Work stress is a generic term that refers to work-related stimuli (aka job stressors) that may lead to physical, behavioral, or psychological consequences (i.e., strains) that affect both the health and well-being of the employee and the organization. Not all stressors lead to strains, but all strains are a result of stressors, actual or perceived. Common terms often used interchangeably with work stress are occupational stress, job stress, and work-related stress. Terms used interchangeably with job stressors include work stressors, and as the specificity of the type of stressor might include psychosocial stressor (referring to the psychological experience of work demands that have a social component, e.g., conflict between two people; Hauke, Flintrop, Brun, & Rugulies, 2011), hindrance stressor (i.e., a stressor that prevents goal attainment; Cavanaugh, Boswell, Roehling, & Boudreau, 2000), and challenge stressor (i.e., a stressor that is difficult, but attainable and possibly rewarding to attain; Cavanaugh et al., 2000).
Stress in the workplace continues to be a highly pervasive problem, having both direct negative effects on individuals experiencing it and companies paying for it, and indirect costs vis à vis lost productivity (Dopkeen & DuBois, 2014). For example, U.K. public civil servants’ work-related stress rose from 10.8% in 2006 to 22.4% in 2013 and about one-third of the workforce has taken more than 20 days of leave due to stress-related ill-health, while well over 50% are present at work when ill (French, 2015). These findings are consistent with a report by the International Labor Organization (ILO, 2012), whereby 50% to 60% of all workdays are lost due to absence attributed to factors associated with work stress.
The prevalence of work-related stress is not diminishing despite improvements in technology and employment rates. The sources of stress, such as workload, seem to exacerbate with improvements in technology (Coovert & Thompson, 2003). Moreover, accessibility through mobile technology and virtual computer terminals is linking people to their work more than ever before (ILO, 2012; Tarafdar, Tu, Ragu-Nathan, & Ragu-Nathan, 2007). Evidence of this kind of mobility and flexibility is further reinforced in a June 2007 survey of 4,025 email users (over 13 years of age); AOL reported that four in ten survey respondents reported planning their vacations around email accessibility and 83% checked their emails at least once a day while away (McMahon, 2007). Ironically, despite these mounting work-related stressors and clear financial and performance outcomes, some individuals are reporting they are less “stressed,” but only because “stress has become the new normal” (Jayson, 2012, para. 4).
This new normal is likely the source of psychological and physiological illness. Siegrist (2010) contends that conditions in the workplace, particularly psychosocial stressors that are perceived as unfavorable relationships with others and self, and an increasingly sedentary lifestyle (reinforced with desk jobs) are increasingly contributing to cardiovascular disease. These factors together justify a need to continue on the path of helping individuals recognize and cope with deleterious stressors in the work environment and, equally important, to find ways to help organizations prevent harmful stressors over which they have control, as well as implement policies or mechanisms to help employees deal with these stressors and subsequent strains. Along with a greater focus on mitigating environmental constraints are interventions that can be used to prevent anxiety, poor attitudes toward the workplace conditions and arrangements, and subsequent cardiovascular illness, absenteeism, and poor job performance (Siegrist, 2010).
Even the ILO has presented guidance on how the workplace can help prevent harmful job stressors (aka hindrance stressors) or at least help workers cope with them. Consistent with the view that well-being is not the absence of stressors or strains and with the view that positive psychology offers a lens for proactively preventing stressors, the ILO promotes increasing preventative risk assessments, interventions to prevent and control stressors, transparent organizational communication, worker involvement in decision-making, networks and mechanisms for workplace social support, awareness of how working and living conditions interact, safety, health, and well-being in the organization (ILO, n.d.). The field of industrial and organizational (IO) psychology supports the ILO’s recommendations.
IO psychology views work stress as the process of a person’s interaction with multiple aspects of the work environment, job design, and work conditions in the organization. Interventions to manage work stress, therefore, focus on the psychosocial factors of the person and his or her relationships with others and the socio-technical factors related to the work environment and work processes. Viewing work stress from the lens of the person and the environment stems from Kurt Lewin’s (1936) work that stipulates a person’s state of mental health and behaviors are a function of the person within a specific environment or situation. Aspects of the work environment that affect individuals’ mental states and behaviors include organizational hierarchy, organizational climate (including processes, policies, practices, and reward structures), resources to support a person’s ability to fulfill job duties, and management structure (including leadership). Job design refers to each contributor’s tasks and responsibilities for fulfilling goals associated with the work role. Finally, working conditions refers not only to the physical environment, but also the interpersonal relationships with other contributors.
Each of the conditions that are identified in the work environment may be perceived as potentially harmful or a threat to the person or as an opportunity. When a stressor is perceived as a threat to attaining desired goals or outcomes, the stressor may be labeled as a hindrance stressor (e.g., LePine, Podsakoff, & Lepine, 2005). When the stressor is perceived as an opportunity to attain a desired goal or end state, it may be labeled as a challenge stressor. According to LePine and colleagues’ (2005), both challenge (e.g., time urgency, workload) and hindrance (e.g., hassles, role ambiguity, role conflict) stressors could lead to strains (as measured by “anxiety, depersonalization, depression, emotional exhaustion, frustration, health complaints, hostility, illness, physical symptoms, and tension” [p. 767]). However, challenge stressors positively relate with motivation and performance, whereas hindrance stressors negatively relate with motivation and performance. Moreover, motivation and strains partially mediate the relationship between hindrance and challenge stressors with performance.
In order to (1) minimize any potential negative effects from stressors, (2) increase coping skills to deal with stressors, or (3) manage strains, organizational practitioners or consultants will devise organizational interventions geared toward prevention, coping, and/or stress management. Ultimately, toxic factors in the work environment can have deleterious effects on a person’s physical and psychological well-being, as well as on an organization’s total health. It behooves management to take stock of the organization’s health, which includes the health and well-being of its employees, if the organization wishes to thrive and be profitable. According to Page and Vella-Brodrick’s (2009) model of employee well-being, employee well-being results from subjective well-being (i.e., life satisfaction and general positive or negative affect), workplace well-being (composed of job satisfaction and work-specific positive or negative affect), and psychological well-being (e.g., self-acceptance, positive social relations, mastery, purpose in life). Job stressors that become unbearable are likely to negatively affect workplace well-being and thus overall employee well-being. Because work stress is a major organizational pain point and organizations often employ organizational consultants to help identify and remediate pain points, the focus here is on organizational development (OD) frameworks; several work stress frameworks are presented that together signal areas where organizations might focus efforts for change in employee behaviors, attitudes, and performance, as well as the organization’s performance and climate. Work stress, interventions, and several OD and stress frameworks are depicted in Figure 1.
