’implications Essay, Research Paper
This paper examines stress in the workplace and examines secondary literature to recommend methods of reducing and preventing stress. The literature used provided great insight into the causes and effects of occupational stress and its affects on organizations collectively. The recommendations and techniques discovered were very interesting and provided detail pertaining to stress management.
Most people experience stress on a daily basis however, occupational stress is one issue that is rarely discussed. A lot of people may not want to admit that their job is causing them stress or their work environment is a somewhat nerve wrecking experience for them. Although rarely admitted or talked about workplace stress is an issue that must be addressed avidly by HR Personnel and Managers. It is pertinent that this be discussed because it is stress and anxiety that creates barriers to escalating productivity and high motivation among employees.
This paper will focus on a number of things. Topics to be discussed include;
1. A general discussions of stress and anxiety.
- This section will focus on the definitions of Stress and Occupational Stress and talk about stressors and their outcomes according to secondary literature.
2. Moderators of Occupational Stress.
- This section will discuss forms of moderators for Workplace Stress such as social support and coping skills
3. Recommendations for stress reduction in the workplace.
- This topic will discuss the Employee Assistance Program and Organizational Change. The Job Stress Reduction Process of reducing and preventing stress and anxiety in the workplace will be described.
The objective of this paper is to examine stress and anxiety in the working environment and provide recommendations as to how this issue could perhaps become a smaller problem in some workplaces. Through certain techniques this situation could become less of a hindrance and perhaps even somewhat non-existent in some working environments where stress is only visible in small amounts. Stress and anxiety will be researched collectively but more specifically how to prevent excessive levels. Promotion of programs to implement strategies to help alleviate this concern will also be discussed.
Overview of Stress
What is Stress? “Stress – The confusion created when one’s mind overrides the body’s basic desire to choke the hell out of someone who so desperately deserves it” (Author unknown). There are many biological, engineering and physiological definitions of stress but, the definition above is the most simplified and applicable in today’s fast moving business world. A more classical “engineering” definition cited by R. Kahn (1992) used during the 18th and 19th centuries described stress as “A force or pressure exerted upon a material object, or person”. Stress as defined by Quick, Horn and Quick (1987),
“is a naturally occurring experience essential to our growth, change development both at work and at home. Depending on the way stress is handled it may have a detrimental effect on our health and well-being or it may have a beneficial effect”.
In order to have stress there must be a stressor, or a physical or physiological stimulus to encourage the onset of stress response. A physical stressor in a manufacturing setting may be noise, heat, dust, mist, fumes, poor lighting etc (Evans, Cohen 1987). Psychological stressors could be items such as conflicting views with a manager or, seemingly unattainable deadlines. Problems at home may compound these issues when they are presented in an occupational situation. Stress may be caused by many different situations in the various environments that people are a part of each day.
At work, some stress factors may be; the possibility or reality of losing your job, poor supervision, lack of goals, rotating shifts and the inability to keep up with technology. The rate of change in technology may be one of the heaviest burdens to bare for employees who have worked for 15 or 20 years. This stressor may not exist for a young graduate because he or she is a product of a computer driven society. But to a fifty year old person, the rate of technology advancement over this period of time may be too much change compared to their experience. In some cases, failure to understand such technology in the work environment may mean the loss of possible advancement opportunities. One stressor may cause another to create a domino effect of stressors. According to W. Hendrix (1987), these stressors may build up and cause job as well as social stress. Are some individuals more prone to occupational stress than others? By use of the Person/Environment Fit Model (Kahn 1964-1979-1992) it can be hypothesized that certain individuals may be at a higher risk for work related stress then others. For example, a person who has “Role Overload” (Kahn 1979-1992) may feel unable to complete the amount of work given in an ordinary day; the amount of work interferes with the quality of work. This person is more likely to suffer from work stress then one who has an even predictable workload. Role Overload, as stated by Jackson and Maskach (1982) may, in theory, produce another stressor called “Role Conflict”. Role Conflict as Samuel Bachrach (1991) cites Kahn (1964) is defined as “The simultaneous occurrence of two or more sets of pressures in the workplace such that compliance with one, would make compliance more difficult with the other.” Role Conflict may develop if a person receives conflicting directions from two individuals or if the instructions are different then acceptable practice, or