Academic journal article International Journal of Men's Health

A Qualitative Study of Work-Related Stress among Male Staff in Hong Kong's Social Welfare Sector

Academic journal article International Journal of Men's Health

A Qualitative Study of Work-Related Stress among Male Staff in Hong Kong's Social Welfare Sector

Article excerpt

The social welfare sector is a female-dominated environment. Thus, the needs of male staff are usually overlooked. This study aims to describe the stress experienced by male staff in Hong Kong's social welfare sector. A qualitative research approach was adopted using multiple case studies. Forty participants were recruited by convenience sampling. Personal essays developed from guide questions were used in data collection, and content analysis was carried out. The results suggest the need for planning stress management programmes in this sector. Further research on the topic using triangulation and purposive sampling would be useful to confirm the results and compare the experience of stress among male social workers in Eastern and Western cultures.

Keywords: occupational stress, social service, men's health, masculinity, gender

Mental health is a major public health concern in the twenty-first century. According to the World Health Organization, at the turn of the millennium, approximately 450 million people have been diagnosed with mental illness worldwide (World Health Organization, 2001a). Prolonged and high levels of stress may affect mental health, leading to psychological problems and even psychiatric disorders. Stress is one of the most significant mental health problems in the workplace. It is associated with insomnia, depression and anxiety (Tang, Lee, Leung, Tsang, Ho, & Choy, 2006). At the organisational level, high levels of stress increase operating costs (medication, treatment, compensation). Indirect costs include absenteeism, productivity loss, high staff turnover, early retirement and low morale in the work environment (Coffey, Dugdill, & Tattersall, 2004; Tang, Lee, Leung, Tsang, Ho, & Choy, 2006; World Health Organization, 2001b).

Hong Kong is one of the world's largest trading economies, with a major service sector. Employees suffer stress as a result of high work demands, job insecurity, long working hours, and competition for wealth as well as social status. Moreover, strong organisational commitment at work is emphasised in the Chinese culture (Department of Health, 2003a; Siu & Cooper, 1998). This traditional value imposes additional pressures on employees.

The Hong Kong government's implementation of a subvention system in the social service sector in the twentieth century placed a financial burden on social service agencies. To cope, these agencies tended to hire contract-based or temporary staff, which caused job insecurity among employees and negatively affected employer-employee relationships. In addition, following the worldwide trend, expectations from the government, clients, and the public became much higher. Additional service output and tailor-made services became essential to satisfy the needs of the public, and this created more work for service staff: Research has shown that the influence of stress in the workplace has been increasing over the past two decades (Danny, Subadra, & Clara, 2004; Gellis, 2002; Margaret, Lindsey, & Andy, 2004).

Gender roles as defined by both the ethnic culture and the dominant culture plays an important role in shaping individuals' health beliefs, their patterns of help-seeking, and their well-being (Chang & Subramaniam, 2008; Mussap, 2008) Following the masculinity gender role, men in Hong Kong adapt socially produced gender behaviors, by receiving the least health attention, including occupational health support. The concern for men's health is commonly viewed as being limited to diseases such as prostate disease or erectile dysfunction (Disease Prevention and Control Division, 2002). The men's mental health problems due to poor lifestyle and limited health- seeking practices are often overlooked, and these should be emphasized in health promotion.

Studies on the promotion of men's mental health, especially in the context of Hong Kong's social welfare sector, are limited. This study was therefore undertaken to explore work-related stress among male staff in Hong Kong's social welfare sector. …

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