The goals are: (1) to conceptually define and clarify terms associated with stress and stress management, particularly focusing on organizational factors that contribute to stress and stress management, and (2) to present research that informs current knowledge and practices on workplace stress management strategies. Stressors and strains will be defined, leading OD and work stress frameworks that are used to organize and help organizations make sense of the work environment and the organization’s responsibility in stress management will be explored, and stress management will be explained as an overarching thematic label; an area of study and practice that focuses on prevention (primary) interventions, coping (secondary) interventions, and managing strains (tertiary) interventions; as well as the label typically used to denote tertiary interventions. Suggestions for future research and implications toward becoming a healthy organization are presented.
Figure 1. Organizational development frameworks to guide identification of work stress and interventions.
Defining Stressors and Strains
Work-related stressors or job stressors can lead to different kinds of strains individuals and organizations might experience. Various types of stress management interventions, guided by OD and work stress frameworks, may be employed to prevent or cope with job stressors and manage strains that develop(ed).
A job stressor is a stimulus external to an employee and a result of an employee’s work conditions. Example job stressors include organizational constraints, workplace mistreatments (such as abusive supervision, workplace ostracism, incivility, bullying), role stressors, workload, work-family conflicts, errors or mistakes, examinations and evaluations, and lack of structure (Jex & Beehr, 1991; Liu, Spector, & Shi, 2007; Narayanan, Menon, & Spector, 1999). Although stressors may be categorized as hindrances and challenges, there is not yet sufficient information to be able to propose which stress management interventions would better serve to reduce those hindrance stressors or to reduce strain-producing challenge stressors while reinforcing engagement-producing challenge stressors.
Organizational constraints may be hindrance stressors as they prevent employees from translating their motivation and ability into high-level job performance (Peters & O’Connor, 1980). Peters and O’Connor (1988) defined 11 categories of organizational constraints: (1) job-related information, (2) budgetary support, (3) required support, (4) materials and supplies, (5) required services and help from others, (6) task preparation, (7) time availability, (8) the work environment, (9) scheduling of activities, (10) transportation, and (11) job-relevant authority. The inhibiting effect of organizational constraints may be due to the lack of, inadequacy of, or poor quality of these categories.
Workplace mistreatment presents a cluster of interpersonal variables, such as interpersonal conflict, bullying, incivility, and workplace ostracism (Hershcovis, 2011; Tepper & Henle, 2011). Typical workplace mistreatment behaviors include gossiping, rude comments, showing favoritism, yelling, lying, and ignoring other people at work (Tepper & Henle, 2011). These variables relate to employees’ psychological well-being, physical well-being, work attitudes (e.g., job satisfaction and organizational commitment), and turnover intention (e.g., Hershcovis, 2011; Spector & Jex, 1998). Some researchers differentiated the source of mistreatment, such as mistreatment from one’s supervisor versus mistreatment from one’s coworker (e.g., Bruk-Lee & Spector, 2006; Frone, 2000; Liu, Liu, Spector, & Shi, 2011).
Role stressors are demands, constraints, or opportunities a person perceives to be associated, and thus expected, with his or her work role(s) across various situations. Three commonly studied role stressors are role ambiguity, role conflict, and role overload (Glazer & Beehr, 2005; Kahn, Wolfe, Quinn, Snoek, & Rosenthal, 1964). Role ambiguity in the workplace occurs when an employee lacks clarity regarding what performance-related behaviors are expected of him or her. Role conflict refers to situations wherein an employee receives incompatible role requests from the same or different supervisors or the employee is asked to engage in work that impedes his or her performance in other work or nonwork roles or clashes with his or her values. Role overload refers to excessive demands and insufficient time (quantitative) or knowledge (qualitative) to complete the work. The construct is often used interchangeably with workload, though role overload focuses more on perceived expectations from others about one’s workload. These role stressors significantly relate to low job satisfaction, low organizational commitment, low job performance, high tension or anxiety, and high turnover intention (Abramis, 1994; Glazer & Beehr, 2005; Jackson & Schuler, 1985).
Excessive workload is one of the most salient stressors at work (e.g., Liu et al., 2007). There are two types of workload: quantitative and qualitative workload (LaRocco, Tetrick, & Meder, 1989; Parasuraman & Purohit, 2000). Quantitative workload refers to the excessive amount of work one has. In a summary of a Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development Report from 2006, Dewe and Kompier (2008) noted that quantitative workload was one of the top three stressors workers experienced at work. Qualitative workload refers to the difficulty of work. Workload also differs by the type of the load. There are mental workload and physical workload (Dwyer & Ganster, 1991). Excessive physical workload may result in physical discomfort or illness. Excessive mental workload will cause psychological distress such as anxiety or frustration (Bowling & Kirkendall, 2012). Another factor affecting quantitative workload is interruptions (during the workday). Lin, Kain, and Fritz (2013) found that interruptions delay completion of job tasks, thus adding to the perception of workload.
Work-family conflict is a form of inter-role conflict in which demands from one’s work domain and one’s family domain are incompatible to some extent (Greenhaus & Beutell, 1985). Work can interfere with family (WIF) and/or family can interfere with work (FIW) due to time-related commitments to participating in one domain or another, incompatible behavioral expectations, or when strains in one domain carry over to the other (Greenhaus & Beutell, 1985). Work-family conflict significantly relates to work-related outcomes (e.g., job satisfaction, organizational commitment, turnover intention, burnout, absenteeism, job performance, job strains, career satisfaction, and organizational citizenship behaviors), family-related outcomes (e.g., marital satisfaction, family satisfaction, family-related performance, family-related strains), and domain-unspecific outcomes (e.g., life satisfaction, psychological strain, somatic or physical symptoms, depression, substance use or abuse, and anxiety; Amstad, Meier, Fasel, Elfering, & Semmer, 2011).
Individuals and organizations can experience work-related strains. Sometimes organizations will experience strains through the employee’s negative attitudes or strains, such as that a worker’s absence might yield lower production rates, which would roll up into an organizational metric of organizational performance. In the industrial and organizational (IO) psychology literature, organizational strains are mostly observed as macro-level indicators, such as health insurance costs, accident-free days, and pervasive problems with company morale. In contrast, individual strains, usually referred to as job strains, are internal to an employee. They are responses to work conditions and relate to health and well-being of employees. In other words, “job strains are adverse reactions employees have to job stressors” (Spector, Chen, & O’Connell, 2000, p. 211). Job strains tend to fall into three categories: behavioral, physical, and psychological (Jex & Beehr, 1991).
Behavioral strains consist of actions that employees take in response to job stressors. Examples of behavioral strains include employees drinking alcohol in the workplace or intentionally calling in sick when they are not ill (Spector et al., 2000). Physical strains consist of health symptoms that are physiological in nature that employees contract in response to job stressors. Headaches and ulcers are examples of physical strains. Lastly, psychological strains are emotional reactions and attitudes that employees have in response to job stressors. Examples of psychological strains are job dissatisfaction, anxiety, and frustration (Spector et al., 2000). Interestingly, research studies that utilize self-report measures find that most job strains experienced by employees tend to be psychological strains (Spector et al., 2000).