the individual must utilize more time to complete both projects. This may be seen in organizations where there is a struggle for power, neither an individual will relinquish control of a project thus, subordinates suffer by trying to satisfy both individuals. This type of situation may be seen in organizations that use a matrix reporting structure. Kahn (1979-1992) defines “Role Underload” as “a chronic under-use of intelligence, knowledge or manual skills”. In the work force, this may mean that an individual is not suited for the task because the job does not challenge their intellectual or physical capabilities. This lack of challenge may leave too much time for individuals to ponder other personal problems that they may be experiencing. This may also contribute to an individual developing poor self-esteem, which in turn may precipitate a poor mental outlook. It seems like a strange point, if a person is over challenged they may feel stress and as in this case if they are under challenged they may feel stress. Balance of stressors may be the key. “Role Ambiguity” as seen in Kahn (1979) is “the changing status of time or information that a person has and the amount that is required to perform the role adequately”. Role Ambiguity may involve a mismatch of a persons intellectual skills and knowledge. For example, a technically gifted engineer for purposes of career development is assigned to work as a production supervisor for an assembly operation. Instead of dealing with design enhancements and process improvements, he is dealing with production deadlines and Union Representatives. In engineering, the individual is within their environment are capable of handling day to day happenings however, dealing with unions and production deadlines would be the job of a manager of business. In the ever-changing world of production supervision, they would be at odds with their environment. This scenario could be defined as a conflicting Person-Environment interface. Jobs with multiple tasks or the responsibility without control over the environment.
Causes of Occupational Stress
According to Sauter, Hurrell, Ruder and Deddens (1999), stress results from the interaction of the worker and the conditions of work. Views differ, however, on the importance of worker characteristics versus working conditions as the primary cause of job stress. These differing viewpoints are important because they suggest different ways to prevent stress at work.
Differences in individual characteristics such as personality and coping style are most important in predicting whether certain job conditions will result in stress-in other words, what is stressful for one person may not be a problem for someone else (Sauter and Hurrell, 1999).
This viewpoint leads to prevention strategies that focus on workers and ways to help them cope with demanding job conditions. Although the importance of individual differences cannot be ignored, scientific evidence suggests that certain working conditions are stressful to most people. The following is a list of job conditions that may lead to occupational stress according to Hurrell, Nelson and Simmons (1998).
Job Conditions That May Lead to Stress
The Design of Tasks: Heavy workload, infrequent rest breaks, long work hours and shiftwork; hectic and routine tasks that have little inherent meaning, do not utilize workers’ skills, and provide little sense of control.
Management Style: Lack of participation by workers in decision- making, poor communication in the organization, lack of family-friendly policies.
Interpersonal Relationships: Poor social environment and lack of support or help from coworkers and supervisors.
Work Roles: Conflicting or uncertain job expectations, too much responsibility, too many “hats to wear.” For example employees are often caught in a difficult situation trying to satisfy both the customer’s needs and the company’s expectations.
Career Concerns: Job insecurity and lack of opportunity for growth, advancement, or promotion; rapid changes for which workers are unprepared.
Environmental Conditions: Unpleasant or dangerous physical conditions such as crowding, noise, air pollution, or ergonomic problems.
Outcomes of Occupational Stress:
Many employees and employers are unaware of the health hazards that stress can impose on a persons physical and emotional state of well-being. According to Hurrell and Murphy (1998), some impositions that stress can have on health include,
Cardiovascular Disease Many studies suggest that psychologically demanding jobs that allow employees little control over the work process increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Musculoskeletal Disorders On the basis of research by NIOSH of the United States and many other organizations, it is widely believed that job stress increases the risk for development of back and upper- extremity musculoskeletal disorders.
Psychological Disorders Several studies suggest that differences in rates of mental health problems (such as depression and burnout) for various occupations are due partly to differences in job stress levels. Economic and lifestyle differences between occupations may also contribute to some of these problems.
Workplace Injury Although more study is needed, there is a growing concern that stressful working conditions interfere with safe work practices and set the stage for injuries at work.
Suicide, Cancer, Ulcers, and Impaired Immune Function Some studies suggest a relationship between stressful working conditions and these health problems. However, more research is needed before firm conclusions can be drawn .
