Opening Statement: This paper will examine some causes and some of the effects of stress on individuals in the work environment. Role overload will be discussed as a major agent of stress at both work and home. Role Underload, Role Conflict, Role Ambiguity will be discussed briefly for comparison. Examples of stress in the work place will be used to illustrate the broad ramifications of stress in the occupational setting.
Examples of Electromyography (EMG) will be given as a means of biologically diagnosing occupational and personnal stress cases as opposed to occupational soft muscle tissue diseases. Finally, interventions such as stress management programs will also be explored, as well as the benefits such programs can deliver to an organization.
What is Stress?: "Stress - The confusion created when one's mind overrides the body's basic desire to choke the hell out of someone who so desperately deserves it" (Author unknown). There are many biological, engineering and physiological definitions of stress but, the definition above is the most simplified and applicable in today's fast moving business world.
More classical "engineering" definition cited by R. Kahn (1992) use during the 18th and 19th centuries described stress as "A force or pressure exerted upon a material object, or person". Stress as defined by Quick, Horn and Quick (1987) "is a naturally occurring experience essential to our growth, change development both at work and at home. Depending on the way stress is handled it may have a detrimental effect on our health and well-being or it may have a beneficial effect".
In order to have stress there must be a stressor, or a physical or physiological stimulus to encourage the onset of stress response. A physical stressor in a manufacturing setting may be noise, heat, dust, mist, fumes, poor lighting etc (Evans, Cohen 1987). Psychological stressors could be items such as conflicting views with your manager or, seemingly unattainable deadlines. Problems at home may compound these issues when they are presented in an occupational situation.
Stress may be caused by many different situations in the various environments that we are a part of each day. Some social stress factors may be measured by Life Crisis Units (LCU) (Holmes and Rahe, 1967). This scale is used to aid in evaluation of, but not predict, an individuals susceptibility to stress based on naturally occurring stressors taking place in their life. The following stressors are ranked based on this scale:
Death 100 Life Crisis Units
Separations or divorce 50 Life Crisis Units
Arguments with important people 25 LCU. Life Crisis Units
Sound familiar? A lot of the above circumstances are as unavoidable death and taxes (Unless you are Leona Helmsly and even then the IRS will catch up to you).
At work, some stress factors may be; the possibility or reality of losing your job, poor supervision, lack of goals, rotating shifts and the inability to keep up with technology.
Let's look at the technology and the rate of change in computers in just the last 10 years. To a ten year old this may be no big deal, the stressor may not exist because the child is a product of a computer driven society. But to a fifty year old person, the rate of technology advancement over this period of time may be to much change compared to their experience. In some cases, failure to understand such technology in the work environment, may mean the loss of possible advancement opportunities. One stressor may cause another to create a domino effect of stressors. According to W. Hendrix (1987) these stressors may build up and cause job as well as social stress.
Are some individuals more prone to stress than others?: By use of the Person/Environment Fit Model (Kahn 1964-1979-1992) it can be hypothesized that certain individuals may be at a higher risk for work related stress then others. For example, a person who has "Role Overload" (Kahn 1979-1992) may feel unable to complete the amount of work given in an ordinary day; the amount of work interferes with the quality of work. This person is more likely to suffer from work stress then one who has an even predictable workload.
Role Overload, as stated by Jackson and Maskach (1982) may, in theory, produce another stressor called "Role Conflict". Role Conflict as Samuel Bachrach (1991) cites Kahns (1964) is definite as "The simultaneous occurrence of two or more sets of pressures in the workplace such that compliance with one, would make compliance more difficult with the other."
Role Conflict may develop if a person receives conflicting directions from two individuals or if the instructions are different then acceptable practice, or the individual must utilize more time to complete both projects. This may be seen in organizations where there is a struggle for power, neither and individual will relinquish control of a project thus, subordinates suffer by trying to satisfy both individuals. This type of situation may be seen in organizations that use a matrix reporting structure.
"Role Underload" is defined by Kahn (1979-1992) as "a chronic under-use of intelligence, knowledge or manual skills". In the work force, this may mean that an individual is not suited for the task because the job does not challenge their intellectual or physical capabilities. This lack of challenge may leave too much time for individuals to ponder other personal problems that they may be experiencing. This may also contribute to an individual developing poor self esteem, which in turn, may precipitate a poor mental outlook. It seems like a strange point, if a person is over challenged they may feel stress and as in this case if they are under challenged they may feel stress. Balance of stressors seems to be the key!
"Role Ambiguity" as seen in Kahn (1979) is "The changing status of time or information that a person has and the amount that is required to perform the role adequately".
