Stress at The Work Place

National Conference on Stress
Organized by Department of Psychology, Saurashtra University
On February 19-20


Submitted by:

John Mathew
Director (i/c)
T.N. Rao College of Management Studies
b/h MCA Dpt.,Adj. Saurashtra University Campus, Rajkot-360005, Gujarat

Dharmesh Raval
Lecturer (Acct. & Fin.)
T.N. Rao College of Management Studies
b/h MCA Dpt.,Adj. Saurashtra University Campus, Rajkot-360005, Gujarat

Meeta Vora
Lecturer (Management)
T.N. Rao College of Management Studies
b/h MCA Dpt.,Adj. Saurashtra University Campus, Rajkot-360005, Gujarat
 


Abstract

Stress- the word itself brings a shiver down the spine. The new century has really given meaning to this word. Its there, everywhere. At home, at school, at the work place- everywhere. Everyone is under stress. Its nothing bad, neither does it always hamper your performance. Look at the people who drive the heavy locomotives, dive deep in the sea, the coal miners, the mountaineers, who live with stress all the time. The notable difference is that they can handle the stress, because of their capacity to take control over the factors that cause stress. Isn't it applicable to everyone? This paper looks into the modern age stress prevalent in the life at the work place. It brings out the factors causing stress at the work place, what people do to reduce it, and suggestions that may improve the performance levels at the same time. It is vital that the issue of stress in the workplace is addressed. The paper includes outcome of a sample survey done on people from different vocations and their views on the topic.

Introduction

Stress is the reaction people have to excessive pressure. The rapid pace of life today and everyone increased expectations mean that people have to tolerate more pressure now than ever before. They get used to living with stress, and strive to meet ever-increasing amounts while wondering why they do not seem able to get the pleasure out of life that they once did. More often than not this is because they fail to realize that stress needs to be handled.

The term 'stress' is also used to describe the individual's response to pressure. The response can be psychological and/or behavioral. How the individual responds to the stressor will depend on their personality, their perceptions, and their past experience. Some stress is necessary in that it assists us in achieving both work and personal goals. However, too much stress can make those goals harder to achieve. People respond differently to stress. Some people function well under significant stress while others do not. A worker's ability to cope with increasing workplace stress is also affected by the amount of stress they are subjected to from stressors outside of the workplace. Trouble at home may reduce their ability to cope with pressure at work.

Eu-Stress Vs Dys-Stress

People normally have negative associations with stress. Logically, stress can be of two kinds:

a) Eu-Stress: Everyone needs some "good stress" to act as an impetus to meet challenges in order to get the most out of life. The technical term for stress is 'arousal'. One needs to be sufficiently aroused to get out of bed and go to work. As the day goes on, you become more alert until you reach your optimum performance, which is when you do your best work.

b) Dys-Stress: This results in feeling that the pressures in ones life have become overwhelming and one is no longer able to cope. It is the type of stress that people really mean when they say they are 'stressed' if left unresolved bad stress can escalate from a feeling of being crushed under to becoming physically ill.

Whether good stress becomes bad stress will very much depend on individual circumstances and personal strength.1

Stress at the workplace

Work plays a powerful role in people's lives and exerts an important influence on their well-being. Since the 1960s, paid work has occupied an increasing proportion of most people's lives. Although employment can be an exciting challenge for many individuals, it can also be a tremendous source of stress. Consequently, as work makes more and more demands on time and energy, individuals are increasingly exposed to both the positive and negative aspects of employment. The relationship between work and mental and physical health may also contribute to career adjustment as well as to the productivity and economic viability of companies.