Products of Occupational Stress
According to Bacharach (1991), there is an old saying, which probably originated from the HR movement of Cow Sociology; “A happy worker is a productive worker”. An employee who is suffering from stress on the job is neither happy nor productive. In a study done by Hendrix (1987), employees who were suffering from occupationally related stressors were more prone to illness. In this study it was found that “Type A” or perfectionist like managers were more prone to contract coronary heart disease, such as high blood pressure and increased heart rate. Although other studies indicated that there were multiple Type A classifications, Type A individuals in general, have a greater risk of being afflicted by a heart attack or stroke. When an individual reaches the point of emotional exhaustion or burnout, managers may see a rise in absenteeism and low moral. The symptoms of the ailment that are less noticeable by coworkers in most cases, but contribute to the degradation of the persons mental health are: insomnia, an increase use of drugs and alcohol, as well as marital and family problems (R. Golembiewski 1991).
The Effects of Stress on an Organization:
As Sauter and Murphy (1995) state;
ASome employers may assume that stressful working conditions are a necessary evil that companies must turn up the pressure on workers and set aside health concerns to remain productive and profitable in today’s economy. However, research findings challenge this belief. Studies show that stressful working conditions are actually associated with increased absenteeism, tardiness, and intentions by workers to quit their jobs-all of which have a negative effect on the bottom line.@
Recent studies of so-called healthy organizations suggest that policies benefitting worker health also benefit the bottom line. According to Hurrell, Murphy, Sauter and Cooper (1988), a healthy organization is defined as one that has low rates of illness, injury, and disability in its workforce and is also competitive in the marketplace. Research has identified organizational characteristics associated with both healthy, low-stress work and high levels of productivity. Examples of these characteristics include the following:
_ Recognition of employees for good work performance
_ Opportunities for career development
_ An organizational culture that values the individual worker
_ Management actions that are consistent with organizational values
Stress related problems have cost industry billions of dollars. Some experts estimate the total cost of stress related aliments to be as high as 150 billion dollars a year (Newsweek 1988). Included in this cost is reduced productivity, absenteeism and medical costs. According to L. Murphy (1986) the safety consequences of stress may cost industry a part of the 33 billion dollars associated with injuries in 1984 (National Safety Council). Injuries are caused by two circumstances, unsafe acts or unsafe conditions. In a study done by Heinrich (1931) it was found that 10% of all industrial accident were due to unsafe conditions. That means that the remaining 90% will fall into the unsafe act category. Employees who acted in unsafe ways were thought to be negligent or accident prone but, in researched studies it was discovered that in over 400 cases investigated, 50% took place while employees were in an emotionally low state. This may be due to various factors including shift work or machine paced piecework (Murphy 1986). The largest tangible dollar value that can be put on work related stress cases are Workman Compensation costs. In 1992, Occupational Hazards discovered that a British Columbia Court of Appeal awarded benefits in a case when a man who sustained a serious back injury on the job attempted suicide due to depression. Even though the back claim had already been settled previously, the family filed for stress benefits due to depression and anxiety. The court granted benefits based on the stress defense (Occupational Hazards 1992). How big is the stress problem in Canada? Well in 1988 alone stress claims accounted for 14% of all occupational diseases filed (Newsweek). This number is three times higher than 1980 and is still on the rise. More recent information from interviews with a cross-section of about 600 American workers revealed that: 33% seriously thought about quitting work because of job stress, and they expected to “burn out” on the job in the near future. Of the people interviewed, it was thought that job stress is the single greatest stress in their life. (http://www.ncci.com/html/ncfoj2.htm). In another case Hearsh vs Hughes Aircraft the employee accepted a lump settlement of $20,000 for a stress claim when he suffered a minor nervous breakdown and lost his job with the company. Yet another case in 1986 was settled out of court for $50,000 that involved a manager of a furniture rental store. After one year of hearings and court costs, the employee was awarded the lump sum payment due to stress induced by a hostile supervisor (Newsweek 1986). There is no doubt that stress claims are on the rise, and industry is spending billions in court costs, lost wages and medical benefits.
