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Stress in the workplace essay

Providing a comprehensive definition to ‘stress’ has been a challenge even to accomplished psychologists. ‘Stress’ is generally considered as the opposite of relaxation and used as a medical term to explain a set of powerful physical or psychological external stimuli, which can result in a physiological response known as the general adaptation syndrome (Hans Selye, 1936). In Medical parlance, stress is understood as a physical or psychological stimulus that can produce mental or physiological illness (AHSM Dictionary, 1995). In fact, ‘mental stress’ itself is not a health condition that can be diagnosed clinically, rather it is a risky state in an individual that may develop one or more clinically defined physical or psychological diseases (Large, 2001). Mental response to stress comprises adaptive stress, anxiety and depression. Such stress that enhances function can be deemed as a good stress; however, if stress lasts longer and is intense, it may eventually lead to harmful anxiety or depression (Hans Selye, 1956).

Stress in the workplace can be understood as a response in a worker that is physically or emotionally harmful (OSH, 1995). This may happen if there is a conflict between the demands of a task and the control that the employee has on fulfilling the demands. To be precise, if the employee’s difficulty in meeting the demands may lead to stress (NIOSH, 1999). This may often lead to poor health and even injury. Stress in the workplace is a major concern from the point of view of the employee as well the employer firm. Mental illness related to workplace has been identified as one of the most important occupational disease to be addressed by the National Occupational Health and Safety Strategy, 2002 (Dr Peta Miller, Su Mon Kyaw-Myint, Majid Hmeidan, and Helen Burbidge, 2006). The most common work -related illnesses are musculoskeletal, depression and burnout syndromes. The major cause of all this is stress at workplace.

Work related stress may result due to a number of factors like excessive pressure at work, inter-personal conflicts, lack of clear guidance from the management and inadequate resources to accomplish the assigned tasks(Dr Peta Miller, Su Mon Kyaw-Myint, Majid Hmeidan, and Helen Burbidge, 2006). This may even be aggravated by little support from peers and officials (Loss prevention Council, 1998).

Around the world, there has been an alarming increase in physical and psychological problems caused by work-related stress. In Australia alone, the cost of workers’ compensation claims for mental disorders related to stress is estimated at $ 200 million per year in an average (NIOSH, 2003). Stress at work place is becoming a major concern in all sectors. The directives of various governments around the globe have been taking crucial measures to direct the companies ensure occupational health and safety to their employees. Therefore, under the current scenario, work related stress becomes a vital area of research.

Quite interestingly, to a given stress stimulus, different individuals report different levels of stress. In fact, a particular individual may react to a given situation with different stress levels under different circumstances. Therefore, this becomes a quite complex issue and requires an intensive and deep study involving several factors. In understanding stress, it needs to be noted that more than what causes stress, there is certainly a difference in how different individuals take it. The recent researches have established that individuals with different personality traits experience and cope with stress differently (Margarete Vollrath & Svenn Torgersen, 1999). This factor presupposes a close correlation between the personality traits of an individual and the amount of stress response exhibited by him. Gender differences in stress at work place and the impact of personality could make an interesting and useful study in researching stress at workplace. These two aspects become the prime concerns of this thesis.

“Personality is a dynamic organisation, inside the person, of psychophysical systems that create a person’s characteristic patterns of behaviour, thoughts, and feelings” (Carver & Scheier, 2000). Two important studies conducted in 1998 and 2005 throw enough light on the correlation between personality and stress at workplace (R.A. Martin, N.A. Kuiper and H.A. Westra, 1998; Vincent J. Fortunatoa & John Harshb, 2005) The rationale and the findings of one of the studies is worth noting here, which would throw more light on the significant relationship between personality traits and stress levels.

