Business School Topics
Australian workers' compensation claims for work-related stress have now reached over $200 million per year. The cost to employers in lost productivity is even higher, with some estimates putting the figure at over $14 billion per year.
Yet according to Associate Professor Kerrie Unsworth, from The University of Western Australia Business School, a great deal of work-related stress could be prevented.
Professor Unsworth and her colleagues have just completed an experimental study into self-leadership. Employees who demonstrate self-leadership are able to motivate themselves by being self-aware, engaging in goal setting and self-reward, and by changing their environment and the ways in which they think about their work.
The study tested an online self-leadership programme that was completed by employees at both public and private organisations. The online programme consisted of five modules that provided information, interactive exercises, and opportunities for self-reflection.
These modules encouraged greater self-awareness of employees' strengths and psychological resources, as well as offering techniques on goal setting, perceiving natural rewards, and modifying thinking patterns.
Almost 200 people completed the programme over the two testing stages. The results surprised even Professor Unsworth.
‘We changed people's lives; it was just amazing,' she says. ‘Feedback that we got showed that we had a big effect on people, and the statistics seemed to support that.'
Surveys conducted before and after participants completed the programme showed that the programme not only increased the self-leadership capacity of employees, but also enriched their proactive coping skills.
Study participants increased their general self-efficacy, or confidence in their ability to perform well across a variety of different situations. They also felt more in control of their work, and gained a more positive attitude towards their work.
These personal characteristics, according to existing theory in the field, mean that workers are better able to cope with the strain caused by difficult working conditions.
The online self-leadership programme has now been adapted into a programme called PositiveU, and is used in public and private organisations as well as in the curricula at The University of Western Australia and the Queensland University of Technology.
The AIM-UWA Business School Alliance has begun offering PositiveU as part of its executive education activities. Suellen Tapsall, Director of the AIM-UWA Business School Alliance, says that the programme will help both individuals and organisations.
‘We think that PositiveU is an exciting contribution to the field and has great potential for organisations within the state, nationally, and internationally,' says Ms. Tapsall. ‘The research shows that it gives individuals a stronger sense of self and their own self-leadership potential. We think that it's a great complement to the other programmes that we do.
‘This is another example of the ability of the UWA Business School to deliver world-class research, outstanding teaching, and also fulfil a community service role.'
Professor Unsworth would like to see the programme extended so that even more workers can develop self-leadership skills and take control of their work situations.
‘I began my self-leadership research because a colleague and I were both getting disillusioned with academia and the lengthy publishing processes and other pressures it involved,' she explains. ‘We looked to our field and tried to find something that would help us to deal with it, and got an Australian Research Council grant to look at self-leadership.
‘It worked for me - I was able to use the self-leadership skills myself. Some people struggle with in-depth exploration of the Self; it's not an easy thing to do, but is certainly worth it in the end. '
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UWA Business School