The existence and importance of stress was first recognized in America in 1950s. (Farber, 1983) A machine operator named James Carter cracked up while working on the General Motors production line in Detroit. Mr. Carter had what is now commonly known as a nervous breakdown and he sued General Motors, claiming that the stresses of his job had contributed to his condition. It was an important lawsuit. Carter won – and from that day onwards most executives and all lawyers in the world took the relationship between stress and industry very seriously indeed.
Today, stress is more than a ‘hot topic’. It represents a serious cost for industry both human and financial terms. However, stress is difficult to define, so it must be perfectly clear how I intend to use the term. For this reason, I will deal with exclusively with understanding stress, and will provide the conceptual framework for the rest of the essay. In the following parts, I will analysis the sources and consequences of stress, which it is the basis of reducing and preventing stress.
As organizations are developing a growing awareness of the importance of stress and its impact on employees, stress management becomes very demanding. Therefore, in the final part of the assay, I will provide several general and specific strategies useful in stress management. Stress means different things to different people. Everyone perceives stressful situations differently. Even the same person can perceive the same situation differently on separate occasions. Therefore, stress has been defined in various ways. In literature, there are many approaches to describe stress.
The most comprehensive one is the Interactional Approach (Cranwell-Ward, 1990). This approach intensively studies the interaction between the person and his/her environment. It describes stress as the result of an imbalance between the level of demand placed on people, as they perceive it, and their perceived capability to meet the demands. An optimum amount of stress exists for most people and in relation to most tasks. One possible generation is that job performance tends to be best under moderate amounts of stress.
Too much stress causes people to become temporarily ineffective; too little stress causes people to become lethargic and inattentive. The optimum amount of stress is referred to as ‘eustress’ – a positive force in our lives that is equivalent of finding excitement and challenge in life. As shown in Fig. 2, the eustress will provide people with extra energy to meet external or self-imposed demands. (Cooper, 1981) The wrong amount and type of stress is called distress. It usually results in negative outcomes for the individual and organization.
Stress responses result from the interaction between an individual’s predisposition to stress and the force exerted by the environment. The term “environment” includes all factors and forces external to the individual. Here, the organizational portion of the environment is emphasized. There are a large number of possible organizational and environmental sources of stress at work, as you can see from Fig. 2. Each of these is now discussed in turn. Factors intrinsic to the job were a first and vital focus of study for early researchers in the field.
Stress can be caused by poor physical working conditions, work overload or underload, excessive and inconvenient hours, physical danger, etc. A great deal of work has been done linking the working conditions and its relationship to occupational stress. Kornhauser (1965) found, for example, that poor health was directly related to unpleasant working conditions, repetitive and dehumanizing environments (e. g. paced assembly lines), and the necessity to work fast and to expend a lot of physical effort. In such situations, stress can result from a lack of stamina to meet the demands of works.
That is, people’s physical resources were inadequate to meet the demands of the work. On the other hand, research into work overload has been given substantial empirical attention. French and Caplan (1973) have differentiated overload in terms of quantitative and qualitative overload. Quantitative refers to having “too much to do”, whilst Qualitative means work that is “too difficult”. Employees at all levels sometimes find themselves faced with excessive work demands. Tightly scheduled workdays, cost cutting, and simultaneous demands act as sources of distress.
In an attempt to cope with the multiple demands, people opt to perform their paperwork at home. This approach to time management succeeds in freeing much of the workday, but it creates conflict in most family situations. Stressors are thus not eliminated but are displaced from the office to the home. Work underload is another potential source of stress. Repetitive, boring, routine work causes errors, inefficiency, disputes, absenteeism and ill health. It is often boredom that drives people to drink too much or take drugs.
Moreover, feeling of not being challenged, of one’s intellectual abilities and formal education being wasted, and of being overqualified for present job responsibilities represent an omnipresent complaint of dissatisfied employees. For example, an executive may assign very little work to do as a way of encouraging him/her to resign. Such political tactics may take place after a merger or acquisition. Combining the two companies results in excess executives, yet the acquiring firm is hesitant to lay off redundant managers because of a preacquisition agreement.