This study was intended to study the impact of two personality variables negative affinity (N.A.) and positive affinity (P.A.) and three factors that can cause stress at workplace namely interpersonal conflict, workload and lack of proper guidance by the management on a measure of sleep quality (inferred from going to bed, falling asleep, maintaining sleep, reinitiating sleep and waking up). The study group comprised of 347 females and 120 males. The reports invariably suggested that individuals with high negative affinity reported lower quality sleep than individuals low in negative affinity. Similarly, individuals with high degrees of positive affinity reported a higher quality sleep over the individuals with a lower positive affinity. The sleep quality was inversely proportionate to interpersonal conflicts, work demands and job ambiguity. However, the negative and positive affinity became the moderating variables between these stressors and the sleep quality. The studies indicated that negative affinity played a hyper-responsivity role that amplified the perceptions and reactions of individuals towards negative environments. (Vincent J. Fortunatoa & John Harshb, 2005).

Though this study detailed above may not be directly relevant to the core objectives of this thesis, invariably it is of tremendous value to attest the importance of personality traits as significant variables that influence and determine the levels of workplace stress. Two popular models of psychometric testing need to be studied in detail to understand how personality traits can impact or modify stress at workplace.

DASS Analysis

Depression, Anxiety and Stress are three factors that form the core of the DASS analysis. DASS analysis is helpful for the researchers to isolate the three factors and measuring them independently. DASS analysis employs a series of psychological tests to make a clinical study of the patient. DASS measures depression as a combination of dysphoria, devaluation of life, hopelessness, self-deprecation and lack of interest. Anxiety scale forms a part of the DASS scales and measures anxiety using autonomic arousal, skeletal muscle effects, situational anxiety and subjective experience (Rossier, et al., 2004). On the otherhand, The stress scale measures the difficulty in rela, nervous arousal, being easily upset over minor issues, irritability, over-reactivity and impatience.

The DASS analysis helps in identifying the negative factors that cause the negative behaviour patterns in work place (Brown T A et al, 1997). This is done using a standard statement format normally referred to as the DASS 21 or DASS 42 questionnaires. The answers are arranged in a four point Likert Scale. The short format of DASS, DASS 21 has seven statements for each one of the three factors namely Depression, Anxiety and Stress; (Henry JD & Crawford JR, 2005; Antony et al, 1998). However, in the case of the DASS 42 there are fourteen statements for each one of these factors to construct the DAS Scale. It is suggested that the DASS scale is ideal to be employed for people over 18 years of age. (Spencer R Baker, et al., 2004). DASS 42 is more elaborate and the normative scores are based on this form. While DASS 21 is faster to administer and mostly used for research purposes, whereas DASS 42 is used for clinical purposes (Spencer R Baker, et al., 2004).

DASS analysis is extensively used in identifying a group’s behaviour and choice by studying the patterns of the three distinct factors of depression, anxiety and stress (Martin Ryan & Dahlen Eric R, 2005). This would help researchers in identifying and setting aside the major cause in any of the analysis done on the group with respect to emotions and emotional disturbances. The major advantage of DASS is the capability to isolate the three factors and measuring them independently. However, it is important to note that DASS is dimensional in nature and therefore, does not help in categorizing specific issues on the values read. Instead, it helps in marking a relative rating of the three factors, specifically explaining the differences between how they affect a normal individual and an abnormal individual. Therefore, the rating employed in DOSS is comparative in nature.

The Developments over the DASS Model: Stress distinguished from anxiety and depression:

When the DASS analysis model consists of three distinct affects namely Depression, Anxiety and Stress, the third and the most important factor namely stress can be distinguished from the other two and also from negative affect (Lovibond and Lovibond (1995a). The stress scales has been specifically designed to measure a distinct negative emotional syndrome in psychometric testing rather than dealing with non-specific syndromes that are common to depression and anxiety (Lovibond, 1998). During the development of DASS analysis, such non-specific symptoms were excluded.

Several studies support the fact that Stress scale is an important and independent construct connected to Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) (American Psychiatric Association, 1994; Brown, Barlow, & Liebowitz, 1994; Brown, Marten, & Barlow, 1995; Lovibond, 1998; Lovibond & Lovibond, 1995b; Lovibond & Rapee, 1993. These studies suggest that the three syndromes exist independent of each other.