Three concepts are important to understanding this relationship:

  • Stress is an interaction between individuals and any source of demand (stressor) within their environment.
  • A stressor is the object or event that the individual perceives to be disruptive. Stress results from the perception that the demands exceed one's capacity to cope. The interpretation or appraisal of stress is considered an intermediate step in the relationship between a given stressor and the individual's response to it.
  • Appraisals are determined by the values, goals, individual commitment, as personal resources (e.g., income, family, self-esteem), and coping strategies that employees bring to the situation.2

Newspaper headlines worldwide have heralded an unprecedented concern about the detrimental effects of work stress. The United Nations World Labor Report attributes the source of stress to work places that are unstable, impersonal, and hostile. Since the early 1960s, researchers have been examining the psychosocial and physical demands of the work environment that trigger stress. Research has identified many organizational factors contributing to increased stress levels: (a) job insecurity; (b) shift work; (c) long work hours; (d) role conflict; (e) physical hazard exposures; and (f) interpersonal conflicts with coworkers or supervisors.

Reciprocally, elevated stress levels in an organization are associated with increased turnover, absenteeism; sickness, reduced productivity, and low morale.

At a personal level, work stressors are related to depression, anxiety, general mental distress symptoms, heart disease, ulcers, and chronic pain.  In addition, many people are distressed by efforts to juggle work and family demands, such as caring for sick or aging parents or children .Therefore, any exploration of the relationship between work conditions and mental distress must take into account individual factors such as sex, age, race, income, education, marital and parental status, personality, and ways of coping.

To have a balanced approach to understanding work stress, it is necessary to recognize that employment provides rewards that are both internal (intrinsic) and external (extrinsic), (e.g., skill development, self-esteem, money, variety from domestic surroundings, social contacts, and personal identity). Although increasing the rewards of work can offset its stressful aspects, the physical environment and the psychosocial conditions of employment can have deleterious effects on workers' mental and physical well-being

How well a person will cope with occupational stress will depend on

* the extent to which they fell threatened by the stressor
* the actions they know they can take to reduce the impact of the stressor
* their expectations as to how they will be able to cope with the stressor.

The number of workers compensation claims being made is increasing and the cost of them to the organisation, not just in compensation, but also in lost productivity, is considerable. Many employers are now also taking positive action to prevent occupational stress and the high costs it can occur.

Common workplace stressors

Examples of possible causes of stress are as follows.

Threats Threats, such as

* risk of harm caused by working in unsafe conditions
* the possibility of dismissal
* the rate of change
* the uncertainty of change
* poor interpersonal relationships with supervisors or co-workers
* harassment from others
* discrimination.

Pressure Pressure to

* meet unreasonable deadlines
* adopt new technology
* adapt to certain management styles
* accept new goals and targets
* comply with unreasonable proposals
* accept and act upon performance feedback

Frustration Frustration from

* poor workplace communication and consultation
* lack of acknowledgment in the workplace that a stressor exists
* lack of acknowledgment of the individual's achievements
* being passed over for promotion
* not being suited for, or properly trained for a job.

Major stress Major stress can be caused by

* personal loss, such as the death of a loved one or the end of a relationship
* threat of physical danger
* a major industrial accident
* loss of job3

The individual's response to workplace stress

What may be significant in one person's mind may not be in another. It is often difficult for an employee to choose a rational response and they may internalize the stress. This could result in physiological, emotional and/or behavioral responses that are recognized as symptoms of stress.

Examples of these include:

Physiological change

* Increased blood pressure
* Tiredness
* Stomach ulcers
* Digestive disorders such as indigestion, constipation or diarrhoea
* Weight loss or gain
* Headaches

Emotional Change

* Increased tension
* Anxiety
* Depression
* Frustration
* Feelings of emptiness

Behavioural change

* Over/under eating
* Misuse of alcohol and other drugs
* Interpersonal difficulties
* Difficulty in sleeping
* Aggressive or passive behaviour
* Workplace conflict
* Absenteeism

Strategies for reducing stress

Lazarus (1991) has identified three main strategies for reducing work-related stress.

