Running head: LABOR RELATIONS 1 Stress Management Within the Workplace Kendall E. Williams Northcentral University STRESS MANAGEMENT WITHIN THE WORKPLACE 2 Introduction Arthur Miller’s well-known plan Death of a Salesman details the tragic life and death of Willie Loman. After 34 years of traveling through New England, Willie had reached 60 years of age, and felt he could no longer stand the rigors of extensive international travel.
After a number of nervous breakdowns, Willie reluctantly decided to pursue a position with the company at his home base in New York City. After several attempts to plead his case, the company informed Willie that his services were no longer needed. The company had consumed 34 years of Willie’s life, and sent him out to pasture as if he were an aged mule that had outlived its usefulness. Miller’s play stands as a fitting metaphor for the popular sentiment among workers that companies consume and exploit their employees.
Many workers and managers at all levels of organization find their health and personal lives being sacrificed on the altars created by modern organizations (Morgan, 1997, p. 307). Insurance industry surveys among American workers have found that over forty percent of employees find their jobs very or extremely stressful. Moreover, it is estimated that somewhere between 75 and 90 percent of visits to physicians in the United States are stress related (Morgan, 1997, p. 321). For women, stress is identified as the number-one problem, highlighted as a major concern by an average of 60 percent over all occupational groups.
The figures are as high as 74 percent for women in their forties in professional and managerial roles, and 67 percent for single mothers (Morgan, 1997, p. 321). Overwork, work/life imbalances, difficult work schedules, demanding bosses, economic problems and other contextual factors may contribute to stress in the workplace. High stress also correlates with increasing violence in the workplace. Data collected by the U. S. Department of Justice reveal that the number of work-related assaults is now in the region of one million per annum (Morgan, 1997, p. 21). STRESS MANAGEMENT WITHIN THE WORKPLACE 3 While a certain amount of stress is endemic in the workplace, much can be done to modify the levels of stress and tension experienced at work. Indeed, many organizations intentionally produce stress as a means of promoting organizational effectiveness. In the view of many experts a certain amount of stress is beneficial for organizations. However, undue stress has a costly long-term impact on organizations (Morgan, 1997, p. 322).
We will examine the common causes and consequences of stress in the workplace, and then consider what organizations can to do to reduce undue stress in the workplace. What is Stress? Muchinsky (2006) posited that there is no agreed upon definition of work stress. He added, “not all work demands are undesireable” (p. 352). To this end, myriad definitions have been offered on work stress. Muchinsky (2006) offered the following definition, “the response to stimuli on the job that lead to negative consequences, physical or psychological, to the people who are exposed to them” (p. 52). Similarly, Nobrega, Champagne, Azaroff, Shetty, and Punnett (2010) defined work stress as “the harmful physical and emotional responses that occur when requirements of the job do not match the capabilities, resources, or needs of the worker (p. 283). Stress is not necessarily bad in and of itself. Although stress is typically discussed in a negative context, it also has a positive value (Robbins, 2003, p. 577). Consider an employee who comes through in “clutch” situations; such an individual often uses stress positively to summon optimal performance levels.
Similarly, many workers view heavy workloads and deadlines as positive challenges that enhance the quality and timeliness of their work. According to Robbins (2003), stress is typically associated with constraints and demands. The former prevents individuals from doing what they desire, while the latter refers to the loss of something desired (p. 577). STRESS MANAGEMENT WITHIN THE WORKPLACE 4 Robbins (2003) argued that two conditions must be present in order for potential stress to become actual stress.
First, there must be uncertainty over the outcome and the outcome must be important (p. 577). Regardless of the conditions, it’s only when there is doubt or uncertainty regarding whether the opportunity will be seized, the constraint removed, or the loss avoided that there is stress. Robbins (2003) added, “stress is highest for individuals who perceive that they are uncertain as to whether they will win or lose and lowest for individuals who think that winning or losing is a certainty (p. 577). However, if winning or losing is an unimportant outcome, there is no stress (Robbins, 2003, p. 77). Consequently, an employee who is not concerned about potential loss may not find performance reviews a stressful event. Causes of Stress Robbins (2003) offered three categories of potential stress including environmental, organizational, and individual. The model below outlines potential sources and consequences for each category. Figure 1. A Model of stress. This figure outlines potential sources and consequences of stress. STRESS MANAGEMENT WITHIN THE WORKPLACE 5 Environmental Factors
Just as environmental uncertainty influences the design of organizations, it also influences stress levels among employees in the organization. When economic conditions are unfavorable, for example, people become increasingly anxious about their job security. Similarly, when the political climate is uncertain, worker stress can result. To cite a recent example, the political discord over the raising of the debt ceiling resulted in considerable uncertainty among American businesses, which may have contributed to strategic inertia, or decisions to “play it safe” by minimizing any expense that could impact the bottom-line.