Apollo Profile

The Apollo profile of psychometric testing was primarily evolved for the use of Human Resources departments to help individuals with informed choices and career planning. This system is highly useful to help individuals decide their own career by understanding themselves better. Apollo profile’s significant contribution towards assessing the training needs, skills and capabilities is noteworthy. Apollo profile has thirty-four different factors employed to identify the characteristics essential for any working person (The Apollonean Institute, 2005). This is a multi purpose instrument for measuring work preferences, motivations and values. The very definition of the instrument suggests that it can be employed in a multiple set of situations, typically for career assessment, recruitment, developing individuals and organisations and several other career related uses. In employing Apollo profile for a given scenario, customised changes are made in the metrics used for testing to satisfy the typical requirements of a given scenario. Once the necessary factors are listed out, the importance of these factors for the job is rated as primary or secondary.

The process of employing Apollo profile can be elaborated as follows. Apollo profile lists out a set of common characteristic traits. However, the combination of these factors may differ with variables like job requirements, personal attitude and work environment. Therefore, a careful selection of the metrics employed is very much essential. Secondly, the rating of the items selected for measurement helps in customising the results further. (Stark S, et al, 2006). For instance, stress is treated as coping formed out of eleven different factors. Evaluating these factors would help in measuring stress with a greater ease. Based on the requirements of the individual or the typical environment, the combination could be further altered to yield desired results.

The Apollo Profile is designed to ensure excellence in the workplace. This is achieved with the help of a strategic research methodology during the development of the Apollo Profile. The 36 categories constituting the Apollo Profile are extracted from a wider set of categories designed through factor analysis and identified as crucial to work place success. Therefore, in studying the characteristics of the employees from the managerial section to the fresher, the developers record supervisor ratings specific to each profile. This helps in selectively identifying the pertinent characteristics of above average workers. In this regard, the Apollo Profile helps in ensuring excellence in the workplace (The Apollonean Insititute, 1996)

The Apollo Profile can be compared with Catell’s questionnaire 16 PF, Gordon’s Survey of Personal Values and the Survey of Interpersonal Values for 16 of its 36 categories (Hicks, 1997). The six composite categories and the ten selective categories of the Apollo Profile gave highly significant correlation-coefficient results. The coefficients are at large self-explanatory. The six composite categories correlate both with expected and unexpected dimensions, explaining how the categories of the Apollo profile are made. (The Apollonean Insititute, 1996)

Implications of stress at work

Studies undertaken recently prove that work stress need not be always harmful for individuals and employers. However, prolonged and intense levels of stress could be damaging and can have serious impact on individuals and work. One of the studies relates stressors like challenge and hindrance to desirable and undesirable outcomes of jobs and psychological strain. The studies show that work outcome is invariably affected by psychological strain (Wendy R. Boswell, Julie B. Olson-Buchanan and Marcie A. LePine, 2004).

A considerable change in the workforce structure entered the corporate and industrial economies after 1980s (Christopher Tennant, 2001) The effect of these changes are clearly felt in the increasing incidents related to stress at workplace. The acute stressful experiences at workplace have significant impacts on the health of the individuals, their families, the employers, their business and the community at large. (Christopher Tennant, 2001).

Growing degrees of absenteeism is one of the major implications of stress at workplace. Often the cost to company due to this is alarming as absenteeism has a major impact on productivity. For every 1% of absenteeism, the fall in the production level would be 2.5% (Hamilton Atwell, 2003). Similarly, yet another study identifies that stress at job has a wider implication for individuals as it brings about low levels of motivation and performance, thereby severely affecting productivity (

A widespread health disorders is one of the major concerns of work related stress. Sleep and mood disturbances, gastric disorders and headache are some typical examples to this. The effects of stress on chronic diseases is difficult to diagnose since chronic diseases develop over a long period of time and a systematic and elaborate study can only reveal the truths of this issue; however, current studies prove beyond doubt that stress plays an important role in the most popular chronic diseases like cardio-vascular ailments, musculoskeletal problems and psychological disorders (4

Looking the seriousness of the issue of stress at workplace from different angles, it becomes essential for the managements and human resources departments to evolve suitable strategies to combat this malady and take the necessary steps to bring down stress at work place. The same can be strategically implemented at companies with the help of a three level program comprising stressor reduction, stress management and remedial support (Cary L. Cooper and Sue Cartwright, 1997)

Implication of stress at workplace to various industries

A study conducted by Bengt B. Arnetz and Clairy Wiholm in 1999 with the employees of high-technology industries revealed serious psychosomatic disorders resulting from the discrepancy between the demands of the roles of the employees and the lack of sufficient skills. In fact, the studies indicated that psychosomatic syndromes are likely to increase in the future years with the advancement of technology and the change in work culture, as this would demand unrealistic expectations from the technical workers to meet the organizational demands (Bengt B. Arnetz and Clairy Wiholm in 1999).