Methods of Reducing Occupational Stress:
Research displayed in this paper establishes the increase of stress related problems in industry, the next logical step is to become pro-active; prevent the degradation of mental health through stress management. In a survey performed by J. Fielding (1989) over 59% of companies with 750 employees or more have some type of stress management program in place and 87% have a health and fitness program in place. Although this source is not too recent, these statistics demonstrate the commitment companies are making to help the employees’ mental health and physical well-being.
There could be many different methods that can be used by managers to help with stress management and reduction. The following section discusses these techniques and analyzes their use.
Employee Assistance Programs: Many benefits packages offer an employee assistance program (EAP) to improve the ability of workers to cope with difficult work situations. According to Murphy(1995),
Anearly one-half of large companies in the United States provide some type of stress management training for their workforces. Stress management programs teach workers about the nature and sources of stress, the effects of stress on health, and personal skills to reduce stress-for example, time management or relaxation exercises. EAPs provide individual counseling for employees with both work and personal problems. Stress management training may rapidly reduce stress symptoms such as anxiety and sleep disturbances; it also has the advantage of being inexpensive and easy to implement. However, stress management programs have two major disadvantages:
_ The beneficial effects on stress symptoms are often short-lived.
_ They often ignore important root causes of stress because they focus on the worker and not the environment.
Organizational Change: Another method of dealing with job stress is to change the organization as a whole. In contrast to stress management training and EAP programs, organizations may reduce job stress by bringing in a consultant to recommend ways to improve working conditions.
This approach is the most direct way to reduce stress at work. It involves the identification of stressful aspects of work (e.g., excessive workload, and conflicting expectations) and the design of strategies to reduce or eliminate the identified stressors (Keita and Hurrell 1994).
The advantage of this approach is that it deals directly with the root causes of stress at work. However, managers are sometimes uncomfortable with this approach because it can involve changes in work routines or production schedules, or changes in the organizational structure.
According to Quick, Murphy and Hurrell (1992),
Aas a general rule, actions to reduce job stress should give top priority to organizational change to improve working conditions. But even the most conscientious efforts to improve working conditions are unlikely to eliminate stress completely for all workers. For this reason, a combination of organizational change and stress management is often the most useful approach for preventing stress at work.
The following is a list of ideas of how to change an organization to prevent Job Stress;
How to Change the Organization to Prevent Job Stress
_ Ensure that the workload is in line with workers’ capabilities and resources.
_ Design jobs to provide meaning, stimulation, and opportunities for workers to use their skills.
_ Clearly define workers’ roles and responsibilities.
_ Give workers opportunities to participate in decisions and actions affecting their jobs.
_ Improve communications-reduce uncertainty about career development and future employment prospects.
_ Provide opportunities for social interaction among workers.
_ Establish work schedules that are compatible with demands and responsibilities outside the job.
Recommendations for Reducing Stress in the Workplace:
Through this research it was learned that no standardized approaches or simple “how to” manuals exist for developing a stress prevention program. Program design and appropriate solutions will be influenced by several factors-the size and complexity of the organization, available resources, and especially the unique types of stress problems faced by the organization (Scott and Jaffe, 1994).
Although it is not possible to give a universal prescription for preventing stress at work, it is possible for this paper to offer guidelines and recommendations based on research pertaining to the process of stress prevention in organizations. According to to Rosch and Pelletier (1984),
AIn all situations, the process for stress prevention programs involves three distinct steps: problem identification, intervention, and evaluation. For this process to succeed, organizations need to be adequately prepared. At a minimum, preparation for a stress prevention program should include the following:
_ Building general awareness about job stress (causes, costs, and control)
_ Securing top management commitment and support for the program
_ Incorporating employee input and involvement in all phases of the program
_ Establishing the technical capacity to conduct the program (e.g., specialized training for in-house staff or use of job stress consultants)@
Bringing workers or workers and managers together in a committee or problem-solving group may be an especially useful approach for developing a stress prevention program (Bacharach, 1991).
Low morale, health and job complaints, and employee turnover often provide the first signs of job stress. But sometimes there are no clues, especially if employees are fearful of losing their jobs. Lack of obvious or widespread signs is not a good reason to dismiss concerns about job stress or minimize the importance of a prevention program. Each of the three steps named above will be listed and described based on the research done for this paper.
