balance Initiatives
  • Policy Development and Evaluation
  • Health and Wellness Programs

An industrial-organizational (IO) psychologist has a lot to offer businesses and organizations of any size, including helping them manage the stress levels of their employees. There are dozens of different environmental and social factors that contribute to occupational stress, so business leaders often struggle to address them all. Industrial organizational psychology professionals help both employers and employees by improving the quality of the experience for everyone.

Addressing Social Dynamics

Many companies don’t actively observe or manage interpersonal relationships formed between the people within their organization. While this is not necessarily a problem, it can create serious issues if hostile relations develop between employees. Industrial organizational psychologists leverage their training and experience to identify problems in the natural social dynamic of the workplace, including systems of authority and recourse. They also help reduce the incidence of sexual harassment and bullying in the workplace.

Conflict Resolution and Mediation

Along with improving the general social dynamics of a workplace, psychologists can also encourage and mediate conflict resolution. Unresolved conflicts between any members of an organization are a prime source of occupational stress for everyone around them. Resolving conflicts is rarely a painless experience, but it can be an effective tool when handled with tact and professionalism.

Workspace Ergonomics

Stress is a combined effect based on an individual’s mental and physical state. While emotional and social forces are largely responsible for shaping this condition, the limitations or discomforts of the physical space are also relevant. IO psychologists help businesses improve their equipment, layouts, and operations to better accommodate workers. Many modern organizations incorporate opportunities for exercise and other fitness amenities as a natural outlet that allows their employees to escape stress throughout the day.

Opening Communication Channels

Effective management and worker satisfaction are both inextricably linked to the ability of all parties within an organization to communicate with each other. Business leaders who are able to listen to their employees and learn from them enjoy many more opportunities to improve every aspect of their operations. Industrial psychologists help facilitate this process by opening avenues for communication that allow for meaningful and constructive dialogue throughout an organization. This can also include coaching executives and managers to better express themselves when communicating with employees.

Policies and Programs

Solutions to occupational stress largely depend on the scale and nature of the organization in question. While industrial and organizational psychologists apply general metrics to some aspects of their evaluations, they also need to create policies and programs customized for a specific organization. An industrial organizational psychologist plays a key role in designing, implementing, and improving programs that benefit both employers and employees, according to the American Psychological Association.

Job Analysis and Redesign

Conducting a comprehensive job analysis helps identify stressors within job roles. Industrial and organizational psychology professionals use a variety of methods to conduct a job analysis.  These include:

  • Interviewing subject matter experts and supervisors to better understand the tasks and requirements for the job.
  • Administering surveys or questionnaires to collect data from job incumbents.
  • Asking employees to complete work logs and diaries to capture detailed information about daily activities.
  • Collecting job performance metrics to gain insights into performance expectations.

Psychologists can then recommend redesigning jobs to minimize stress by:

  • Modifying the workload distribution to ensure a more balanced and manageable workload for employees.
  • Identifying opportunities to provide additional training and development.
  • Improving task variety and giving employees more autonomy over their work.
  • Establishing feedback mechanisms and recognition systems.
  • Offering flexible work options like telecommuting and flex hours to improve work-life balance.

Leadership Development

Industrial psychologists need to work with organizational leaders to enhance their leadership skills to reduce stress. Training programs can focus on:

  • effective communication
  • conflict resolution
  • supportive management practices

Strong leadership can create a positive work environment and foster employee well-being.

Work-Life Balance Initiatives

Encouraging work-life balance is essential for reducing stress. Industrial organizational psychology professionals can advocate for flexible work arrangements, such as telecommuting or compressed workweeks. They can also educate employees and managers about the importance of setting boundaries between work and personal life.  Other popular programs include:

  • sabbatical programs
  • family-friendly benefits
  • Employee Assistance Programs (EAP)
  • flexible leave policies

An industrial psychology professional can help the organization determine which programs would best serve its workforce.

Policy Development and Evaluation

Collaborating with organizational stakeholders, industrial organizational psychologists can help develop and evaluate policies that promote employee well-being. This may include policies related to:

  • workload distribution
  • performance evaluation
  • organizational structures

Health and Wellness Programs

Developing wellness initiatives, such as fitness programs, stress reduction activities, and health education campaigns, can contribute to stress reduction. I O psychology experts can collaborate with human resources departments to implement these programs effectively.

Looking Toward the Future

With the increased focus on reducing occupational stressors, a new discipline has formed.  Occupational Health Psychology lies at the intersection of:

  • health psychology
  • I O psychology
  • occupational medicine

This new area of psychology strives to improve the quality of work life and promotes the well-being of workers.


A single stressful day isn’t much to worry about, but consistent exposure to a hostile work environment can be devastating for employee health and the employer’s growth. Failing to address this issue can lead to the loss of qualified workers and a less loyal workforce, which have a significant impact on overall productivity. I/O psychologists are indispensable assets for managing occupational stress in an effective and responsible way.

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