On the other side, Peter Buckle’s study in 1997 with the workers involved in the manual labor revealed that a heavy, repetitive type of manual work given for a prolonged duration would invariably result in pathological conditions like upper limb, neck and shoulder pains even leading to chronic pains and impairment (Peter Buckle, 1997). A significant study brought out the fact that high levels of fatigue after work and fatigability were reported in works involving high levels of psychological distress than physical strain. The typical professions listed under this were medical-related professions like doctors (especially women doctors) and nursing staff. The causes were found to be high levels of work demands and poor mental health (G. E. Hardy, D. A. Shapiro and C. S. Borrill, 1997)

Factors affecting stress

Response to stress situations are not always uniform among all the individuals. When the employees exercise certain coping mechanisms and feel self-confident, the levels of stress can be minimized to a great extent. The most effective coping mechanisms could be detaching from the painful reality of the stressor and fixating oneself continuously with the positive sides of the job and life (Bernadette H. Schell, Victoria A. Paine-Mantha, M. Elizabetah Markham and Kim Morrison, 1992). A research involving 53 working woman evaluated the impact of a 7 session stress reduction training program. Questionnaires were given with pretests and post tests to assess the areas of emotional exhaustion, personal strain and absenteeism. The study revealed the positive impact of the training and counseling on stress reduction (Nancy C. Higgins, 1986)

The studies regarding stress at work research from two angles – stress that results from work demands and stress that results from low levels of autonomy and discretion. An important study reveals that social relationships moderate between environmental stress and psychological strain. Stress therefore could be interpreted as a function of the balance of demands, supports and job constraints (Roy Payne and Ben (C) Fletcher, 1983).

Study involving a sample of 566 nurses from urban Hospitals reveals that stress could be perceived to be caused by a set of several factors namely role dilemma, role stress, not being recognized by the superiors and peers, role ambiguity, etc. However, individual variations like personality traits, attitudes, education level, locus of control, professional commitment and sensitivity could affect and influence the outcome of stress caused by all these factors (Donald J. Vredenburgh and Robert J. Trinkaus, 1983). A study of the interplay between job-demands, job-control and self-determination and their impact on stress levels indicates that job-control enhances the relationship between job demands and the sense of personal accomplishment for the workers with great degrees of self-determination (Claude Fernet, Frédéric Guay and Caroline Senécal, 2004).

Yet another study with 83 managers reveals that low levels of job satisfaction increases the chances for psychosomatic disorders due to stress. Organizational commitment is yet another potential stress reducing factor (Allen, N.J.; Meyer, J.P., 1996). At the same time, work support, engagement coping and optimism could help reduce the effect of stressors (Long Bonita, 1993). Those individuals who perceive a greater level of self-competence report low levels of stress. A study involving 276 teachers shows that the subjective feelings of self-competence concerning their interactive abilities reported low levels of stress (Rabi S. Bhagat and Stephen M. Allie, 1989). In trying to balance commitments towards family and work, several employees face significant problems. In a study involving female nurses and female police officers, the direct relationship between increasing work-role commitment and work-family conflict (Day, A.L.; Chamberlain, T.C. 2006).

Gender & Stress

Several studies have researched and proved gender differences in occupational stress. The studies undertaken between 2001 – 03 report that the number of stress claims for females was higher than that of males. Females also reported more number of incidents than males. In 2001, the study recorded 12,056 mental stress claims in females with a total number of 8,997 in case of males (Torkelson and Muhonen 2004).

