Stress, psychosocial factors and the New Zealand forest industry workforce: Seeing past the risk of harm to the potential for individual and organisational wellbeing

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Trevor Best
Rien Visser
David Conradson


work-related stress, psychosocial hazards, forest industry workforce, ecological perspective


Background: There is clear evidence that stress is having an impact on the health and wellbeing of the forest industry workforce in Aotearoa New Zealand. While this has legal ramifications under the national health and safety legislation, international research also shows that harm to mental health invariably leads to reductions in work force productivity and business profitability. The reverse is also true: improved mental wellbeing can lead to greater worker engagement and commitment, which in turn increases productivity and profitability. Although these relationships are well substantiated, managers and leaders in the forest industry may not be aware of either the existence of a workplace stress problem or of its impact.

Methods: A critical review is undertaken of stress and psychosocial hazards research within the international forest industry or similar industries (e.g. construction), with particular attention given to the explanation of psychosocial hazards. 

Results: International research on the forest industry largely confirms what we know about harmful aspects of job content and workplace conditions. However, it is argued that the focus within this research on job content and immediate workplace conditions obscures the impact of the wider social context. This limits the potential of management to move beyond seeing psychosocial factors simply as risks to be minimised at the workplace level. Bringing an ecological perspective to the analysis of forestry workplaces makes it easier to identify the elements of forest management practice that may contribute to stress within the workforce. It also becomes easier to identify the interactions between family, community and workplaces that may either exacerbate or reduce workforce stress.

Conclusions: This paper highlights particular opportunities for reducing stress and enhancing wellbeing within the New Zealand forest industry workforce. It suggests that the psychosocial conditions that contribute to mental ill-health can be reconfigured to promote mental health, with wellbeing benefits that extend beyond the workplace. Psychosocial demands on a person can be motivating as long as the person has the resources to meet the challenge. Successful stewardship of the psychosocial environment at the forest management level is thus an opportunity to increase value to both investors and other stakeholders.

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