, Research Paper
Coping With Stress In An Organization
26 November 1994
Table of Contents
II. Defining Stress
III. Types of Stress
IV. How to Handle Stress
V. Recognizing Stress
VI. The Military and Stress
Since the beginning of mankind there has always been some kind of stress
affecting how people feel, act and cope with situations. In this paper we will
look at the definition of stress and what causes people to have stress. Then we
will see how different people handle stress and show how not all individuals
have the same tolerance for stress. The next thing that will be discussed is
how managers in organizations can recognize and reduce the negative effects that
stress has on the worker and the organization. Finally we will consider what
kind of stresses there are in military organizations and how they can be
II. DEFINING STRESS
Robert C. Dailey, in his book Understanding People In Organizations,
defines stress as ?any demand made on the body that requires psychological or
physical adjustment.? Many people think of stress as always being something bad.
However, stress sometimes can be good. Stress is part of our every day life.
It can have a motivating effect or a demotivating effect. Each of us have our
own level of how much stimulation or stress we need in our lives to keep us from
getting bored.1 Others however, have a much lower tolerance for stress stimuli.
So managers must be able to look at each individual and decide if the individual
has a high or low tolerance for stress. Managers can do this only if they have
a good understanding of what causes stress.
III. TYPES OF STRESS
Stress can come from a multitude of different reasons, but for
simplicity lets break it down into two forms: individual induced stress and
physical environment stress. Individual stress includes things such as role
conflict, role ambiguity, work overload, and responsibility for others. Role
conflict occurs when accomplishing one job inhibits or greatly reduces the
chance at completing another assigned task. In this case the person who is
tasked to do the jobs will incur some type of stress while trying to figure out
how to get both tasks accomplished in the given amount of time. How much stress
and if it will impact the individual positively or negatively will depend on the
experience level of the individual. Role ambiguity is when an individual is not
sure of what their job entails. It makes it hard for a person to decide on what
their priorities are and how to manage their time. Ambiguity can come from a
number of different things. A transfer, promotion, new boss, or new co-workers
can all cause an individual to experience some type of role ambiguity and added
stress. Both role conflict and role ambiguity relate to job dissatisfaction,
lower level of self-confidence, and sometimes elevated blood pressures.2 When
these occur an individual’s motivation decreases, family problems surface, and
depression sets in.
Another form of individual induced stress is work overload. There are
two forms of work overload: quantitative and qualitative. Quantitative occurs
when a person has too many things to accomplish and not enough time to do them
in. Qualitative overload on the other hand is when the individual doesn’t have
enough experience or expertise to accomplish the task(s) at hand. Both of these
type of stressors are very detrimental to an individual’s health. In fact
because employees feel as if they are doing two or more jobs at once and have no
time to themselves they experience elevated cholesterol, blood pressure, and
pulse rate.3 Another factor which affects employees is when they have or feel
they have the responsibility for other co-workers. This can happen not only to
managers but also to other employees who may be group leaders or even union
leader. When you start adding up all of these individual responsibilities the
potential for employees having some sort of job related stress is very high.
Now lets move on to physical work environment stressors.
When people think of physical work environment they usually think of
some type of hard labor. But its not confined only to physical labor, it also
encompasses other factors such as noise, temperature, lighting, and pollution.4
So that means even people in business and people in construction both have some
kind of physical work environment stressors. Stress from noise doesn’t have to
be caused from loud sounds. It could be the sound of the air conditioner or
maybe even the silence of some one who is sitting next to you and you know they
are watching what you do. Temperature also adds to frustration and therefore
causes stress. Whether its from working out in the blazing sun or from sitting
beside the air conditioner, they both can lead to stressful situations. Light
can cause stress because of being to high, to low, or the wrong type. Any of
these can make a person strain their eyes thus make them more susceptible to
stress. When you put all the individual and physical stressors together you can
see why job stress is drawing more and more attention.
IV. HOW TO HANDLE STRESS
Although every person handles stress in their own particular way they
all basically go through the same stages. Professor Hans Selye called these
stages the ‘general adaptation syndrome’.5 He says that the body adjust to
stress in three stages; (1) alarm reaction, (2) adaptation, and (3) exhaustion.
Alarm reaction is where a person first becomes aware of whatever the stressor is.
In this stage the body activates its defensives. Some of the notable traits
are higher blood pressure, rapid breathing, faster heart rate, and muscle
tension. In the adaptation stage the body tries to identify which system it
needs to use to deal with the long term effect of what ever is causing stress.
Then the body moves into the exhaustion stage. This is where the body is
totally depleted of its adaptive energy. The body also can revert back to the
symptoms of the alarm reaction stage.6 From having a basic understanding of how
a person’s body reacts to stress, managers have a better insight on what to look
for when trying to figure out what the limits are of their personnel.