Organizations that are keen on identifying organizational pain points and remedying them through organizational campaigns or initiatives often discover the pain points are rooted in work-related stressors and strains and the initiatives have to focus on reducing workers’ stress and increasing a company’s profitability. Through organizational climate surveys, for example, companies discover that aspects of the organization’s environment, including its policies, practices, reward structures, procedures, and processes, as well as employees at all levels of the company, are contributing to the individual and organizational stress. Recent studies have even begun to examine team climates for eustress and distress assessed in terms of team members’ homogenous psychological experience of vigor, efficacy, dedication, and cynicism (e.g., Kożusznik, Rodriguez, & Peiro, 2015).
Each of the frameworks presented advances different aspects that need to be identified in order to understand the source and potential remedy for stressors and strains. In some models, the focus is on resources, in others on the interaction of the person and environment, and in still others on the role of the person in the workplace. Few frameworks directly examine the role of the organization, but the organization could use these frameworks to plan interventions that would minimize stressors, cope with existing stressors, and prevent and/or manage strains. One of the leading frameworks in work stress research that is used to guide organizational interventions is the person and environment (P-E) fit (French & Caplan, 1972). Its precursor is the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research’s (ISR) role stress model (Kahn, Wolfe, Quinn, Snoek, & Rosenthal, 1964) and Lewin’s Field Theory. Several other theories have since evolved from the P-E fit framework, including Karasek and Theorell’s (1990), Karasek (1979) Job Demands-Control Model (JD-C), the transactional framework (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984), Conservation of Resources (COR) theory (Hobfoll, 1989), and Siegrist’s (1996) Effort-Reward Imbalance (ERI) Model.
The premise of Kahn et al.’s (1964) role stress theory is Lewin’s (1997) Field Theory. Lewin purported that behavior and mental events are a dynamic function of the whole person, including a person’s beliefs, values, abilities, needs, thoughts, and feelings, within a given situation (field or environment), as well as the way a person represents his or her understanding of the field and behaves in that space. Lewin explains that work-related strains are a result of individuals’ subjective perceptions of objective factors, such as work roles, relationships with others in the workplace, as well as personality indicators, and can be used to predict people’s reactions, including illness. Thus, to make changes to an organizational system, it is necessary to understand a field and try to move that field from the current state to the desired state. Making this move necessitates identifying mechanisms influencing individuals.
Role Stress Theory
Role stress theory mostly isolates the perspective a person has about his or her work-related responsibilities and expectations to determine how those perceptions relate with a person’s work-related strains. However, those relationships have been met with somewhat varied results, which Glazer and Beehr (2005) concluded might be a function of differences in culture, an environmental factor often neglected in research. Kahn et al.’s (1964) role stress theory, coupled with Lewin’s (1936) Field Theory, serves as the foundation for the P-E fit theory. Lewin (1936) wrote, “Every psychological event depends upon the state of the person and at the same time on the environment” (p. 12). Researchers of IO psychology have narrowed the environment to the organization or work team. This narrowed view of the organizational environment is evident in French and Caplan’s (1972) P-E fit framework.
Person-Environment Fit Theory
The P-E fit framework focuses on the extent to which there is congruence between the person and a given environment, such as the organization (Caplan, 1987; Edwards, 2008). For example, does the person have the necessary skills and abilities to fulfill an organization’s demands, or does the environment support a person’s desire for autonomy (i.e., do the values align?) or fulfill a person’s needs (i.e., a person’s needs are rewarded). Theoretically and empirically, the greater the person-organization fit, the greater a person’s job satisfaction and organizational commitment, the less a person’s turnover intention and work-related stress (see meta-analyses by Assouline & Meir, 1987; Kristof-Brown, Zimmerman, & Johnson, 2005; Verquer, Beehr, & Wagner, 2003).
Job Demands-Control/Support (JD-C/S) and Job Demands-Resources (JD-R) Model
Focusing more closely on concrete aspects of work demands and the extent to which a person perceives he or she has control or decision latitude over those demands, Karasek (1979) developed the JD-C model. Karasek and Theorell (1990) posited that high job demands under conditions of little decision latitude or control yield high strains, which have varied implications on the health of an organization (e.g., in terms of high turnover, employee ill-health, poor organizational performance). This theory was modified slightly to address not only control, but also other resources that could protect a person from unruly job demands, including support (aka JD-C/S, Johnson & Hall, 1988; and JD-R, Bakker, van Veldhoven, & Xanthopoulou, 2010). Whether focusing on control or resources, both they and job demands are said to reflect workplace characteristics, while control and resources also represent coping strategies or tools (Siegrist, 2010).
Despite the glut of research testing the JD-C and JD-R, results are somewhat mixed. Testing the interaction between job demands and control, Beehr, Glaser, Canali, and Wallwey (2001) did not find empirical support for the JD-C theory. However, Dawson, O’Brien, and Beehr (2016) found that high control and high support buffered against the independent deleterious effects of interpersonal conflict, role conflict, and organizational politics (demands that were categorized as hindrance stressors) on anxiety, as well as the effects of interpersonal conflict and organizational politics on physiological symptoms, but control and support did not moderate the effects between challenge stressors and strains. Coupled with Bakker, Demerouti, and Sanz-Vergel’s (2014) note that excessive job demands are a source of strain, but increased job resources are a source of engagement, Dawson et al.’s results suggest that when an organization identifies that demands are hindrances, it can create strategies for primary (preventative) stress management interventions and attempt to remove or reduce such work demands. If the demands are challenging, though manageable, but latitude to control the challenging stressors and support are insufficient, the organization could modify practices and train employees on adopting better strategies for meeting or coping (secondary stress management intervention) with the demands. Finally, if the organization can neither afford to modify the demands or the level of control and support, it will be necessary for the organization to develop stress management (tertiary) interventions to deal with the inevitable strains.
Conservation of Resources Theory
The idea that job resources reinforce engagement in work has been propagated in Hobfoll’s (1989) Conservation of Resources (COR) theory. COR theory also draws on the foundational premise that people’s mental health is a function of the person and the environment, forwarding that how people interpret their environment (including the societal context) affects their stress levels. Hobfoll focuses on resources such as objects, personal characteristics, conditions, or energies as particularly instrumental to minimizing strains. He asserts that people do whatever they can to protect their valued resources. Thus, strains develop when resources are threatened to be taken away, actually taken away, or when additional resources are not attainable after investing in the possibility of gaining more resources (Hobfoll, 2001). By extension, organizations can invest in activities that would minimize resource loss and create opportunities for resource gains and thus have direct implications for devising primary and secondary stress management interventions.