Role Ambiguity may involve a mismatch of a persons intellectual skills and knowledge. For example, a technically gifted engineer for purposes of career development is assigned to work as a production supervisor for an assembly operation. Instead of dealing with designs enhancements and process improvements, he is dealing with production deadlines and Union Representatives. Not many engineering classes prepare you for these scenarios. In engineering, the individual is within their environment and capable of handling day to day happenings. In the ever changing world of production supervision, they would be at odds with their environment. This scenario could be defined as a conflicting Person-Environment interface.
In List 1.0 are ten occupations where Role Conflict could result in stress. These jobs, as documented by The National Institute on Workers Compensation; American Institute of Stress (1988), are highly stressful due to the multiple tasks that the individual needs to be performed, the danger or pressure involved, or the responsibility without control over the environment.
10 Tough Jobs
Inter-city High School Teacher Police Officer Miner Air Traffic Controller Medical Intern Stock Broker Journalist Customer Service/Complaint Department Waitress/Waiter Secretary
Which brings me to my next point, the impact on an organization by individuals who may be suffering from stress within the work environment.
Products of Occupational Stress: There is an old saying, which probably originated from the HR movement of Cow Sociology; "A happy worker is a productive worker". An employee who is suffering from stress on the job is neither happy nor productive. In a study done by Hendrix (1987), employees who were suffering from occupationally related stressors were more prone to illness.
In this study it was found that "Type A" or perfectionist like managers were more prone to contract coronary heart disease, such as high blood pressure and increased heart rate. Although other studies indicated that there were multiple Type A classifications, Type A individuals in general, have a greater risk of being afflicted by a heart attack or stroke. Other stress related symptoms are headache, heartburn, backache and generalized fatigue (Quick and Quick 1984). List 2.0 are 10 common warning signs of stress taken from National Institute on Workers Compensation; American Institute of Stress. Note that the signs vary from physiological or biological responses to physiological reactions/
Intestinal Distress Rapid pulse Frequent Illness Insomnia Irritability Nail Biting Lack of Concentration Increased use of Alcohol & Drugs Hunger for Sweets
When an individual reaches the point of emotional exhaustion or burnout, you may see a rise in absenteeism and low moral. The symptoms of the ailment that are less noticeable by coworkers in most cases, but contribute to the degradation of the persons mental health are: insomnia, an increase use of drugs and alcohol, as well as marital and family problems (R. Golembiewski 1991).
Impact of Stress Cases on an Organization: Stress related problems have cost industry billions of dollars. Some experts estimate the total cost of stress related aliments to be as high as 150 billion dollars a year (Newsweek 1988). Included in this cost is reduce productivity, absenteeism and medical costs.
According to L. Murphy (1986) the safety consequences of stress may cost industry a part of the 33 billion dollars associated with injuries in 1984 (National Safety Council). Injuries are caused by two circumstances, unsafe acts or unsafe conditions. In a study done by Heinrich (1931) it was found that 10% of all industrial accident were due to unsafe conditions. That means that the remaining 90% will fall into the unsafe act category. Employees who acted in unsafe ways were thought to be negligent or accident prone but, in a study by Hersey (1936) it was discovered that in over 400 cases investigated, 50% took place while employees were in an emotionally low state. This may be due to various factors including shift work or machine paced piece work (L. Murphy 1986).
The largest tangible dollar value that can be put on work related stress cases are Workman Compensation costs. In 1992, Occupational Hazards that a Florida District Court of Appeal awarded benefits in a case when a man who sustained a serious back injury on the job attempted suicide due to depression. Even though the back claim had already been settled previously, the family filed for stress benefits due to depression and anxiety. The court granted benefits based on the stress defense (Occupational Hazards 1992).
How big is the stress problem in the United States? Well in 1988 alone stress claims accounted for 14% of all occupational diseases filed (Newsweek). This number is 3 times higher than 1980 and is still on the rise. More recent information from interviews with a cross-section of about 600 American workers reviled that: 33% seriously thought about quitting work because of job stress, and they expected to "burn out" on the job in the near future. Of the people interviewed, it was thought that job stress is the single greatest stress in their life. (http://www.ncci.com/html/ncfoj2.htm) NCCI
In another case Hearsh vs Hughes Aircraft the employee accepted a lump settlement of $20,000 for a stress claim when he suffered a minor nervous breakdown and lost his job with the company. Yet another case in 1986 was settled out of court for $50,000 that involved a manager of a furniture rental store. After one year of hearings and court costs, the employee was awarded the lump sum payment due to stress induced by a hostile supervisor (Newsweek 1986).
No doubt about it stress claims are on the rise, and industry is spending billions in court costs, lost wages and medical benefits.
