Occupational stress

Occupational stress indicates the potential influence on both individual and organizational outcomes. Various researchers have attempted to give general models of stress in the working environment such as Cooper and Marshall 1976. Warr 1981, 1990, and 1994 as well as Cooper and Baglioni 1998 all referred to Cooper’s Model (1976). Although Cooper’s and Warr’s Models differ in most areas, they both take a transactional approach to the study of occupational stress in that they both make the assumption that stress results from a complex dynamic interaction between the individual and his/her environment.

However, it is important to focus on the effects of work-related stress, both in terms of individuals, and organizations. Work-related stress may affect individuals physiologically, psychologically and behaviourally (Goodspeed and Delucia 1990) and these outcomes may cause low levels of self-esteem, job satisfaction and motivation. Other effects include; High blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, depression, ulcers, and heart disease. Furthermore, depression and anxiety are the most common stress-related complaints presented to General Practitioners and are reported to affect about 20% of the working population in the United Kingdom (Quick et al 2001).

Symptoms of stress not only cause individuals a considerable amount of suffering and distress, but there is also a substantial burden put on the community as a whole, as well as a significant effect of absenteeism and a decrease in productivity within the workplace. It is widely recognized that stress is dynamic, and within an organizational context it needs to be continually evaluated and reviewed if organizations are to sustain and develop employee health and well being (Cooper and Cartwright 1997).

In Cooper’s 1986 model of occupational stress, he discusses the issues of stress in the workplace based on sources of stress, individual characteristics, and symptoms of occupational ill-health and disease. Intrinsic to Job The sources of stress in the intrinsic to job factor include; Poor physical working conditions, shift-work, work overload/underload, physical danger, social environment and job dissatisfaction. An example of poor physical working conditions can be illustrated by a study carried out by Kelly and Cooper (1981), which identified the stresses associated with casting in a steel manufacturing plant.

The study found poor physical working conditions to be a major stressor, and many of these concentrated on physical aspects of the job such as noise, fumes, and heat. Shift-work is a common cause of occupational stress as well as affecting neuropsychological rhythms such as blood pressure, metabolic rate, and blood sugar levels. A study by Cobb and Rose (1973) on air traffic controllers found four times the prevalence of hypertension, mild diabetes, and peptic ulcers. In terms of a study on job overload (French and Caplan 1972), work overload was seen as either resulting from having too much to do, or from being asked to complete tasks that were too difficult. In a study by Crump et al (1989), which again looked at air traffic controllers, it was found that one primary short-term but uncontrollable stressor was that of work, overload.

A method was devised of measuring job stress by using the Repertory Grid Technique, which allowed Crump to access the sources of stress in terms of controllable/uncontrollable, and long-term/short-term stress. In another study (Cooper et al 1982), which looked at police officers, it was found that work overload was a huge stressor amongst the lower ranks and in particular with police sergeants. With regards to job underload, repetitive routines and more importantly uninspiring and unstimulating work have also been associated with ill health (Cooper and Smith 1985). Finally, the stress involved in having an occupation that involves physical danger on a day-to-day basis can be illustrated by jobs such as mining, firefighting, and jobs in the armed forces.

Role in the Organisation

‘A persons role at work has been isolated as a main source of occupational stress.'(Cooper 1986). Various examples of this would be role ambiguity, conflicting job demands, responsibility for people and conflicts in the workplace arising from promotional barriers. Cartwright and Cooper (1987) identified role ambiguity, role conflict, and responsibility as major sources of work-related stress. They found that in cases where tasks were clearly set out, and clarification was given, exposure to stress was minimized.

Career Development

Cooper (1983) found career development to be a fundamental stressor at work and referred to the impact of over promotion, under promotion, lack of job security, and thwarted ambition. Career development barriers were also more noticeable among female managers. A study by Davidson and Cooper (1983) revealed that out of seven-hundred female managers, and two-hundred and fifty managers at all levels of the organization, women suffered significantly more than men in relation to a wide range of organizational stressors. The most damaging to their health was found to be job dissatisfaction and stressors associated with career development. Other stressors were found to be sexual discrimination with regards to promotion, inadequate training, and male colleagues being treated more favourably.

Relationships at Work

The nature of relationships and social support from ones colleagues and superiors has also been related to job stress. French and Caplan (1972) found that poor relationships with other fellow members of an organization could have arisen from role ambiguity, which may produce psychological strain in the form of job dissatisfaction. Cooper and Melhuish (1980) found from their study of 196 senior male executives that their outgoing, tough-minded approach and their relationships at work were central to the increase in blood-pressure that they experienced. It was found that they were particularly vulnerable to the stresses caused by poor relationships with colleagues, that they also had a lack of personal support from home and work, and that conflicts arose from a difference between their own values and those of the particular organization.

Organisational Structure and Climate

Another potential source of stress includes factors relating to office politics, lack of effective consultation, lack of participation in decision making, and restrictions on behaviour. Marglois et al (1974) and French and Caplan (1972) found that greater participation led to higher productivity, improved performance, lower staff turnover, and lower levels of physical and mental illness.

Bond and Bunce (2001) showed the involvement of empowerment of individuals at various stages of the intervention process and showed how this was a positive result. The Participatory Action Research initiative (P.A.R.) has been reported to be successful and has improved organizational change initiatives. It does this by involving various members of an organization in the decision making process (Henry et al 1993).

Home/Work Pressures

A further danger to the current economic situation is the effect that work pressures may have, such as the fear of job loss, work overload, and stifled ambition. These factors in turn effect the families of employees and can themselves create further stress. An example of this can be illustrated by an inherent conflict involved in being a young senior executive whilst also trying to start a family.

Dual-Career Stress

In this day and age, an increasing number of women are seeking long-term careers. This creates a problem for male employees with regards to family life and can create further stress when a couple are in the process of starting a family. This particular type of stress is called dual-career stress.

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