Lazarus and Folkman (1984) developed the widely studied transactional framework of stress. This framework holds as a key component the cognitive appraisal process. When individuals perceive factors in the work environment as a threat (i.e., primary appraisal), they will scan the available resources (external or internal to himself or herself) to cope with the stressors (i.e., secondary appraisal). If the coping resources provide minimal relief, strains develop. Until recently, little attention has been given to the cognitive appraisal associated with different work stressors (Dewe & Kompier, 2008; Liu & Li, 2017). In a study of Polish and Spanish social care service providers, stressors appraised as a threat related positively to burnout and less engagement, but stressors perceived as challenges yielded greater engagement and less burnout (Kożusznik, Rodriguez, & Peiro, 2012). Similarly, Dawson et al. (2016) found that even with support and control resources, hindrance demands were more strain-producing than challenge demands, suggesting that appraisal of the stressor is important. In fact, “many people respond well to challenging work” (Beehr et al., 2001, p. 126). Kożusznik et al. (2012) recommend training employees to change the way they view work demands in order to increase engagement, considering that part of the problem may be about how the person appraises his or her environment and, thus, copes with the stressors.
Siegrist’s (1996) Model of Effort-Reward Imbalance (ERI) focuses on the notion of social reciprocity, such that a person fulfills required work tasks in exchange for desired rewards (Siegrist, 2010). ERI sheds light on how an imbalance in a person’s expectations of an organization’s rewards (e.g., pay, bonus, sense of advancement and development, job security) in exchange for a person’s efforts, that is a break in one’s work contract, leads to negative responses, including long-term ill-health (Siegrist, 2010; Siegrist et al., 2014). In fact, prolonged perception of a work contract imbalance leads to adverse health, including immunological problems and inflammation, which contribute to cardiovascular disease (Siegrist, 2010). The model resembles the relational and interactional psychological contract theory in that it describes an employee’s perception of the terms of the relationship between the person and the workplace, including expectations of performance, job security, training and development opportunities, career progression, salary, and bonuses (Thomas, Au, & Ravlin, 2003). The psychological contract, like the ERI model, focuses on social exchange. Furthermore, the psychological contract, like stress theories, are influenced by cultural factors that shape how people interpret their environments (Glazer, 2008; Thomas et al., 2003). Violations of the psychological contract will negatively affect a person’s attitudes toward the workplace and subsequent health and well-being (Siegrist, 2010). To remediate strain, Siegrist (2010) focuses on both the person and the environment, recognizing that the organization is particularly responsible for changing unfavorable work conditions and the person is responsible for modifying his or her reactions to such conditions.
Stress Management Interventions: Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary
Remediation of work stress and organizational development interventions are about realigning the employee’s experiences in the workplace with factors in the environment, as well as closing the gap between the current environment and the desired environment. Work stress develops when an employee perceives the work demands to exceed the person’s resources to cope and thus threatens employee well-being (Dewe & Kompier, 2008). Likewise, an organization’s need to change arises when forces in the environment are creating a need to change in order to survive (see Figure 1). Lewin’s (1951) Force Field Analysis, the foundations of which are in Field Theory, is one of the first organizational development intervention tools presented in the social science literature. The concept behind Force Field Analysis is that in order to survive, organizations must adapt to environmental forces driving a need for organizational change and remove restraining forces that create obstacles to organizational change. In order to do this, management needs to delineate the current field in which the organization is functioning, understand the driving forces for change, identify and dampen or eliminate the restraining forces against change. Several models for analyses may be applied, but most approaches are variations of organizational climate surveys.
Through organizational surveys, workers provide management with a snapshot view of how they perceive aspects of their work environment. Thus, the view of the health of an organization is a function of several factors, chief among them employees’ views (i.e., the climate) about the workplace (Lewin, 1951). Indeed, French and Kahn (1962) posited that well-being depends on the extent to which properties of the person and properties of the environment align in terms of what a person requires and the resources available in a given environment. Therefore, only when properties of the person and properties of the environment are sufficiently understood can plans for change be developed and implemented targeting the environment (e.g., change reporting structures to relieve, and thus prevent future, communication stressors) and/or the person (e.g., providing more autonomy, vacation days, training on new technology). In short, climate survey findings can guide consultants about the emphasis for organizational interventions: before a problem arises aka stress prevention, e.g., carefully crafting job roles), when a problem is present, but steps are taken to mitigate their consequences (aka coping, e.g., providing social support groups), and/or once strains develop (aka. stress management, e.g., healthcare management policies).
For each of the primary (prevention), secondary (coping), and tertiary (stress management) techniques the target for intervention can be the entire workforce, a subset of the workforce, or a specific person. Interventions that target the entire workforce may be considered organizational interventions, as they have direct implications on the health of all individuals and consequently the health of the organization. Several interventions categorized as primary and secondary interventions may also be implemented after strains have developed and after it has been discerned that a person or the organization did not do enough to mitigate stressors or strains (see Figure 1). The designation of many of the interventions as belonging to one category or another may be viewed as merely a suggestion.
Primary Interventions (Preventative Stress Management)
Before individuals begin to perceive work-related stressors, organizations engage in stress prevention strategies, such as providing people with resources (e.g., computers, printers, desk space, information about the job role, organizational reporting structures) to do their jobs. However, sometimes the institutional structures and resources are insufficient or ambiguous. Scholars and practitioners have identified several preventative stress management strategies that may be implemented.
Planning and Time Management
When employees feel quantitatively overloaded, sometimes the remedy is improving the employees’ abilities to plan and manage their time (Quick, Quick, Nelson, & Hurrell, 2003). Planning is a future-oriented activity that focuses on conceptual and comprehensive work goals. Time management is a behavior that focuses on organizing, prioritizing, and scheduling work activities to achieve short-term goals. Given the purpose of time management, it is considered a primary intervention, as engaging in time management helps to prevent work tasks from mounting and becoming unmanageable, which would subsequently lead to adverse outcomes. Time management comprises three fundamental components: (1) establishing goals, (2) identifying and prioritizing tasks to fulfill the goals, and (3) scheduling and monitoring progress toward goal achievement (Peeters & Rutte, 2005). Workers who employ time management have less role ambiguity (Macan, Shahani, Dipboye, & Philips, 1990), psychological stress or strain (Adams & Jex, 1999; Jex & Elaqua, 1999; Macan et al., 1990), and greater job satisfaction (Macan, 1994). However, Macan (1994) did not find a relationship between time management and performance. Still, Claessens, van Eerde, Rutte, and Roe (2004) found that perceived control of time partially mediated the relationships between planning behavior (an indicator of time management), job autonomy, and workload on one hand, and job strains, job satisfaction, and job performance on the other hand. Moreover, Peeters and Rutte (2005) observed that teachers with high work demands and low autonomy experienced more burnout when they had poor time management skills.
