Stress has been defined in many ways in different literatures. It is not that easy to define stress as it is non-audible and also cannot be seen but it can be felt. It produces measurable changes in the body chemistry. The simplest definition of stress can be it is what you experience when you feel weighed down by things happening in your life. Powerful emotions are developed inside which can be difficult to manage. More specifically, Stress is the experience of opportunities or threats that people perceive as important and think they might not be able to handle or deal with effectively. Opportunities are beneficial while threat can be harmful and both can result in stress. Uncertainty is another aspect of stress which makes person go blank and makes him unsure about what to do and what not to do. Stress is more perception based, a situation for one person might be stressful and the same for other might be not. For e.g., a job change or a promotion can be looked as an opportunity for learning and career growth while it can be perceived as a threat due to the potential for failure.
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Our Personality has a great influence over our vulnerability to stress. Certain personality traits can make us more or less susceptible towards stress. This classifies a person into 2 types - Type A and Type B kind of personality respectively. Type A's tend to be more competitive, more impatient, have time urgency when compared to the more relaxed and laid back Type B personality. We are all a mixture of type A and B personality traits but if we are excessively type A, it can make us more vulnerable to stress. Certain differences between the two types based on their behavioral traits are listed in the table below.
Type A Personality Traits
Type B Personality Traits
Always looks to finish things faster
Can leave things incomplete for a while
Thrives under constant time pressure
Easy-going and relaxed.
Poor Listening skills
Very good Listener
Stressed and hassled speech
Slow and deliberate speech
No job or life Satisfaction
Highly satisfied with job and life.
Not excessively competitive
Do not express feelings
Can express feelings
Trying to always multi-task.
Concentrate on a single task.
Type A persons are cardiac prone and should take strong measures to reduce stress while type B persons are generally relaxed and cope adequately with stress.
Typical sources of stress or potential stressors:
Personal Stressors: Major tragic life events like death of a loved one, divorce, serious illness of onself or loved one. Positive major life events like marriage, buying a house, shifting places.
Job related stressors: Role conflict and ambiguity, Work overload or underload, Time pressures, differences between individual and company values, insecure job climate, inadequate skills.
Group & organization related stressors: Conflicts due to cultural differences, Uncomfortable working conditions, and unsafe working conditions.
There are three main types of consequences of stress:
Physiological: These are the direct effect of stress on human body or rather the measures taken by body to tackle stressful conditions. Insomnia, elevated blood pressures, headaches, stomachaches, nausea are some of the initial symptoms while Hypertension, cardiovascular diseases and heart attacks may result from excessive levels of prolonged stress.
Psychological: These may occur when our mind perceives an inability to cope with a "challenge" of some kind. It can result in experience of stressful feelings and emotions like bad mood, feeling angry, upset and anxious, feeling of depression and a loss of control, negative attitudes, etc. The result could be low levels of job satisfaction and organizational commitment. Burnout is another special kind of psychological consequence of stress occurring in people who are responsible for helping other people and who suffer from work stress day in and day out for extended period of time. Burned-out workers feel a sense of low personal accomplishment, suffer from emotional exhaustion and depersonalize the people they need to help thinking about them as just objects or things.
Always on Time
Marked to Standard
Behavioral: These are the potential consequence of stress on job performance which is of the most interest to managers.
When there is no stress, job challenges are absent and performance tends to be low.
As stress increases, job performance increases as stress helps a person to plan resources to meet the job requirements.
Beyond a certain point however, increase in stress impairs performance and turns into a destructive force.
If stress reaches breaking point, the performance is reduced to zero.
Empirical Study and Generalization:
The data collection method which was adopted for studying stress as a behavior using empirical study was the Interview method. Interview method involves selecting a particular type of people (sample point) from the population which can selectively represent the particular trait we want to study. A recording of all interviews was done with permission from the interviewee for future referrals wherever possible. In addition, observations were also made by observing the body language of the interviewee while giving their answers.
Stress as a behavior is very significant in organizations or workplaces. It can be the primary driving factor for the performance and the overall progress or decline of the organization. Also stress becomes an important factor at an academic institution like a B-school where time management is the most important aspect and there are multiple tasks to be done in a limited timeframe. Thus the people who were chosen for study were the ones who had an experience of both the worlds. First around 20 people studying in a b-school with more than 24 months of work experience were chosen. Among them, five people were shortlisted for the interview based on the common traits they exhibit. Two showing high level of anxiety and who are always stressed out, two who seems to manage their time very well and always seems to be very chilled out and one who showed a moderate level of stress. Interviews were conducted in a peaceful environment with minimum disturbances and no noise levels so that the interviewee is comfortable and his answers are honest and non-biased.