Technological uncertainties, according to Robbins (2003), can prompt employee concerns about job security. Because new innovations can make an employee’s job skills and experience obsolete in a very short time, such innovations are perceived as a threat to many people and cause them stress (p. 579). Another key source of technologically-induced stress comes in the form of email communication. The increasing volume of email and other technologically enabled communications are widely regarded as a growing source of stress in people’s lives.
In a recent study conducted by Barley, Meyerson, and Grodal (2011), it was found that the more time people spent handling email, the greater was their sense of being overloaded (p. 888). Organizational Factors There is no shortage of factors within the organization that contribute to stress. Pressures to avoid errors or complete tasks against pressing deadlines, work overload, a demanding and insensitive boss, and unpleasant co-workers are among a vast list of common examples. The task demands, such as the design of the individual’s job can contribute to high stress levels.
The degree of autonomy and task variety are key components of the task demands on employees. Similarly, role demands relates to pressures placed on a person as a function of the particular role the individual plays in the organization (Robbins, 2003, p. 579). STRESS MANAGEMENT WITHIN THE WORKPLACE 6 Additional forms of organizational factors include interpersonal demands, organizational leadership, and the organization’s life stage.
Interpersonal demands are pressures created by other employees; lack of interpersonal relationships in the workplace, and interpersonal conflicts can cause considerable stress for workers, especially among employees with a high social need (Robbins, 2003, p. 580). Additionally, the organizational structure can induce stress. How decisions are made, the degree of rules and regulations, and the level of differentiation are key factors (Robbins, 2003, p. 580). Organizational leadership can cause considerable stress. The leadership styles of the senior management are key components.
When the demands of leadership are perceived as unrealistic among the workers, stress levels are typically high (Robbins, 2003, p. 580). Employee stress can also result from mergers and acquisitions. The anxiety and uncertainty typically inherent in mergers and acquisitions has been a significant source of workplace stress (Maden, 2011, p. 189). Finally, the organization’s life stage can create different problems for employees as the organization. The establishment and decline stages have been significant sources of stress for employees.
The former is characterized by a great deal of excitement and uncertainty, while the latter typically requires cutbacks and layoffs (Robbins, 2003, p. 580). Individual Factors Employees typically work 40-50 hours a week. But the experiences they encounter outside of their work schedule can spill over into the work week. Factors in the employee’s personal life such as family issues, personal economic problems, and inherent personality characteristics can conspire to create additional stress at work. Common examples of family issues include marital problems, disciplinary problems with the employee’s children, and the like.
According to a study cited by Robbins, stress experienced on the job may be linked more to the person’s personality than the actual occupational or environmental factors. Robbins (2003) stated: STRESS MANAGEMENT WITHIN THE WORKPLACE 7 A study conducted in three diverse organizations that found that stress symptoms reported prior to beginning a job accounted for most of the variance in stress symptoms reported nine months later.
This led the researchers to conclude that some people may have an inherent tendency to accentuate negative aspects of the work in general. If this is true, then a significant individual factor that influences stress is a person’s basic disposition. That is, stress symptoms expressed on the job may actually originate in the person’s personality (p. 580). Consequences of Stress Some people thrive on stress, while others are consumed by its effects. The primary determinants of one’s response to stress situations depends largely on the individual’s personality makeup.
Robbins (2003) posited six variables, as illustrated in Figure 1 above, that have been found to moderate stress conditions including perception, job experience, social support, belief in locus of control, self-efficacy, and hostility. Perception helps to moderate the stressful condition, and the employee’s reaction to it. For example, one person’s fear of layoff may be perceived by another employee as an opportunity to change careers. Job experience, according to Robbins, tends to be negatively related to work stress. Robbins (2003) offered two explanations.
First, is the idea of selective withdrawal. Voluntary turnover is more probable among people who experience more stress. People who remain with the organization longer are therefore those who have a higher resistance to the stress characteristics of their organization (p. 580). Second, people eventually develop coping mechanisms to deal with stress. Because this takes time, senior members of the organization are more likely to be fully adapted and therefore experience less stress. Locus of control is a personality attribute that describes one’s view of their ability to control outcomes.