Just as it is important for organizations to find the right person for the job and organization, so is it the responsibility of a person to choose to work at the right organization—an organization that fulfills the person’s needs and upholds the values important to the individual, as much as the person fulfills the organization’s needs and adapts to its values. When people fit their employing organizations they are setting themselves up for experiencing less strain-producing stressors (Kristof-Brown et al., 2005). In a meta-analysis of 62 person-job fit studies and 110 person-organization fit studies, Kristof-Brown et al. (2005) found that person-job fit had a negative correlation with indicators of job strain. In fact, a primary intervention of career counseling can help to reduce stress levels (Firth-Cozens, 2003).
The Job Demands-Control/Support (JD-C/S), Job Demands-Resources (JD-R), and transactional models all suggest that factors in the work context require modifications in order to reduce potential ill-health and poor organizational performance. Drawing on Hackman and Oldham’s (1980) Job Characteristics Model, it is possible to assess with the Job Diagnostics Survey (JDS) the current state of work characteristics related to skill variety, task identity, task significance, autonomy, and feedback. Modifying those aspects would help create a sense of meaningfulness, sense of responsibility, and feeling of knowing how one is performing, which subsequently affects a person’s well-being as identified in assessments of motivation, satisfaction, improved performance, and reduced withdrawal intentions and behaviors. Extending this argument to the stress models, it can be deduced that reducing uncertainty or perceived unfairness that may be associated with a person’s perception of these work characteristics, as well as making changes to physical characteristics of the environment (e.g., lighting, seating, desk, air quality), nature of work (e.g., job responsibilities, roles, decision-making latitude), and organizational arrangements (e.g., reporting structure and feedback mechanisms), can help mitigate against numerous ill-health consequences and reduced organizational performance. In fact, Fried et al. (2013) showed that healthy patients of a medical clinic whose jobs were excessively low (i.e., monotonous) or excessively high (i.e., overstimulating) on job enrichment (as measured by the JDS) had greater abdominal obesity than those whose jobs were optimally enriched. By taking stock of employees’ perceptions of the current work situation, managers might think about ways to enhance employees’ coping toolkit, such as training on how to deal with difficult clients or creating stimulating opportunities when jobs have low levels of enrichment.
Participatory Action Research Interventions
Participatory action research (PAR) is an intervention wherein, through group discussions, employees help to identify and define problems in organizational structure, processes, policies, practices, and reward structures, as well as help to design, implement, and evaluate success of solutions. PAR is in itself an intervention, but its goal is to design interventions to eliminate or reduce work-related factors that are impeding performance and causing people to be unwell. An example of a successful primary intervention, utilizing principles of PAR and driven by the JD-C and JD-C/S stress frameworks is Health Circles (HCs; Aust & Ducki, 2004).
HCs, developed in Germany in the 1980s, were popular practices in industries, such as metal, steel, and chemical, and service. Similar to other problem-solving practices, such as quality circles, HCs were based on the assumptions that employees are the experts of their jobs. For this reason, to promote employee well-being, management and administrators solicited suggestions and ideas from the employees to improve occupational health, thereby increasing employees’ job control. HCs also promoted communication between managers and employees, which had a potential to increase social support. With more control and support, employees would experience less strains and better occupational well-being.
Employing the three-steps of (1) problem analysis (i.e., diagnosis or discovery through data generated from organizational records of absenteeism length, frequency, rate, and reason and employee survey), (2) HC meetings (6 to 10 meetings held over several months to brainstorm ideas to improve occupational safety and health concerns identified in the discovery phase), and (3) HC evaluation (to determine if desired changes were accomplished and if employees’ reports of stressors and strains changed after the course of 15 months), improvements were to be expected (Aust & Ducki, 2004). Aust and Ducki (2004) reviewed 11 studies presenting 81 health circles in 30 different organizations. Overall study participants had high satisfaction with the HCs practices. Most companies acted upon employees’ suggestions (e.g., improving driver’s seat and cab, reducing ticket sale during drive, team restructuring and job rotation to facilitate communication, hiring more employees during summer time, and supervisor training program to improve leadership and communication skills) to improve work conditions. Thus, HCs represent a successful theory-grounded intervention to routinely improve employees’ occupational health.
The physical environment or physical workspace has an enormous impact on individuals’ well-being, attitudes, and interactions with others, as well as on the implications on innovation and well-being (Oksanen & Ståhle, 2013; Vischer, 2007). In a study of 74 new product development teams (total of 437 study respondents) in Western Europe, Chong, van Eerde, Rutte, and Chai (2012) found that when teams were faced with challenge time pressures, meaning the teams had a strong interest and desire in tackling complex, but engaging tasks, when they were working proximally close with one another, team communication improved. Chong et al. assert that their finding aligns with prior studies that have shown that physical proximity promotes increased awareness of other team members, greater tendency to initiate conversations, and greater team identification. However, they also found that when faced with hindrance time pressures, physical proximity related to low levels of team communication, but when hindrance time pressure was low, team proximity had an increasingly greater positive relationship with team communication.
In addition to considering the type of work demand teams must address, other physical workspace considerations include whether people need to work collaboratively and synchronously or independently and remotely (or a combination thereof). Consideration needs to be given to how company contributors would satisfy client needs through various modes of communication, such as email vs. telephone, and whether individuals who work by a window might need shading to block bright sunlight from glaring on their computer screens. Finally, people who have to use the telephone for extensive periods of time would benefit from earphones to prevent neck strains. Most physical stressors are rather simple to rectify. However, companies are often not aware of a problem until after a problem arises, such as when a person’s back is strained from trying to move heavy equipment. Companies then implement strategies to remediate the environmental stressor. With the help of human factors, and organizational and office design consultants, many of the physical barriers to optimal performance can be prevented (Rousseau & Aubé, 2010). In a study of 215 French-speaking Canadian healthcare employees, Rousseau and Aubé (2010) found that although supervisor instrumental support positively related with affective commitment to the organization, the relationship was even stronger for those who reported satisfaction with the ambient environment (i.e., temperature, lighting, sound, ventilation, and cleanliness).
Secondary Interventions (Coping)
Secondary interventions, also referred to as coping, focus on resources people can use to mitigate the risk of work-related illness or workplace injury. Resources may include properties related to social resources, behaviors, and cognitive structures. Each of these resource domains may be employed to cope with stressors. Monat and Lazarus (1991) summarize the definition of coping as “an individual’s efforts to master demands (or conditions of harm, threat, or challenge) that are appraised (or perceived) as exceeding or taxing his or her resources” (p. 5). To master demands requires use of the aforementioned resources. Secondary interventions help employees become aware of the psychological, physical, and behavioral responses that may occur from the stressors presented in their working environment. Secondary interventions help a person detect and attend to stressors and identify resources for and ways of mitigating job strains. Often, coping strategies are learned skills that have a cognitive foundation and serve important functions in improving people’s management of stressors (Lazarus & Folkman, 1991). Coping is effortful, but with practice it becomes easier to employ. This idea is the foundation for understanding the role of resilience in coping with stressors. However, “not all adaptive processes are coping. Coping is a subset of adaptational activities that involves effort and does not include everything that we do in relating to the environment” (Lazarus & Folkman, 1991, p. 198). Furthermore, sometimes to cope with a stressor, a person may call upon social support sources to help with tangible materials or emotional comfort. People call upon support resources because they help to restructure how a person approaches or thinks about the stressor.