Work Site Health and Stress Management Programs: The research display in this paper establishes the increase of stress related problems in industry, the next logical step is to become proactive; prevent the degradation of mental health through stress management.
In a survey performed by J. Fielding (1989) over 59% of companies with 750 employees or more have some type of stress management program in place and 87% have a health and fitness program in place. These statistics demonstrate the commitment companies are making to help the employees' mental health and physical well-being.
The facility I work at has a Employee Assistance Program that has its roots in the late 1970's. During this time frame, the company and the union recognized the need for a jointly administered employee assistance program. The program had remained at status quo for a number of years and its effectiveness was questioned, and rightly so. One single, reactive program will not impact a work force the size of a small town in Nebraska (about 1800 employees). In 1989 with an increase in medical staff, a more proactive approach began with the company offering aerobics and karate classes on site at no charge to the employees'. As more employees showed an interest in these programs the Medical Manager decided to expand the companies health and lifestyle improvement program.
The first order of business was to find out where the need was. Free health screening was offered to all on-site and was performed by a professional outside company. 752 employees participated in the screening which included a lifestyle questionnaire, blood pressure check, cholesterol check and flexibility test.
The survey revealed some enlightening facts; it was discovered that 24.5% of the employees were suffering from hypertension on the job and 34% of the survey group was 20% over-weight. For the employees with hypertension, regular blood pressure monitoring on-site is done. Also, in an effort to calm the work force, a 240 gallon aquarium has been set up in the main cafeteria area. Physical activity does help relive stress, a 8/10 mile Nature Trail was installed in 1993. The trail circles the facility and is tastefully landscaped with fruit, hardwood and evergreen trees. Due to the popularity of the trail, a 4/10 of a mile spur was recently added. This section was developed into the woods on the perimeter of the property and gives employees that "back to nature feeling.
In 1994, the management team, which consists of 51 individuals, took part in a stress management class and were surveyed using the Stress Audit provided by Biobehavioral Associates. The survey was similar to the Holmes & Rahe scale but was more detailed and included questioning on current health. This audit is one more tool to assist managers into a healthier, more relaxed state of mind thus reducing stress levels .
Summary: In today's fast paced society trying to cope with occupational and social stress is challenge for everyone. Some people view occupational stress a necessary life style to stay competitive in an aggressive business or manufacturing setting. If an individual is bombarded by enough stressors, burn out may be inevitable.
Individuals who are exposed to stressors on the job, and/or at home are at risk of becoming physically and psychologically ill.
Even though social stress can contribute to occupational stress, and visa versa, as of yet no conclusive research has shown the cumulative effects of the two environments (S. Klintzman 1990).
After looking at all the facts it is very obvious to see that stress is an unavoidable fact of life. If properly monitored and controlled through stress reduction techniques and a healthy lifestyle we all can reduce, but never total eliminate stress from our lives. With this in mind I can certainly rewrite the follow old adage; "The only thing certain in life is death, stress and taxes."
Evans G., Cohen S. (1987)
Handbook of Environmental Psychology chapter 15, vol 1
Wiley Interscience Publication, New York, NY., 572-576
Kahn, R.L. & Byoriere, P. (1992)
Stress in Organizations
Handbook of Organizational Psychology, 2nd ed., Vol 3
571-575, Palo Alto CA: Consulting Psychologist Press
Periodicals and Journals
Bacharach Samuel B, Bamberger Peter & Conley (1991)
Work Home Conflict Among Nurses and Engineers
Journal of Organizational Behavior Jan vol 12, 39-53
Golembiewski, Robert & Munzenrider Robert (1991)
Burnout and Mental Health: A Pilot Study
Organizational Development Journal, Sum Vol 9, 51-57
Heirch, Max (1989)
Making Stress Management Relevant to worksite wellness
Advances Spr Vol 6, 36-40
Hendrix William H; Steel Robert P & Schultz Sherryl A (1987)
Job Stress and Life Stress
Journal of Social Behavior & Personality Aug Vol 2, 291-302
Klintzman Susan; House James s; Israel Barbara A &
Mero Richard P (1990)
Work Stress, Non-work Stress & Health
Journal of Behavioral Medicine, Jun Vol 13, 221-243
Murphy L R; Dubois David & Hurrel, Joseph (1986)
Accident Reduction Through Stress Management
Journal of Business and Psychology Fall Volume 1, 5-18
Business Section (1988)
Newsweek April 25, 42-45
Workers' Comp Update (1992)
Occupational Hazards, Oct, 173-178
Quick, Jonathan D; Hoin Rebecca S & Quick, James (1986)
Health Consequences of Stress
Journal of Organizational Behavior Management Fal-Win Vol 8, 19-36
National Council on Compensation Insurance, Inc. Available
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