1. Alter the working conditions so that they are less stressful or more conducive to effective coping. This strategy is most appropriate for large numbers of workers working under severe conditions. Examples include altering physical annoyances such as noise levels, or changing organizational decision-making processes to include employees.

2. Help individuals adapt by teaching them better coping strategies for conditions that are impossible or difficult to change. A limitation to this strategy is that it is costly to deal with each individual's unique transaction with the environment. Intervention strategies could include individual counseling services for employees, Employee Assistance Programs, or specialized stress management programs, such as cognitive behavioral interventions (Long, 1988).

3. Identify the stressful relationship between the individual or group and the work setting. Intervention strategies might include changes in worker assignment to produce a better person-environment fit, or it could involve teaching coping strategies for individuals who share common coping deficits (e.g., training in relaxation skills).4

Early intervention is the key to effective stress management

Once a manager becomes aware that a worker is exhibiting signs of stress, they should take urgent action to address the issue. How a stress situation is managed will influence the length of a worker's absence and any consequent costs. Most of the costs associated with a workers compensation claim for occupational stress are related to time off work and rehabilitation services. If no effort is made to intervene early and resolve issues, especially if the worker takes time off, the case may be difficult to resolve. Early intervention can include conflict resolution, mediation, and changes to workload or counseling from the Employee Assistance Scheme. But most importantly, the effective manager will need to try and understand why a particular employee is responding to a certain stressor in a way that is causing harm. It will be the manager's response to the employees stress response that will be a critical factor in successfully resolving the problem.

Research Methodology

A Random sample survey was done on a sample of 90 people. The sample was selected from Rajkot city. Samples belonged to categories like Academics, Business Professionals, Housewives, Students, etc. The tools used for research was a structured interview and a questionnaire. The questionnaire is placed in Annexure 1 . Table of data showing the analysis of the research findings is provided in the Annexure 2.  

Research Analysis

The sample size of 90 is relatively less but the sample can be considered as a true representative of the population as we have tried to include as much variety as possible in the sample. Out of the total sample of 90 individuals, 30 are from academics, 30 individuals interviewed are working women other than in academics and the remaining 30 includes professionals, entrepreneurs, government employees, etc.

There are basically questions which are framed in the manner to get an overall idea of the level of stress prevalent among the working people at their workplace (see Annexure 1). Significant numbers of individuals (see Annexure 2) [80%] like to return to their workplace which shows the willingness among the people of the sample to go to work. This can be an indication of the high degree of work ethics prevalent among people, that in spite of stress situations, they are willing to go to their workplace. This might also be the reason of the various incentives like enjoying the work, moving out of the house, meeting people, increasing and sharing knowledge and of course earning.

When they were asked of the reason for the stress or the factors causing stress, majority (43%) of individuals stated the factor of "working with a disagreeable person" as the major cause or reason of stress at the workplace. There are other reasons also for stress like the "impossible standards" and "too much of responsibilities" which were reported as the stressors by a relatively good number of individuals.

Regarding the effects of stress, there was a unanimous result that we observed; out of the total sample, 76% individuals replied stating that stress affects them mentally and hence impairing the quality work that they can do at their workplace. While there were very few people who replied that it affects them physically, quiet a few number of people agreed that stress affects them mentally as well as physically.

Regarding the symptoms of stress, the answers were spread evenly as no significant solution came out. This point to the fact that the evil of stress has no common recognizable label. It can result in bad behavior or losing out the energy or person, becoming argumentative and becoming over-reactive and frustrated resulting in losing the control over them. Nearly 36% of the sample indicated that they feel lack of energy than usual when they are under stress.

Although working people are under stress,  still they are efficient. This might be the reason of their personal remedies. 37% individuals are doing away with making an adjustment with them or to say compromising with the situation by choosing the middle path for the decision. As the sample includes the educated work force lot of people (27%) apply a thought over the situation and think a lot over the matter. This shows the consciousness among the educated workforce regarding the presence of stress in their workplace.

