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SMART Work has Tolerable Demands

The last letter in the SMART work framework stands for Tolerable demands.


This refers to the extent to which a job involves time pressure, emotional demands and role conflict. 

Time pressure refers to the degree to which an adequate amount of time is provided to complete your work. Emotional demands describes the degree to which your work creates emotionally demanding situations. Finally, role conflict refers to the extent to which feedback, instruction and demands are inconsistent.

Whilst some jobs will be more difficult than others from a physical or cognitive perspective, there is always a need for these demands to be at a tolerable level.


Characteristics of Tolerable Demands

A job with tolerable demands would likely involve:

  • a manageable work load with reasonable time pressure and work hours

  • work with manageable emotional, mental or other pressures that create challenge without unnecessary strain

  • work without excessively conflicting expectations or instructions

“Our staff don't have to worry about data input - that's all automated. They just monitor analysis, the good stuff not the boring stuff.”

- Tech Company Co-Founder

Characteristics of Untolerable Demands

In contrast, jobs that are less tolerable are likely to:

  • not have enough time allocated to complete the required tasks

  • contain tasks that are too cognitively or emotionally challenging for individuals, leading  to a sense of burnout

  • conflicting feedback and instructions with a high degree of unnecessary ambiguity

"The job itself is not hard but volume wise, you're feeling so drained at the end of the day."

-Finance Officer

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What Are the Risks of a Job

With Untolerable Demands?

All work involves demands because there are goals to achieve, and effort must be put in to achieve these goals. When demands are challenging and present at appropriate levels (and supported by adequate resources) they can increase employee engagement [1]. However, demands become problematic when the level of demand exceeds the individual’s ability to meet those demands [2].


Roles with intolerable job demands carry risks for both individuals as well as organisations:


Employees can experience high levels of job stress, home-work conflict, and increased risk of making mistakes. Moreover, an intolerable job can have a negative impact on mental health and increase the risk to develop anxiety, depression and burnout [3]. It can also impact physical health, as intolerable jobs are associated with a higher risk for cardiovascular diseases.

For organisations, the risks of jobs with intolerable demands include higher accident rates, turnover, presenteeism and absenteeism, as well as less a greater number of workers’ compensation claims and slower return to work after an injury or illness [4].

Research Spotlight

The fifth European Working Conditions Survey which includes a sample of over 43,000 people highlighted a clear association between tolerable work demands and the general health of workers. It was shown that high job demands, job insecurity and poor interpersonal relationships were associated with the presence of poor health. Furthermore, it was shown that excessive job demands were clearly linked to increases in ill mental health and worked related accidents across genders and industries [5].

One study looked at a sample of over 90,000 workers to determine their likelihood of accessing stress related medication such as that associated with insomnia, anxiety, and depression. It was found that those who worked at organisations which were typified by a high degree of change were significantly more likely to access these medications. This effect was the most pronounced for individuals working in larger organisations that underwent broad, simultaneous changes [6].

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Strategies to Make Demands More Tolerable

If you find that your role involves intolerable time pressure, emotional demands or role conflict, we have collected a number of strategies for you to try out. 

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Strategies for Employees

Here are some tips to make your job demands more tolerable:

  • Discuss and negotiate your deadlines with your manager. They may not be aware of current length of time some tasks take to complete.

  • Take an adequate number and amount of time for breaks. A quick ten minute walk around the block can assist greatly with cognitively demanding tasks.  

  • Be aware of your organisation’s policies related to fatigue management (including overtime, rosters and shift work).

  • Seek clarification from your manager if you have received conflicting feedback and instructions.

Strategies for Managers

Given the risks of untolerable jobs, it is a good idea to apply strategies to make job demands more tolerable for your employees:

  • Monitor workloads during periods of high demands and provide additional support where required.

  • Allow employees to take breaks or ‘time out’ from emotionally demanding work.

  • Use open communication during times of change, including clear explanations of the reasons for decisions. Provide an avenue for staff to voice concerns and feel heard.

  • Provide clear and consistent feedback and instructions. This becomes particularly important if feedback is shared within the team.

  • Attend training's to increase your understanding of how to safely allocate workload. Do not be afraid to regularly check in to make sure you are doing this correctly.

  • Be aware of your organisation’s policies related to fatigue management and make this information known to your staff.

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Strategies for Organisations

Get in touch with our Collaboratory to discuss tailored strategies for your organisation or get inspired by our selection of resources.




[1] Van den Broeck, A., De Cuyper, N., De Witte, H., & Vansteenkiste, M. (2010). Not all job demands are equal: Differentiating job hindrances and job challenges in the Job Demands-Resources model. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 19(6), 735 -759.

[2] Bakker, A. B., Hakanen, J. J., Demerouti, E., & Xanthopoulou, D. (2007). Job resources boost work engagement, particularly when job demands are high. Journal of Educational Psychology, 99(2), 274-284.

[3] Harvey, S. B., Modini, M., Joyce, S., Milligan-Saville, J. S., Tan, L., Mykletun, A., … & Mitchell, P. B. (2017). Can work make you mentally ill? A systematic meta-review of work-related risk factors for common mental health problems. Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 74(4), 301-310.

[4]  Hakanen, J. J., Scaufeli, W. B., & Ahola, K. (2008). The job demands-resources model: A three-year cross-lagged study of burnout, depression, commitment and work engagement. Work and Stress, 22(3), 224-241.

[5] Ardito, Chiara & Leombruni, Roberto & Pacelli, Lia & d'Errico, Angelo. (2012). Eurofound. Health and Well-being at Work: A Report Based on the Fifth European Working Conditions Survey. Dublin, Ireland: Eurofound.

[6]  Dahl, M. S. (2011). Organizational change and employee stress. Management Science, 57(2), 240-256.

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