A very significant study in this line combined three alternative views to interpret work-related responses of at workplace namely Person-centered (gender-related), situation-centered (job-related), and person-situation (joint gender-and job-related). The responses of males and females were examined separately using multiple responses from each of the employees. The results from two-way MANCOVAs indicate that the differences in terms of employee responses about job characteristics and commitment are job-related (situation-centered); those pertaining to involvement are both job- and gender-related (situation- and person-centered); those connected to role stress are both gender- and job-related (person-situation); and those about performance are gender-related (person-centered) (Edvin Bru1, Sven Svebak, Reidar J. Mykletun and Jens Petter Gitlesen, 1996)

A study on the association of perceived stress and effort with the experience of moods(dysphoric: DM; euphoric: EM) and musculoskeletal back pain was conducted with a total of 547 female hospital staff. Significant bivariate coefficients of correlation was observed between (1) stress, efforts, dysphonic mood and (2) back pain in all the subjects. In addition to this, neck and shoulder pain were closely related to DM among employees in departments with excessive emotional load and to work-related stress among employees in departments with an excessive physical load, whereas bivariate relations of EM with back pain remained non-significant. The findings indicate that musculoskeletal pain is closely associated with a list of unpleasant moods. Therefore, the results directed that to reduce back pain in female hospital staff, attention should be given to create a congenial occupational climate that would reduce the experience of dysphoric mood and increases the experience of euphoric mood. This clearly supports how work stress in females has a greater effect on their physical well-being. (Edvin Bru1, Sven Svebak, Reidar J. Mykletun1 and Jens Petter Gitlesen, 1996)

R.A. Martin, N.A. Kuiper and H.A. Westra conducted a preliminary empirical investigation in 1998 involving personality traits and their impact over stress levels at workplace. For the purpose of their research, they hypnotized two personality traits Type A and Type B. Through questionnaires and interactions, the candidates involved in the study were grouped under these two types. Type A consisted of people who habitually attempted to meet unrealistic performance standards to evaluate their self-worth. Their strategies consisted of hard-driven, aggressive and time sensitive behaviours at work. Quite naturally, during most of the occasions, the outcome was unfavourable to them. This resulted in more negative self-evaluations and depression. In addition, the females of Type A exhibited still lower levels of self-esteem and greater levels of stress. In general, the findings revealed that Type A individuals, especially females employed a greater use of emotion-focussed coping strategies The outcome of the study classified the Type A as a personality dimension implying reduced quality of life (R.A. Martin, N.A. Kuiper and H.A, 1998)

Resilience and stress

Resilience can be explained as a sort of adaptation mechanism in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats. It is the capacity to "bounce back" from difficult experiences. (APA, year not given) Research has shown that resilience is an ordinary quality most common to all individuals in general.

Being resilient does not mean that a person is not experiencing difficulty or distress. Emotional pain and worries are found to be quite common in people who have suffered major adversity or trauma in their lives. In fact, the way of gaining resilience is likely to involve a great deal of emotional distress.

Resilience should not be misunderstood as a trait that people either have or do not have, rather it comprises behaviours, thoughts, and actions that can be cultivated in anyone out of a systematic approach to life.

Several factors bring about resilience. Quite a number of studies prove that the primary factor in resilience is to have a caring and supportive relationship within and also outside the family. Relationships that give way to love and trust, provide role models, and give encouragement and reassurance help foster a person's resilience (APA, year not given).

Resilience cultivates several positive traits in an individual like the capacity to make workable plans and the ability to carry them out; a positive notion of oneself and confidence in one’s own strengths and abilities; communication and problem solving skills; capacity to put up with strong feelings and impulses. All these factors in turn help manage stress in a better way (APA, year not given)

Sensitivity and Stress

It is generally observed that some people are able to easily withstand overwhelming stress situations, whereas some suffer a great degree of physical and mental breakdowns. This explains a special characteristic called hardiness that distinguishes the stronger ones apart. (Dr. R. Maddi, 1981)

A valuable answer to this question is provided by a very significant and elaborate study undertaken by Dr. R. Maddi, and his colleagues at the University of Chicago concerned with one of the biggest dreaded deregulation and divestiture cases in American history.