Some startling facts were observed when a straight question was asked to them regarding their decision taking capability. As good as 33% (1/3rd) of the total people surveyed replied negatively, confessing their inefficiency in taking the most simplest of decisions. 27% people replied positively when they were asked whether they are over-reactive to the mild things and 23% people were having the stress of overburden of work.

Conclusion

Individuals vary greatly in their capacity to endure stressful situations, and there is, undoubtedly, self-selection in the kinds of jobs and stressors that individuals choose. Because sources of stress may vary from worker to worker, providing a solution for one worker may create stress for another worker. For example, if the organization provides more opportunity for influence over the work process, the change in control may be experienced positively by some but negatively by others. A partial solution to this problem (Lazarus, 1991) may involve intervening with groups of workers that are formed based on person-environment relationships, and which contribute to the generation or reduction of stress.5

ANNEXURE 1

A questionnaire on Stress at the workplace

(Please answer the following questions with respect to your workplace)

Name:
Age:
Occupation:

a) Since how long have you taken over this occupation?
b) Do you feel that you are under stress at your workplace?

1. To what extent you like to return to your workplace?

2. What are the factors that is causing you to be stressed out:
    a. impossible standards
    b. working in changed circumstances
    c. experiencing job insecurity
    d. working with a disagreeable person
    e. too much responsibility
    f. too heavy workload

3. What do you think are the Effects of stress on you:
    a. Mentally
    b. Physically

4. How do you recognize that you are stressed out?
    a. Over-react and get frustrated with people
    b. Argue
    c. Feel miserable and dull
    d. Have less energy than usual
    e. Loose your control
    f. Sweat , headache, feverish, etc
    g. Need a health drink

5. What strategy do you adopt to comfort yourself when you are stressed out?
    a. Run away
    b. Think a lot
    c. Choose a middle path for a decision
    d. Engage in delaying of work
    e. Seek excitement by doing reckless things
    f.  Get angry, cry and give up
    g. Withdraw from work of interest

6. Please answer with a YES/ NO:

    a. Have you find yourself over-reactive to mild things?
    b. Do you find it difficult to make even the simplest decision?
    c. Do you always seem to be tired?
    d. Do you think you have too much work to do?
    e. Do you tend to ignore problem in the hope that they will go away?
    f. Do you delay facing an issue?

ANNEXURE 2

Table of data showing the analysis of the research findings

Question No/
options 

a

b

c

d

e

f

g

h

1

80

20

NA

NA

NA

NA

NA

NA

2

16

13

10

43

16

3

3

NA

3

76

23

NA

NA

NA

NA

NA

NA

4

16

0

13

36

16

10

7

NA

5

0

27

37

10

7

7

3

10

6

27

33

13

23

23

13

NA

NA


*the shaded boxes show the most significant response from the samples
** NA means Not Applicable

_____________________________________________________
1. Management Guide to Handling Stress, Pustak Mahal, 1998,pg 7
2. www.ericdigests.org/Stress in the Work Place ERIC Digest.htm
3. Managing Stress in the Workplace, NT WorkSafe, Department of Employment, Education and Training Northern Territory Government,2003
4. Lazarus, R. (1991). Psychological stress in the workplace. Journal of Social Behavior and Personality, 6, 1-13
5. ibid
 


John Mathew
Director (i/c)
T.N. Rao College of Management Studies
b/h MCA Dpt.,Adj. Saurashtra University Campus, Rajkot-360005, Gujarat

Dharmesh Raval
Lecturer (Acct. & Fin.)
T.N. Rao College of Management Studies
b/h MCA Dpt.,Adj. Saurashtra University Campus, Rajkot-360005, Gujarat

Meeta Vora
Lecturer (Management)
T.N. Rao College of Management Studies
b/h MCA Dpt.,Adj. Saurashtra University Campus, Rajkot-360005, Gujarat
 

Source: E-mail July 4, 2005

 

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