Dr. Nicole Tschierske

Applying the Job Demands-Resource Model to reduce stress at work

Can we achieve more in the workplace while reducing stress? Is it possible to thrive at work? These are some of the questions I help organizations, teams, and individuals answer through my work. And one of the ways to achieve this is by looking at the Job Demands-Resource Model of Burnout.

Why do we need to do ‚better work‘? 

While I got my Ph.D. in chemistry, later in my career I became fascinated by how much transformation and potential we can help to create in people’s lives when offering coaching, training, mentoring, and other skill-building services that go beyond the technical. These aren’t things people can learn from a textbook or experiments. And sadly, when it comes to the workplace, I see a lot of people counting down the days until retirement. People who don’t feel respected or valued in their work and instead are overworked and stressed. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

This is why my focus is on doing better work. I work with individuals and also teams of experts and organizations to help them improve their work design and the way people collaborate with each other. It’s about ensuring that the work, the environment, and relationships are set up in such a way that people can thrive, flourish, and not be miserable for eight hours each day.

How I improve well-being in the workplace

Let me bring this to life with an example. A client I worked with recently ran a short survey where they asked their employees how they feel about their well-being. And the well-being score was quite low. This was despite people having access to plenty of resources and different types of offerings and support. 

Together with the HR leader, we decided to run a workshop with a few employees to explore these answers more deeply and understand what the score was really saying. And what we found is that in terms of stress, mental and physical health, people felt good. They understood how they could facilitate their own well-being and what they could do to help themselves.

But what led to a low score were other points of frustration at work. Things such as the way the work was set up, how people communicated, and how relationships played out between the employees and their managers, for example. And these are the exact things I focus on when working with a client. It’s about looking at the way people work together and how it affects their stress and motivation. It’s about both the smaller and bigger aspects of how a job role is designed, how a team is made up, and what systems and processes are in place in an organization to help people do the work.

And this is where the Job Demands-Resource Model of Burnout comes into play. 

Job demands vs job resources

According to the Job Demands-Resource Model, there are factors that contribute to creating stress and others that help with motivation. These are called job demands and job resources.

Job demands

Job demands are all of the aspects in our work that need your sustained mental and physical energy – the things that drain and exhaust you. For example, a job demand is waiting forever for a system to load or the emotional load that impacts staff who deal with complaints all day. It’s the conflicts between peers or teams or with your manager. But also, time pressure, performance demands, and the insecurity and fear that comes with constant re-organization or downsizing efforts. Job demands could also relate to role ambiguity and conflict – is it clear what someone does in relation to their colleagues, for example?  

All these are energy vampires – they drain someone’s energy. And while none of these factors are negative in and of themselves, if people experience them on a high level and for a prolonged period of time without having enough time to replenish their energy, they become a problem. They exhaust people so much that they can lead to sleeping problems, for example. So it’s crucial that organizations take a good look at them.

Job resources

On the flip side of the coin, we have job resources. These are the aspects that both counter job demands and also fuel our mood, motivation, and engagement. Job resources help you achieve your work goals and bring you personal growth and development. They are energy-givers at work.

Scientists refer to this as task identity. It’s about having a discrete task you can do from start to finish but at the same time that isn’t broken down into the tiniest, little deliverables so you completely lose sight of the bigger picture and don’t know what you’re doing anymore.

Job resources could include:

  • Getting the support you need from others.
  • Receiving help or feedback.
  • Having a good level of autonomy to choose how to go about your job.

These are aspects that help you refuel at work. They buffer against the negative effects of job demands. So the higher the demands on people, the more important it is to ensure these resources are available. Plus, they fuel an upward spiral of motivation, engagement, and organizational commitment.

The scientific basis behind the Job Demands-Resource Model of Burnout

The big thinkers behind the Job Demands-Resource Model of Burnout are Arnold Bakker and Evangelia Demerouti, who have been researching burnout and stress in different occupations for decades. The model was originally published in the Journal of Applied Psychology in 2001, and another great overview paper – called the Job Demand-Resources Model State of the Art – followed in 2006. Also, in 2017, the Job Demands-Resource Theory Taking Stock and Looking Forward was published.

Of course, a lot of research went into constructing the model in the first place. But it’s also been investigated and validated since. We have over 20 years of science to back up this concept. And quite a few practitioners are now using the insights from this model to help redesign work in organizations.

One of the best things about this model is that it can work anywhere – it’s independent of the occupation. Because in every job, every role, every organization, you can always categorize the factors that fall under job demands (something that’s costing you energy) and job resources (something’s that’s giving you energy). Obviously, some are specific to the role and the occupation while others are more general and apply to all of us – because we’re all humans. 

Interested in reducing stress and burnout in your teams?

If you’d like to dig deeper into the topic of stress and burnout in the workplace, I put together a FREE resource called “How to Reduce Stress & Burnout in Your Team” – a science-based approach for leaders of R&D and Tech teams. You can download it here

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