Steinbeis experts provide help with understanding stressful situations at work and dealing with them early
Absenteeism caused by mental problems is on the rise, resulting in significant damage to the economy. What can companies do to recognize stressful situations early and react quickly? This was the question looked at as part of a joint project undertaken by Steinbeis experts Elke Kirchner and Dr. Holger Gast, who have now developed an online tool for assessing stressful situations at work – especially ongoing situations that impair performance. Their tool gives companies a simple-to-understand, user-friendly instrument that makes it possible to reduce absenteeism and succeed as a business.
The market needs a straightforward solution that enables business leaders to identify potentially stressful situations early, prevents time being wasted, protects people, and still meets legal requirements under Section 5 of the German Occupational Health and Safety Act. Two Steinbeis experts, Elke Kirchner of Healthy Organizations (the Steinbeis Consulting Center) and Dr. Holger Gast of Agile Development of Information Systems (also a Steinbeis Consulting Center), have now developed a web-based tool that uses online questionnaires to assess and plan working conditions with the aim of minimizing risks posed by mental stress at the workplace. Four key factors are looked at:
- The work environment/work station
- Work planning
- Tasks and topics
- Social interactions/contacts when working with others
Financial factors in assessing mental hazards
The aim of evaluating mental hazards is to understand whether or which stressful situations at a company can be identified by employees.
Such assessments provide a basis for introducing measures with a focus on working conditions (such as noise) or behavior (communication, leadership). The aim is to improve the performance of individuals and bolster teamwork. The result can be improved staff retention and reductions in sickness-related absenteeism. Money spent on identifying and reducing stress is amortized in the long term: “Happy, enthusiastic, and healthy workers stay longer at the company and improve the image of a business as a potential employer,” emphasizes Elke Kirchner. Aside from reducing the cost of recruiting and training new employees, this raises productivity due to lower rates of absenteeism. However, understanding the risk posed by mental stress requires detailed expertise, primarily because risk assessments go far beyond the typical questions asked when conducting employee surveys.
The Steinbeis online tool – anonymous, safe, and effective
As soon as Holger Gast started analyzing the requirements for the new questionnaire, it became clear that the first priority had to be that answers could be submitted anonymously.
The subject area is so sensitive for staff that they need to be allowed to describe the situation at their companies without fear of consequences. This was also important to gain the sign-on of union representatives and HR management.
The first step was to ensure the system only uses online encryption technology (https), so that responses could not be intercepted. The system resides on a dedicated server which is not used for any other purposes. “We also made sure that the database was designed to only save the actual responses, and not store information relating to browsers or submission times – like with lots of other questionnaires – because knowing such things might make it possible to work out who filled in the answers,” explains Gast.
Even knowing the order different employees completed the questionnaire in could be used to work out certain things. For example, a company might keep connection logs showing when external servers are accessed, and perhaps survey answers in the report are logged in exactly the same order.
For technical reasons, instead of using numbers in sequence, the tool developed by the two Steinbeis experts picks a random ID whenever it stores records. It also reproduces information based on random IDs. As a result, even if someone did access the database, they would still be unable to see the sequence in which answers were submitted.
Success – the product of partnership
By joining forces for the project, both Steinbeis Enterprises have provided an example of successful partnership in the Steinbeis Network.
The expertise of the Healthy Organizations Steinbeis Consulting Center made it possible to design a questionnaire with a strong focus on key issues, and the technical expertise and the special “software that writes software” method used by the other Steinbeis Consulting Center, Agile Development of Information Systems, were an important factor in implementing the project, which was both lean and adaptable.
Together, the two centers succeeded in delivering the mental risk assessment project without making things complicated for the customer. They also ensured that not too many resources were required. At the same time, pooling expertise strengthens the sense of community in the Steinbeis Network.
To view a demo version of the questionnaire (German only), go to www.gesunde-organisationen.com/demo-fragebogen 
The demo does not link to any other systems and only runs on the browser of the user. No information submitted for the questionnaire is actually shared.