Most secondary interventions are aimed at helping the individual, though companies, as a policy, might require all employees to partake in training aimed at increasing employees’ awareness of and skills aimed at handling difficult situations vis à vis company channels (e.g., reporting on sexual harassment or discrimination). Furthermore, organizations might institute mentoring programs or work groups to address various work-related matters. These programs employ awareness-raising activities, stress-education, or skills training (cf., Bhagat, Segovis, & Nelson, 2012), which include development of skills in problem-solving, understanding emotion-focused coping, identifying and using social support, and enhancing capacity for resilience. The aim of these programs, therefore, is to help employees proactively review their perceptions of psychological, physical, and behavioral job-related strains, thereby extending their resilience, enabling them to form a personal plan to control stressors and practice coping skills (Cooper, Dewe, & O’Driscoll, 2011).
Often these stress management programs are instituted after an organization has observed excessive absenteeism and work-related performance problems and, therefore, are sometimes categorized as a tertiary stress management intervention or even a primary (prevention) intervention. However, the skills developed for coping with stressors also place the programs in secondary stress management interventions. Example programs that are categorized as tertiary or primary stress management interventions may also be secondary stress management interventions (see Figure 1
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by Ashley Strawder
I. What Is Stress?
Stress is the combination of psychological, physiological, and behavioral reactions that people have in response to events that threaten or challenge them. Stress can be good or bad. Sometimes, stress is helpful, providing people with the extra energy or alertness they need. Stress could give a runner the edge he or she needs to persevere in a marathon, for example. This good kind of stress is called eustress. Unfortunately, stress is often not helpful and can even be harmful when not managed effectively. Stress could make a salesperson buckle under the pressure while trying to make a sales pitch at an important business meeting, for example. Moreover, stress can increase the risk of developing health problems, such as cardiovascular disease and anxiety disorders. This bad kind of stress is called distress, the kind of stress that people usually are referring to when they use the word stress.
A convenient way to think about stress is in terms of stressors and stress responses. Stressors are events that threaten or challenge people. They are the sources of stress, such as having to make decisions, getting married, and natural disasters. Stress responses are psychological, physiological, and behavioral reactions to stressors. Anxiety, depression, concentration difficulties, and muscle tension are all examples of stress responses.
The connection between stressors and stress responses, however, is not as straight forward as it may seem. Mediating processes, for instance, stand in between stressors and stress responses. Whether stressors lead to stress responses depends on mediating processes like how people appraise potential stressors and how well people are able to cope with the negative impact of stressors. Furthermore, a number of moderating factors, such as personality traits and health habits, influence the the links between stressors and stress responses. These mediating processes and moderating factors help determine whether people experience stress-related problems like burnout, mental disorders, and physical illness and are the focus of many stress management techniques that emphasize cognitive-behavioral approaches, relaxation, exercise, diet and nutrition, and medication.
II. Sources of Stress
Stressors, the sources of stress, include three types of events, referred to as daily hassles, major life events, and catastrophes. Additionally, specific types of stressors occur within certain domains in life, such as family, work, and school.
Daily hassles are the little hassles or annoyances that occur practically everyday, such as having to make decisions, arguing with friends and family, trying to meet deadlines at school or work, and stepping on a piece of bubble gum that someone carelessly spitted out. Although a wide variety of daily hassles can be sources of stress, they often involve conflicts between behaviors people may or may not want to do. If someone is experiencing an approach-approach conflict, that person has to choose between two attractive alternatives, such as going on vacation or buying a new computer. If someone is experiencing an avoidance-avoidance conflict, that person has to choose between two unattractive alternatives, such as having a pet "put to sleep" or spending the money on an expensive surgical procedure for it. If someone is experiencing an approach-avoidance
conflict, that person has to choose whether to engage in an activity that has both attractive and unattractive qualities, such as mowing the lawn, an activity that would result in a nice lawn but would not be enjoyable to do.
In general, major life events do not appear to be significant sources of stress. Accordingly, major life events generally do not tend to be related to the health problems that accompany stress. Under some circumstances, however, major life events can be sources of stress. Whether major life events involve positive or negative feelings, for instance, is relevant. Major life events that are positive tend to have either trivially stressful or actually beneficial effects, but major life events that are negative can be stressful and are associated with medical problems. Examples of major life events are getting married,
getting divorced, and being fired from a job.
Although they do not happen very often, when catastrophes do occur, they can be tremendous sources of stress. One major type of catastrophe is natural disasters. After people are exposed to natural disasters, they are more anxious, have more bodily
complaints, drink more alcohol, and have more phobias. A group of Stanford University students who completed a survey before and after the 1989 San Francisco earthquake, for example, were more stressed afterwards than they were before hand. War is another type of catastrophe. It is one of the most stressful catastrophes that you could ever endure. Between 16% and 19% of the veterans who served during Operation Desert Storm, for example, had symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), such as recurrent memories, nightmares, restricted emotions, sleep disturbances, and irritability. PTSD is a mental disorder characterized by the re-experiencing of stress responses associated with an earlier traumatic event like withstanding a natural disaster or being assaulted.
Compared to the impact of other types of events, the cumulative effect of daily hassles over time are probably the most significant sources of stress. An obvious reason why major life events and catastrophes are probably less significant sources of stress is that people just do not experience them as often. It is not every day that a person spends time in
prison or retires from a job, for instance. Likewise, people do not have to and possibly never will face the repercussions of a nuclear war, for instance, on a daily basis.
B. Life Domains
Specific types of stressors that family members are exposed to through their family include a lack of parent-child emotional bonding, parental workload, misbehavior of children, teenage pregnancy, lack of emotional closeness between spouses, poor
communication between spouses, tension between spouses, divorce, remarriage, and maternal depression. Additionally, a family member's job can interfere with his or her home life.
Marital conflict is a good example of a daily hassle that is specifically related to the family. Marital conflict tends to occur when spouses come from different social and economic backgrounds and the spouse of higher status emphasizes his or her superiority.
Marital conflict often occurs in the context of unequal occupational statuses, for instance.