Those with an internal locus of control believe they control their own destiny, while those with an external locus of control believe their destiny is controlled by outside forces. Self-efficacy STRESS MANAGEMENT WITHIN THE WORKPLACE 8 has also been found to influence stress outcomes. When individuals believe they have the capacity to perform a task, they are likely to experience less stress (Robbins, 2003, p. 581). According to Robbins (2003), individuals with high self-efficacy reacted less negatively to long work hours and high work demands than those with low self-efficacy (p. 81). The final individual variable is hostility. Individuals with a high degree of hostility and anger tend to be suspicious and mistrustful of others, and therefore experience high degrees of stress. The consequences of stress in the workplace can be subsumed under three primary categories including physiological, psychological, and behavioral symptoms. Research on the physiological reactions to stress include changes in metabolism, high blood pressure, increased heart and breathing rates, headaches, and heart attacks (Robbins, 2003, p. 82). Psychological consequences may include job-related dissatisfaction, tension, anxiety, irritability, boredom, and procrastination (Robbins, 2003, p. 582). Behavioral symptoms may include changes in productivity, absence, turnover, changes in eating habits, consumption of alcohol, etc. From an organizational standpoint, managers may not be concerned about low to moderate stress levels in the workplace for reasons cited earlier; stress is endemic in the organization, and moderate levels of stress may indeed be productive. However, when tress levels are high, it can result in devastating consequences for the organization. For that matter, it behooves the organization as well as its members to take responsibility for reducing stress levels. Individual and organizational approaches are outlined in the following sections. Individual Approaches A number of strategies have proven beneficial to stress management. Muchinsky (2006) cited physical fitness programs, exercise, meditation, and time management programs as key interventions aimed at helping individuals to cope with stress (p. 358). Other techniques that help lower arousal to
STRESS MANAGEMENT WITHIN THE WORKPLACE 9 stressors include deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, biofeedback, and yoga (Muchinsky, 2006, p. 358). Finally, when on-site stress intervention programs are available at work, employees should be encouraged to take full advantage. Such programs as Employee Assistance Programs, social support groups, and counseling can lead to significant reductions in work stress and psycho-physiological indications. Rigorous evaluations of such programs have shown major benefits to participants (Muchinsky, 2006, p. 358).
Organizational Approaches Several of the factors that contribute to stress, such as task and role demands, and organizational structure, are the province of the organization. While management can do little more than provide on-site intervention programs as a means to facilitate individual approaches to stress, much can be done to address the organizational contributors to stress. The following interventions are recommended: • Training • Selection and placement modifications • Goal setting • Redesigning jobs • Increasing employee involvement • Wellness programs • Increasing communication • Implement an employee assistance program
Training. Self-efficacy among employees can be increased through various training initiatives. Training programs in areas of benefit to the organization can yield significant results for both the company as well as employees. As illustrated in Figure 1, self-efficacy is a key determinant in individual responses to stress. Accordingly, the company should promote a specific number of training hours STRESS MANAGEMENT WITHIN THE WORKPLACE 10 completed per employee. The range of courses that would benefit the organization and the employees is virtually limitless.
Selection and placement modifications. Certain jobs are more stressful than others. As illustrated in Figure 1, individuals differ in their response to stressors. With this in mind, selection and placement practices should be modified. The use of personality type indicators, such as Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, can prove useful in identifying personality traits of job applicants. While managers should not restrict hiring to those who demonstrate “desirable” characteristics, efforts should be made to place new employees into roles for which they are best suited. Goal setting.
Extensive research concluded that individuals perform best when they are challenged with performance goals, and they receive feedback on their progress toward the stated goals (Robbins, 2003, p. 585). The use of goals can reduce stress as well as provide motivation. Bohlander, Snell, and Sherman (2001) stated, “when trainees are encouraged to set goals on their own, the level of interest, understanding, and effort directed toward those goals is likely to increase” (p. 232). In addition to setting goals, an entire performance management system that provides a framework or consistently managing performance throughout the organization is recommended. Redesigning jobs. Job redesigns will give employees more responsibility, more meaningful work, clearly-defined roles and responsibilities, more autonomy, and increased feedback. These interventions will reduce stress as employees will have greater control over work activities, and less dependence on others. Also, stress contributors such as task and role demands can be minimized through job redesigns. However, it should be noted that not all employees want job enrichment and more responsibility.