In 1981, Illinois Bell Telephone (IBT) suspended more than a half of its 26,000 employees in a matter of one year. The employees continued with the firm faced altering job specifications, altering goals and changing supervisors. One particular manager said he had 10 different supervisors in one year. Dr. Maddi and his research team were making a study with more than 400 supervisors, managers and executives at IBT even before the downsizing and they were able to continue following the original study group on a yearly basis until 1987. Results of their study show that about two-thirds of the employees inducted into the study reported significant performance, leadership and health setbacks as the result of great stress from the deregulation and divestiture. The conditions included heart attacks, obesity, substance abuse depression, and strokes, poor performance reviews. However, the other one-third employees could maintain their health, happiness and performance. What caused this difference? Dr. Maddi observed that this group maintained three key beliefs namely commitment, control and challenge attitudes that helped them make adversity into an advantage. (Dr. Maddie, 1981)

In addition to this, a research in the battlefield by Paul T. Bartone, at U.S. Military Academy at West Point found that hardiness protected Army reserve personnel sent for the Persian Gulf War in 1990’s. In this study, the hardiness level was found to be directly proportionate to the ability of soldiers to manage combat-related stress without not many negative health consequences, such as post-traumatic stress or depression. Therefore, hardiness at least partially explains how some soldiers remained healthy even under war related stress (Paul T. Bartone, 1990). Dr. Maddi and his team employed the IBT case to design a training program to assist stressed-out employees. The participants of this program invariably reported reduced their anxiety, depression and other signs of strain, while more job satisfaction. These changes remained even after the training course. The training program offered by the Hardiness Institute is widely used by organizations for improving the performance of their employees and their health.

In 2003, American Psychological Association conducted one more program in this line studying the impact of hardiness and resilience to manage stress. This was to help children, teenagers and adults to adapt well with stressful sources like adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats. The ‘”Resilience for Kids & Teens,” a school-based campaign focussing on teaching resilience skills for real life problems was launched by APA. The campaign distributed a special issue of Time for Kids Magazine to about two million school kids and their teachers to help children learn the skills of resilience.

Teamwork and stress

Teamwork is the ability to work as a group pooling together the skills and knowledge of a given set of individuals. In case of combating and managing long-term stress, there can not be a better alternative to working with a team. Team activities really contribute a great deal to minimise stress levels at workplace (Work/life contributors, 2003). The assistance and support provided by a caring and sharing group can easily remedy stress at workplace. When they are surrounded by other colleagues, the employees do feel less painful with stress producing inputs. In addition, a group

A group well trained in teamwork without internal competitions will usually be able to cover for their members who are temporarily down and unable to contribute their full energy and skills. In Apollo profiling, People Orientation is a major grouping of factor that helps in encouraging interpersonal interaction and teamwork that are vital for the progress of a company. (Apollonean Institute, 1996, Livingstones, 2006). This would at large help in identifying the sources and the nature of stress in the team members.

Dr. Billy Queek, says that a constructive Teamwork with team spirit can encourage mutual motivation, communication strategies and leadership qualities (Billy Queek, 2000). Social support is a very important variable in workplace stress, however, little is know about the factors that determine the amount of social support one offers, and receives at his workplace. Personality (extraversion, neuroticism, and agreeableness) and reciprocity are found as potential antecedents to offering and getting back support from colleagues. Data taken from 108 participants working in a several organizations showed that giving social support was invariably associated with getting social support. Both extraversion and agreeableness pre-supposed giving and getting non-job support and work-related support. In most of the cases, the relationship between personality and social support received was mediated by social support given (Nathan A. Bowlinga, Terry A. Beehrb, & William M. Swader, 2004)

Based on the above study, the following hypothesis could be formed for further study:

1. Women are prone to experience higher levels of stress in comparison to men (Gender).

2. Lower levels of stress are reported by individuals with higher levels of resilience.

3. Lower levels of stress are reported by individuals with higher levels of hardiness.

4. Individuals who are teamwork orientated report lower levels of stress in the workplace.

5. Stress in the workplace is best explained by resilience, hardiness & teamwork.


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