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Workplace stress - make it visible - Part II.

What agile tools exist to measure workplace stress and make it visible? For example, the sprint report.

In the first article, we introduced one theory of workplace stress, the demand-control model. Now we will attempt to show tools that can be used to measure and reduce stressors. By making visible and continuously optimising the demands, control and peer support required by the job, we can create a healthier work environment, where work stress is significantly reduced and the people become more productive.  


Measurement with agile tools

Personally, I was exposed to group dynamics and theories of workplace stress earlier than I became agile. The Agile Manifesto and the Scrum Guide caught my interest after first reading because they basically contain a lot of elements that pave the way for effective group functioning and prevent workplace stress. I will first introduce these agile tools, principles and their measurement and then a concrete tool to see requirements and control from the team members' perspective.


Knowledge matrix, mentoring

Let's first look at the control over skills (the ability of the employee to expand and use their knowledge in their work). To measure this component, we can use the knowledge matrix: the columns are compiled by Architect and PO, and are used to list the competences needed to deliver the Definition of Done. And the rows are filled in by the team members themselves, based on their level: 1: never seen it, 2: medium, 3: would teach it.

Once this has been outlined and discussed with the PO, incorporate development opportunities such as mentoring into the next Sprints - with the help of external experts if needed. This will significantly increase the control over the skills for team members and the delivery according to the Definition of Done will be more reliable.



In iteration (Sprint) planning, the team identifies the tasks they need to complete, estimates their complexity and duration, and at the end, undertakes the tasks they think they can complete in one iteration. This phenomenon naturally supports decision making and gives team members a sense of control. It is crucial that as Scrum Masters we make sure that the team is not influenced by external factors (POs, stakeholders) when committing and that they actually put their vote in favour of deliverable tasks. 

A useful tool in planning is the so-called confidence vote: team members vote on a scale of 1 to 5 (where 1 is not at all confident, 5 is absolutely confident) on how deliverable the commitment is, if this number is below 4, it is worth rethinking the tasks to be delivered.  

By taking on the complexity and time estimation, the team takes control of the decision and the psychological stressors are significantly reduced. Although the team decides, it is the Scrum Master's job to ensure that the commitment meets reality and to facilitate the planning based on lessons learned from previous sprints to avoid the dangers of overcommitment. What are the experiences and indicators to look out for? We have put together a few that we take into account when preparing a sprint report and can also be useful when measuring stress in the workplace.  

  • Speed: How many story points has the team delivered in previous iterations? If the current sprint commitment is significantly different from previous ones, it is worth bringing this to the team's attention. Of course, the team may decide to take this higher amount, but it is important that they make this decision and can justify it. In this case, the requirement is set by the team and the decision is theirs. It may also be the case that the team is too cautious, if this is seen it is worth pointing this out.
  • Demotic functions/Accepted functions: in case of a continuous divergence, it is worth discussing whether the team is clear about the tasks, whether the team has the competences and the decision making power to do the job (whether external pressure has influenced their commitment).  
  • Tasks outside the team during the sprint: it is also useful to measure the time spent on unplanned tasks, as this often shows the amount of unplanned tasks the team is facing. If this number is high, the team is exposed to increased work stress (they do not have the decision-making power and the psychological stressors are higher: the pace of work is more intense, expectations are higher).  


Team satisfaction questionnaire

It is worth measuring team satisfaction at certain intervals (every Sprint). In 2015, Katalin Nistor and colleagues validated the Hungarian version of the Copenhagen Questionnaire, which is suitable for assessing psychosocial factors at work, including stress. From this questionnaire, I have selected questions to measure demands and control, and it may be worthwhile to include one question from each of these topics in the satisfaction questionnaire items.

The five-point Likert scale (a scale between two extremes, to measure attitude) can also be used to plot changes on a spider web diagram, which is also a great way of showing differences between the different dimensions.

Possible answers:

1. Always or very much

2. Often or to a large extent

3. Occasionally or somewhat

4. Rarely or to a small extent

5. Never / almost never or very little

Questions on quantity requirements:  

  1. Is it typical for your work to be unevenly distributed, so that tasks to be done pile up? 
  2. How often do you find that you do not have time to complete all your tasks? 
  3. Is there enough time to complete your tasks? 
  4. Do you ever fall behind with your work? 

Pace of work 

  • Does your work put you in situations that are emotionally disturbing or upsetting? 
  • Do you have to work at a very fast pace all day? 
  • Do you have to work at a fast pace? 

Responsibilities (Control) 

  • Do you have significant influence over your work? 
  • Do you have a say in who you work with? 
  • Can you influence how much work you have to do? 
  • Do you have any influence over the work you do? 

Support from your colleagues 

  • How often do you get help and support from your colleagues? 
  • How often are your colleagues willing to listen to your work-related problems? 
  • How often do your colleagues discuss with you how well you are doing your job? 


  • How often have you been unable to relax? 
  • How often were you irritable? 
  • How often did you feel tense or nervous? 
  • How often did you feel stressed? 

We can significantly reduce stress in the workplace by using the agile methodology. However, to do this, we need to be aware of how the team is functioning and, through measurement, we need to continuously see and visualise the indicators that (also) make it visible when the team is exposed to increased work stress. 

Source:Gyöngyvér Salavecz:The Relationship between Stress and Health at Work in Hungarian and International Contexts and Katalin Nistor et al: Psychometric Characteristics of the Hungarian Version of the Copenhagen Questionnaire on Psychosocial Factors at Work II (COPSOQ II)



By: Péter Vesszős


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