To this end, the job redesign may warrant less responsibility and increased specialization for employees with a low need for growth. In addition to job redesigns, many organizations have implemented nap time in the workday. Organizations employing this intervention have realized increased productivity STRESS MANAGEMENT WITHIN THE WORKPLACE 11 and fewer errors (Robbins, 2003, p. 585). Increasing employee involvement. Role stress is detrimental primarily because employees feel uncertain about goals, expectations, nd how they’ll be evaluated. Involving employees in decision-making processes, where appropriate, can positively impact their organizational commitment (Robbins, 2003, p. 585). Filstad (2011) advocated the pairing of new-hires with experienced role models and colleagues as a means of enhancing organizational commitment. He stated, “the extent that newcomers have the chance to participate in work activities and socially interact with established colleagues, positively affect their affective commitment and learning processes” (p. 377).
Other forms of employee involvement can include birthday celebrations, employee-based task forces, special projects, and the like. Wellness programs. Programs aimed at promoting the health and well-being of employees can contribute to the individual’s ability to cope with stress, improve self-efficacy, as possibly serve to reduce the physiological, psychological, and behavioral effects of stress (Robbins, 2003, p. 579). Muchinsky (2006) posited that “work and family issues are, without any question, one of the biggest sources of stress in our lives” (p. 58). Wellness programs can help employees cope with the often competing demands of work and family. Other interventions are recommended to help employees cope with the competing demands of work and family. Muchinsky (2006) advocated the use of flex time; a schedule of work hours that permits employees flexibility in when they arrive at and leave work (p. 367). Also, shifts can be redesigned to enable employees to better meet the demands of home. For example, split shifts allow employees to split a workday into two shifts.
During the time in-between shifts, the employee may tend to personal or family needs before returning to work for the second shift. STRESS MANAGEMENT WITHIN THE WORKPLACE 12 Increasing communication. Perceptions play an important role in moderating the stress-response relationship (Robbins, 2003, p. 585). Increased communication can pave the way toward aligning employee perceptions with reality. Communication, when executed formally, can also serve to break the frenetic pace of the work conducted by employees.
To that end, formal weekly meetings are recommended. Meetings should be used as a vehicle for conveying key information, recognizing employees, sharing best practices, etc. Roles such as facilitator and note-taker should be assigned and rotated so as to enable all employees to demonstrate and/or gain new skills. Minutes should be produced and distributed within 24 hours. Employee assistance program. According to the International Employee Assistance Professionals Association, employee assistance programs by definition help employers address productivity issues on two levels: they dvise the leadership of work organizations and help employees to identify and resolve a broad range of personal concerns, including occupational stress, that may affect job performance (Nobrega, et al, 2010, p. 284). Employee Assistance Programs may be well positioned to champion the issue of job stress prevention in an organizational setting because of several strengths: professional focus on employee health and well-being; problem identification in the workplace; alignment of Employee Assistance Program goals with company business goals for performance, productivity, and aximized human capital; and professional training in human behavior. STRESS MANAGEMENT WITHIN THE WORKPLACE 13 Conclusion The presence of work stress, in and of itself, need not be negative as stress is endemic to any organization. For many people, moderate levels of stress enable them to perform at optimal levels by increasing their work intensity, concentration, and ability to react. But for others, moderate amounts of stress can be quite discomforting. There are many factors that conspire to impact one’s response to stressful conditions.
Given the far-reaching effects of stress on workers and production, many organizations have launched many interventions aimed at reducing the source and impact of stress in the workplace. While many organizations view moderate levels of stress as an inherent and necessary condition, efforts should be made to consistently monitor stress levels, and to take appropriate action to mitigate the harmful effects. STRESS MANAGEMENT WITHIN THE WORKPLACE 13 References Barley, S. R. , Meyerson, D. E. , & Grodal, S. (2011).
E-mail as a Source and Symbol of Stress Organization Science, 22(4), 887-906. doi:10. 1287/orsc. 1100. 0573 Bohlander, G. , Snell, S. , Sherman, A. (2001). Managing Human Resources Cincinnati, OH: South-Western College Publishing Filstad, C. (2011). Organizational commitment through organizational socialization tactics. Journal of Workplace Learning, 23(6), 376-390. doi:10. 1108/13665621111154395 Maden, C. (2011). Dark side of mergers & acquisitions: Organizational interventions and survival strategies. Journal of American Academy of Business, Cambridge, 17(1), 188-188-195.
Retrieved from http://search. proquest. com/docview/870507706 Muchinsky, P. M. (2006) Psychology applied to work Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth. Nobrega, S. , Champagne, N. J. , Azaroff, L. S. , Shetty, K. , & Punnett, L. (2010). Barriers to Workplace Stress Interventions in Employee Assistance Practice: EAP Perspectives. Journal of Workplace Behavioral Health, 25(4), 282-295. doi:10. 1080/15555240. 2010. 51849 ———————– Figure 1. A model of stress. This figure illustrates the potential sources and consequences of workplace stress