V. RECOGNIZING STRESS
The best way to learn how to notice signs of stress in other people is
to become aware of your own types of symptoms. There are many warning signs
available to us. A few of them include dryness of the mouth, insomnia, chest
pain with no known cause, rapid breathing, stomach pain, and changes in appetite.
When you feel these type of symptoms pay attention to how you react to them.
More than likely what you do will probably be the same way others cope with
stress. Here are some of the things you might not see in your self that you
might notice in your co-workers; drug use, excessive drinking, absenteeism, and
emotional outbursts. One of the more serious stress-related sickness is
depression. This happens when a person loses their self-esteem and they feel
that they have no control over their job. Two signs associated with depression
are the inability to meet deadlines and having trouble making decisions while at
the same time worrying about both of them excessively.7 Managers need to be
ableto recognize these signs of stress in the work place so productivity won’t
be hurt and the quality of life for the employees remain high.
What exactly can be done about stress? The most important thing that
organizations can do is try to keep stress at a minimum on the job. Employers
need to make sure that they educate their employees about how to handle stress.
This can be in done at a formal meeting, at informal group meetings, or by
newsletter. The main thing is to get the word out about stress and heighten
individuals awareness of it. There are many avenues to take that help relieve
stress. Physical fitness, nutrition, weight loss, and smoking programs are some
of the more popular ways to help ward off stress. One way that employers are
responding to employees’ emotional, physical, and personal problems are employee
assistance programs(EAP).8 These programs are set up by the employer with a
local medical organization that has the capability of helping employees that
have some type of problem whether it be drug dependency, alcoholism or smoking.
The employer in these programs pay for part or all the expenses of the program.
Another way organizations are helping their employees to deal with
stress are wellness programs. Many organizations are using these programs and
are reporting great results from them. Companies are beginning to realize that
programs dealing with stress-related problems before they become chronic can be
a major contributor to the quality of work life for employees thus enhancing
their job performance.9 Some companies spend millions of dollars each year on
wellness programs. One company even paid their employees bonus’ for any weight
they lost. Although these programs sound like they cost a lot they actually
save companies money in the long run. This is because of several factors some
of which are less hospital stays, less health insurance claims, reduced
accidents rates, and increased employee satisfaction. All of these lead to a
more productive individual and better work force.
One other aspect of reducing stress deals with specific behavioral
techniques for mental relaxation. These are brought out in stress management
courses that some companies let their employees attend. They focus their
attention on the concept that the central nervous system can’t differentiate
between a real experience and an imagined experience. These classes teach
things like deep breathing, muscle relaxation, biofeedback, and how stress can
affect them personally and what they can do about it.10 In today’s society
where pressures are becoming more and more extreme organizations, leaders, and
managers need to be aware of the stress that their work force encounters and set
up some type of program to help them deal with them.
In the military there are the same type of stressors as in the private
sector and also a few that wouldn’t be found in corporate industries. Military
leaders must look at their personnel and see what kind of pressure they are
experiencing to be effective leaders. In fact they need to be even more
vigilant for signs of stress because they must be sure that an individual is
ready to go to combat, both in a physical and mental state, at a moments notice.
VI. THE MILITARY AND STRESS
There are many things that can cause undo stress in the military. They
range from worrying about getting promoted to getting a college education and to
trials and tribulations of being separated from ones’ family for long periods of
time. Some of the things already mentioned before such as responsibility for
others, role conflict, and role ambiguity are all present in the military work
force. Stress affects enlisted personnel as well as officers. Lets explore
some of the ways the military and military leaders can help the organization and
its members to cope with stress and its effects.
One way the armed forces has dealt with stress in its organization is
with EAPs.11 Almost all bases have some type of program to help members who
have some type of dependency. The first step however is usually the hardest, is
to identify the people who need the help. Most of the programs allow the member
to volunteer for help without retribution. Individual commanders also can play
a big part in helping members find help. By making sure their troops know about
what programs are available and by having stress awareness training so other
members know what to look for in their co-workers, the commander is able to stop
chronic stress before it occurs. Another way the services deal with preventing
stress are their physical fitness programs. Each unit should support these
programs by assuring the individuals have time allotted to participate in them.
Still another way that has picked up steam in the last couple of years is the
quality of life working teams. These teams look for ways to improve the quality
of living both during work hours and after. So as you can see the military is
concerned about stress and are taking great steps in trying to reduce its
We have taken a look at what the definition of stress and some of the
causes of stress in the work place. It is important to try and reduce these
causes as much as possible so that employees won’t get any stress related
symptoms. Also it was stated how a persons’ body reacts when it encounters
stress. Then the signs of stress that managers need to look for were discussed.
After that some of the ways organizations can help it employees manage stress
were looked at. Finally, it was shown how the military is handling stress among
its members. As the world gets more diverse stress in the work force will
continue to grow. It is imperative for managers and leaders to be able to
recognize stress, understand its causes, and know how to alleviate it in their
organizations so that it can continue to grow and be productive.