Teenage pregnancy, particularly the unplanned pregnancy of an unmarried, teenage daughter, is a good example of a major life crisis that is specifically related to the family. Regarding teenagers who follow through with the pregnancy, this event leads to
several premature role transitions, such as the teenager becoming a young mother and the mother becoming a young grandmother. These kinds of role transitions tend to be sources of distress in the family if new mothers are still teenagers but sources of eustress if new mothers are age 20 or older. In cases in which teenagers terminate the pregnancy, they tend to find it especially stressful if they perceive a lack of support from their parents or the father of the child, are less sure of their decision and coping abilities beforehand, blame themselves for the pregnancy, or delay until the second trimester.
The specific types of stressors that employees are exposed to in the workplace fall into four categories of demands: task demands, interpersonal demands, role demands, and physical demands. Among these categories, work overload, boundary extension, role ambiguity, role conflict, and career development are particularly relevant stressors. Additionally, an employee's home-life can interfere with his or her job.
Work overload is a good example of a daily hassle that is particularly relevant in the workplace. When employees feel overwhelmed from trying to work on more tasks than they can handle or from trying to work on tasks that are too difficult for them, they are suffering from work overload. Work overload is common after layoffs among the remaining workers who are assigned more tasks. It is also common among newly appointed managers who feel unprepared for their new, unfamiliar roles.
Boundary extension is another good example of a daily hassle that is particularly relevant in the workplace. Some jobs, such as public relations and sales, require employees to work with people in other occupational settings. Such boundary extension can be difficult for employees, especially if it involves any of the following difficulties:
Dealing with very diverse organizations
Maintaining frequent and long-term relations with people in other organizations
Interacting in complex and dynamic environments
Not having screening mechanisms like secretaries or voice mail
Participating in non-routine activities
Trying to meet demanding performance standards (139)
Two more good examples of daily hassles that are particularly relevant in the workplace are role ambiguity and role conflict. When employees are unsure about what is expected of them, how to perform their job, or what the consequences of their job
performance are, they are experiencing role ambiguity. When employees finds it difficult to perform their job effectively because of the multiple explanations about their job performance, they are experiencing role conflict. Role conflict takes place in five basic
Receiving conflicting or incompatible expectations from another employee
Receiving different expectations from two or more other employees
Receiving expectations that lead to incompatible roles
Receiving too many expectations, expectations leading to too many roles, or expectations leading to roles that are too
Having values and beliefs that conflict with expectations (139)
Career development is a good example of a major life event specifically related to work. Changing jobs or occupations can be stressful. People may feel frustrated and afraid, for example, after being laid off or fired from their job. Similarly, employees may
feel belittled or embarrassed after being demoted. These feeling may be even more damaging for employees if such changes in ccupational status interfere with their family life.
As with work, work overload, role ambiguity, and role conflict are daily hassles that are particularly relevant to students. Students incollege, for instance, often feel overwhelmed from having too many assignments or assignments that are too difficult.Additionally, they sometimes experience role ambiguity in poorly designed courses or from poor instructors and sometimesexperience role conflict from instructors who seem to believe that the students in their classes are not taking any other classes.According to two surveys, the following stressors are particularly relevant for college students:
Study for examinations
Among children and adolescents, transitions from one stage of schooling to another are major life events that can be significantstressors. The transition from elementary school to junior high or middle school, for instance, can be a significant stressor.
III. Stress Responses
Although the presence of stressors does not mean that stress responses will necessarily follow, when they do, stress responsesare the way in which people react to stressors. They are the experience of being stressed. Stress responses can be divided into
three categories: psychological responses, physiological responses, and behavioral responses.
A. Psychological Responses
When people react to stressors, a wide variety of cognitive and emotional responses can occur. Examples of cognitiveresponses are as follows:
Sensitivity to criticism
B. Physiological Responses
Physiological responses follow what is called the general adaptation syndrome. The GAS has three stages:alarm, resistance, and exhaustion.
The first stage, aarm, is basically the fight-or-flight response, the various physiological changes that prepare the body to attack r to flee a threatening situation. The sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system is activated and prompts the release of two catecholamines, epinephrine and norepinephrine, from the adrenal medulla.Additionally, glucocorticoids like cortisol are releasedfrom the adrenal cortex.
The following examples of physiological changes characterizes the alarm stage:
Increased heart rate
Increased blood pressure
Rapid or irregular breathing
Increased blood sugar levels
In the second stage, resistance, the body tries to calm itself and restrain the fight-or-flight response from the alarm stage. These changes allow people to deal with stressors more effectively over a longer period of time.
When the body eventually runs out of energy from trying to resist stressors, the exhaustion stage takes over. In this stage, the body admits defeat and suffers the negative consequences of the stressors, such as a decreased capacity to function correctly, less sleep, or even death.
C. Behavioral Responses
People act differently when they are reacting to stressors. Sometimes, the behaviors are somewhat subtle, such as the following responses:
Strained facial expressions
A shaky voice
Tremors or spasms
Overeating or loss of appetite
Behavioral responses are more obvious when people take advantage of the preparatory physiological responses of the fight-or-flight response. One side of the fight-or-flight response is that it prepares people to "fight", and people sometimes take
advantage of that feature and behave aggressively toward other people. Unfortunately, this aggression is often direct toward family members. After Hurricane Andrew devastated south Florida in 1992, for example, reports of domestic violence doubled. The other side of the fight-or-flight response is that it prepares people for "flight" .
The following behavioral responses are examples of how people try to escape threatening situations:
Dropping out of school
Abusing alcohol or other drugs
Committing crimes (23; 116; 129)
IV. The Connection Between Stressors and Stress Responses
Stressors prompt stress responses, right? Well, it depends. A number of conscious and unconscious things occur in our inner world that determine whether a stressor in the external world will trigger our stress response. These inner world happenings are
referred to as mediating processes and moderating factors.
A. Mediating Processes
Mediating processes in our inner mind/body world begin to influence the quality and intensity of our stress response from the moment we are exposed to a stressor. Consider, for example, a person who discovers that his or her cat neglected to use the litter box. Whether or not this person appraises the problem as something he or she can establish control over may help determine whether he or she becomes angry. Mediating processes include appraisal and coping.
Once people become aware of a stressor, the next step is appraisal. How a stressor is appraised influences the extent to which stress responses follow it. In fact, many stressors are not inherently stressful. Stressors can be interpreted as harm or loss, as threats, or as challenges. When stressors have not already led to harm or loss but have the potential to do so, it is usually less stressful for people if the stressors are seen positively as challenges rather than negatively as threats. The influence of appraisal does have its limits, though. For example, although people who suffer from chronic pain tend to be able to enjoy more physical activity if they view their pain as a challenge they can overcome, appraisal does not matter if the pain is severe.
Moreover, thinking negatively about the influence of past stressors is associated with a greater vulnerability to future stressors. Consider, for example, people with PTSD. Among victims of sexual or physical assault with PTSD, those who have trouble recovering tend to have more negative appraisals of their actions during the assault, of others' reactions after the assault, and of their initial PTSD symptoms.