Step 1 – Identify the Problem. According to Scott and Jaffe (1994), the best method to explore the scope and source of a suspected stress problem in an organization depends partly on the size of the organization and the available resources. Group discussions among managers, labor representatives, and employees can provide rich sources of information. Such discussions may be all that is needed to track down and remedy stress problems in a small company. In a larger organization, such discussions can be used to help design formal surveys for gathering input about stressful job conditions from large numbers of employees.
Regardless of the method used to collect data, information should be obtained about employee perceptions of their job conditions and perceived levels of stress, health, and satisfaction.
Objective measures such as absenteeism, illness and turnover rates, or performance problems can also be examined to gauge the presence and scope of job stress. However, these measures are only rough indicators of job stress-at best.
Data from discussions, surveys, and other sources should be summarized and analyzed to answer questions about the location of a stress problem and job conditions that may be responsible-for example, are problems present throughout the organization or confined to single departments or specific jobs.
Survey design, data analysis, and other aspects of a stress prevention program may require the help of experts from a local university or consulting firm. However, overall authority for the prevention program should remain in the organization.
Step 2 – Design and Implement Interventions. Once the sources of stress at work have been identified and the scope of the problem is understood, the stage is set for design and implementation of an intervention strategy.
In small organizations, the informal discussions that helped identify stress problems may also produce fruitful ideas for prevention. In large organizations, a more formal process may be needed. Frequently, a team is asked to develop recommendations based on analysis of data from Step 1 and consultation with outside experts.
Certain problems, such as a hostile work environment, may be pervasive in the organization and require company-wide interventions. Other problems such as excessive workload may exist only in some departments and thus require more narrow solutions such as redesign of the way a job is performed. Still other problems may be specific to certain employees and resistant to any kind of organizational change, calling instead for stress management or employee assistance interventions. Some interventions might be implemented rapidly (e.g., improved communication, stress management training), but others may require additional time to put into place (e.g., redesign of a manufacturing process). Before any intervention occurs, employees should be informed about actions that will be taken and when they will occur. A kick-off event, such as an all-hands meeting is often useful for this purpose
Step 3 – Evaluate the Interventions. Evaluation is an essential step in the intervention process. Evaluation is necessary to determine whether the intervention is producing desired effects and whether changes in direction are needed.
Time frames for evaluating interventions should be established. Interventions involving organizational change should receive both short- and long-term scrutiny. Short-term evaluations might be done quarterly to provide an early indication of program effectiveness or possible need for redirection. Many interventions produce initial effects that do not persist. Long-term evaluations are often conducted annually and are necessary to determine whether interventions produce lasting effects.
Evaluations should focus on the same types of information collected during the problem identification phase of the intervention, including information from employees about working conditions, levels of perceived stress, health problems, and satisfaction. Employee perceptions are usually the most sensitive measure of stressful working conditions and often provide the first indication of intervention effectiveness. Adding objective measures such as absenteeism and health care costs may also be useful. However, the effects of job stress interventions on such measures tend to be less clear-cut and can take a long time to appear.
The job stress prevention process, which can be seen as a recommendation, does not end with evaluation. Rather, job stress prevention should be seen as a continuous process that uses evaluation data to refine or redirect the intervention strategy. This process should be ongoing because stress intervention and reduction is so important for organizations today.
In today’s fast paced society trying to cope with occupational and social stress is challenge for everyone. Some people view occupational stress a necessary life style to stay competitive in an aggressive business or manufacturing setting. If an individual is bombarded by enough stressors, burn out may be inevitable. Individuals who are exposed to stressors on the job, and/or at home are at risk of becoming physically and psychologically ill. This type of stress creates barriers to productivity for organizations and can cause low employee morale, absenteeism, and high turnover. Even though social stress can contribute to occupational stress, and visa versa, as of yet no conclusive research has shown the cumulative effects of the two environments (S. Klintzman, 1990). After looking at all the facts it is very obvious to see that stress is an unavoidable fact of life. If properly monitored and controlled through stress reduction techniques and a healthy lifestyle we all can reduce, but never total eliminate stress from our lives. Through the job stress reduction process described in this research and techniques such as EAP=s and organizational change, companies can work to help relieve job stress for individuals who find this a barrier to a normal life.
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