Key Findings

Chronic unease describes a tendency in managers to experience discomfort when managing risks. This instinctive wariness is believed to help managers to be alert when it comes to risk management and to resist complacency. This project found that characteristics such as a tendency to worry, pessimism, safety imagination, and vigilance might make some managers more uneasy than others. This unease can be channeled into good risk management, primarily through the tendency to think flexibly about safety risks (i.e. considering safety issues from many angles, questioning assumptions).

Chronic Unease Conference Poster (1.20 MB)

Chronic Unease White Paper (0.84 MB)

Background and Research Aims

Prior to joining the Centre for Safety at The University of Western Australia, Dr Laura Fruhen worked with Professor Rhona Flin at the University of Aberdeen. As part of her role there Dr Fruhen investigated chronic unease and function it may have in supporting senior managers to have a positive influence on safety. Royal Dutch Shell sponsored this work conducted at the University of Aberdeen.

This project investigated the concept of unease at the senior level of management. Chronic unease describes a tendency in managers to experience discomfort when managing risks. This instinctive wariness is believed to help managers to be alert when it comes to risk management and to resist complacency. One of the challenges of managerial work at this level is that it is set in often ambiguous and complex environments and can be detached from the operational sites where unsuccessfully managed risks could be realised. These two aspects of their work can increase the potential of not giving sufficient attention to critical safety issues. Unease is a mindset that may support managers in dealing with these complexities in their work in relation to risks.  

How was the Research Conducted?

  • A systematic review of the academic literature to identify the components of unease
  • An interview study with 27 senior managers form the oil and gas industry to explore the content of chronic unease and the responses associated with it
  • A questionnaire that can assess the components of unease in managers has been developed

What was Discovered?

The project identified the components associated with chronic unease, or what is likely to make some senior managers more uneasy than others. These components include a tendency to worry, pessimism, safety imagination, flexible thinking, and vigilance.  These were integrated into a conceptual model spelling out the process through which chronic unease might affect managerial actions.

The project also identified the ways in which managers can channel unease into good risk management. Particularly the tendency to think flexibly about safety risks (i.e. considering safety issues from many angles, questioning assumptions) was found to be a suitable outlet for unease.

Get Involved

At this stage, we are looking for organisations that are interested in participating in a questionnaire study on chronic unease.

Dr Fruhen is now located at UWA within the Centre for Safety. If you are interested in getting involved or would like more information please email: laura.fruhen@uwa.edu.au

Researchers

Dr. Laura Fruhen
Professor Rhona Flin (University of Aberdeen)
For more details on Prof Rhona Flin’s research group please visit the website of the University of Aberdeen’s Industrial Psychology Research Centre

Relevant Papers: 

Fruhen, L. S., & Flin, R. (2015). ‘Chronic unease’for safety in senior managers: an interview study of its components, behaviours and consequences. Journal of Risk Research, 1-19.

Fruhen, L.S., Flin, R. & McLeod, R. (2014). Chronic unease for safety in managers - a conceptualisation. Journal of Risk Research, 11, 969-979