An important aspect of appraisal is how predictable and controllable a stressor is judged to be. Regarding predictability, not knowing if or when a stressor will come usually makes it more stressful, especially if it is intense and of a short duration. After a spouse passes away, for example, the other spouse tends to feel more disbelief, anxiety, and depression if the death was sudden than if it was anticipated weeks or months in advance. Similarly, during the Vietnam War, for example, wives of soldiers who were missing in action felt worse than did wives of soldiers who were prisoners of war or had been killed. Regarding control, believing that a stressor is uncontrollable usually makes it more stressful. Alternatively, believing that a stressor is controllable, even if it really is not, tends to make it less stressful. When people are exposed to loud noises, for example, they tend to see it as less stressful when they are able to stop it, even if they do not bother to stop it.
How much more stressful a stressor becomes from feeling a lack of control over it depends, however, on the extent to which the cause of the stressor is seen as stable or unstable, global or specific, and internal or external. Stable and unstable causes represent causes that are enduring and temporary, respectively. Global and specific causes represent causes that are relevant to many events and relevant to a single occasion, respectively. Internal or external causes represent causes that are the result of personal characteristics and behaviors or the result of environmental forces, respectively. The more stable and global the cause of a stressor seems, the more people feel and behave as though they are helpless. Likewise, the more internal the cause of a stressor seems, the worse people feel about themselves. Together, these feelings and behaviors contribute to a depressive
reaction to the stressor.
Consider, for example, a case in which a guy's girlfriend breaks up with him and he thinks that his love life is always in the dumps, that nobody really cares about him, and that he must not be a dateable guy. Such an interpretation could contribute to a depressive reaction, such as him coming to the conclusion that he might as well not try because there is nothing he can do about it and that he is pretty much a lost cause.
After a stressor has been appraised, the next step, if necessary, is coping. How well people are able to cope with stressors influences the extent to which stress responses follow them. Coping strategies can be divided into two broad categories: problem-focused coping and emotion-focused coping. Problem-focused coping involves trying to manage or to alter
stressors, and emotion-focused coping involves trying to regulate the emotional responses to stressors. Although people tend to use both forms of coping in most cases, the relative use of each of these forms of coping largely depends on the context. Problem-focused coping is more appropriate for problems in which a constructive solution can be found, such as family-related or work-related problems. Alternatively, emotion-focused coping is more appropriate for problems that just have to be accepted,
such as physical health problems.
B. Moderating Factors
Moderating factors influence the strength of the stress responses induced by stressors or the direction of the relation between stressors and stress responses. Regarding the previous example about the cat and the litter box, how angry the person becomes
after finding out that his or her cat neglected to use the litter box may depend on, for instance, how anxious or tense he or she is in general. Mediating processes include appraisal and coping. Moderating factors include personality traits, health habits, coping skills, social support, material resources, genetics and early family experiences, demographic variables, and preexisting stressors.
1. Personality Traits
Two general personality traits, positive affectivity and negative affectivity, are particularly relevant to stress. People who are high in positive affectivity tend to have positive feelings like enthusiasm and energy, feelings that characterize eustress. People who are high in negative affectivity tend to have negative feelings like anxiety and depression, feelings that characterize distress. In particular, negative affectivity is associated with the ineffective use of coping strategies and susceptibility to daily stressors.
Another personality trait relevant to stress is optimism, a general tendency to expect that things will work out for the best. Optimism is associated with stress resistance. Students who are optimistic, for example, tend to have fewer physical responses to stressors at the end of an academic term than do students who are pessimistic. Even when taking into account other personality traits like negative affectivity, perceived control, and self-esteem, optimism is still associated with a lack of stress responses like depression.
As stated previously, appraising the causes of a stressor as stable, global, and internal contributes to a depressive reaction to the stressor. Such appraisals are usually made by people who have a general tendency for this kind of appraisal, referred to as a
pessimistic explanatory style or a depressive explanatory style. Such people tend to have more depressive reactions to stressors in general.
Hardiness is composed of a set of three related personality traits: control, commitment, and challenge. Control refers to the belief in people that they can influence their internal states and behavior, influence their environment, and bring about desired
outcomes. Commitment refers to the tendency for people to involve themselves in what they encounter. Challenge refers to the willingness in people to change and try new activities, which provides opportunities for personal growth. Hardiness is associated with stress resistance. In particular, hardiness is associated with favorable appraisals of potential stressors and effective use of coping strategies. Of the three personality traits that comprise hardiness, control appears to be the most important. For instance, when people feel unable to control their environment, cortisol levels rise in the body. This process can take place in response to crowding, for example, in places like high-density residential neighborhoods, prisons, and college dormitories.
Self-esteem, how people tend to feel about themselves, is another personality trait that is relevant to stress. Self-esteem is one factor that can influence the relation between daily hassles and emotional responses to stressors. Additionally, low self-esteem is associated with increased blood pressure in response to stressors and other physiological responses that often occur in response to stressors, such as trembling hands, pounding heart, pressures or pains in the head, sweating hands, and dizziness. Low self-esteem also has an important role in depression .
Burnout is an increasingly intense pattern of psychological, physiological, and behavioral dysfunction in response to a continuous flow of stressors or chronic stress. It is commonly found among employees and professionals who have a high degree of personal investment in work and high performance expectations. In the initial stages, people often have a variety of physiological and behavioral symptoms and lose interest and confidence in their work. The following physiological symptoms may occur:
Shortness of breath
Loss of appetite or weight
Fatigue and exhaustion
The following behavioral symptoms may occur:
Lack of interest in fellow employees
In the later stages, people often do the following things:
Abuse alcohol and other drugs
Drink more caffeinated beverages
Become more rigid in their thinking
Lose faith in the abilities of co-workers, management, the organization, and themselves
Become less productive (117)
Another concept, ego depletion, is very similar to burnout. In fact, it may represent an underlying feature of burnout. The idea behind ego depletion is that acts of volitionâ”making choices and decisions, taking responsibility, initiating and inhibiting behavior,
and making plans of action and carrying them outâ”draw on a limited supply of volitional energy that is available inside people. Consequently, if people deplete this resource too much, it is no longer very easy to do what they need to do to handle stress, such
as trying to use coping strategies in response to stressors.
B. Mental Disorders
Mental disorders are the result of a varying combination of sources, one of which being stress. Examples of other sources are as follows:
Early learning experiences
People sometimes have symptoms of mental disorders, but they usually do not meet the criteria or are not clinically significant, severe enough to necessitate treatment. Before a person can be diagnosed with a mental disorder, his or her problematic thoughts, feelings, and actions must meet the criteria for the mental disorder and must prevent adequate social, occupation, or other forms of functioning.
Stress may play a causal role in a wide variety of mental disorders. Some of the mental disorders in which stress appears to have a causal role are anxiety disorders, mood disorders, and substance-related disorders.
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