The interview purpose was solely to study stress as a behavior from an organization point of view and even more specifically while working in a group or a team. A team could be the one in an organization working on a particular project; it could be a bunch of employees involved in routine job or it could be a group of students in a b-school working on a group assignment. The interview was designed in such a way to study what are the major factors which are responsible for causing stress, what are the personal characteristics of a person which makes him vulnerable to stress, what are the consequences or behavioral effects of stress in the workplace, how does it affect the job performance and what are the ways in which such effects could be countered.
The questions that were asked to the interviewee were divided into broadly 4 sets. The first set were a series of Yes-No questions to understand the person thinking patterns and his life-style and basically to know whether the person is or has been suffering from stress. This set included questions about their sleeping habits, nature of diet, level of concentration, addiction to drugs or alcohol, thinking pattern, general stress levels, to know their personality types managing abilities and ability to maintain a work-life balance.
The second set was a series of evaluative questions basically based on their previous job experience. The questions were designed to evaluate to understand the incidents which cause the maximum stress, to know the attitude of the person, to study the various independent variables responsible for causing stress and the effect of stress as a behavior on the final output or dependent variables like absenteeism, productivity, turnover, antisocial behavior and job satisfaction. Also the entire thing is studied on three kinds of people mentioned above and the behavioral traits are compared by correlating it with the person's life-style and inherent characteristics.
The third set was based on few open ended questions to know the actual situation in which participants were involved in a stressful situation, the events which they feel causes maximum stress at a workplace, details of the events which caused maximum stress and how they were able to overcome the stress.
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The fourth set was based on an actual situation and to know the responses of participants to gauge their current stress level, the effect of stress on their performance and their ability to cope up with the stress. The situation provided was the b-school experience that all of them are going through. B-school life is significantly different from the past experiences at the graduation level and in various organizations. B-school life is extremely hectic and time-management is of significant importance. It is an environment very conducive to stress and hence questions were based on things like were the participants happy to join XL, do they have slightest of the regret, has their life-style changed significantly, has their level of commitment and the level of performance been affected, has the general level of stress increased, so on and so forth. The questions were indirect based so as to get a non-biased response and also to dig into the actual thought process of the participants.
Findings of the study and Generalization
The findings of the study were quite interesting and were as follows:
The participants who were perceived to be of high stress category showed similar life-style and thinking pattern. They more or less showed similar behaviors like suffered from difficulty with sleeping, find it hard to concentrate on things, had a short-tempered nature, liked to do things very fast and finish it early, always tried to multi-task, had a less self-control, overreact to petty conflicts, could get easily frustrated, always complaint of lack of time, had signs of headache, back and neck pain and last of all could not enjoy life not knowing how to relax. The participants who were perceived to be having very low stress levels showed opposite traits. Though few of the questions were positively answered but the overall trend showed opposite characters of high-stressed people. This shows that type A personality people are more vulnerable to stress as most of the behavior mentioned above are matching with that of Type A people. Similarly Type B people are less vulnerable to stress.
Type A personality kind get bothered easily by the fact that they do not have enough authority at their workplace and get stressed out because of it. For another kind, job responsibility is of prime importance and doesn't care about the authority. The participants who were perceived to be vulnerable to stress assigned a lot of importance to adequate acknowledgement or appreciation for their job and if not given, get stressed out easily. On the other hand, the second kind was indifferent to the amount of appreciation but believed in doing their job well. Thus, we see that it is very necessary to keep the employee motivated by appreciation to keep their stress level under control.
Generally the people who are vulnerable to stress are never satisfied with their job. High levels of job stress reduces job satisfaction which leads to again more stress, thus both job stress and satisfaction are inter-related. The participants who felt that their workplace environment was not pleasant assigned it as a significant factor affecting the job performance.
Another interesting fact was observed from the study. 3 out of 5 participants agreed to have frequent arguments with superiors, co-workers or customers at workplace and all of them agreed to have frequent arguments with their family members and friends especially after they have started doing job. This clearly indicates that personal life is highly affected by stress at workplace. Also, when asked to the participants, they agreed for reverse to be also true that stress at home due to certain personal problems has a significant effect over job performance. Thus it is very necessary for organization to know about the family of the employees and allow him to maintain a work-life balance.
The participants showing high level of stress considered absenteeism as a stress-relieving mechanism. One of the participants also agreed to restrain himself from going to work because he felt he would be unable to cope up with the job requirements.
The participants were given a situation where they are working in their dream job but the job being extremely demanding, they could not find any time to socialize, spend time with their family and hardly time to sleep. The participants with high levels of stress said that they will look for a different job with a similar profile or would suppress their desires and go for a less demanding job. The stress free people however said they would continue in the same job without any regrets or stay in the job because of continuance commitment.
All the participants agreed that stress is an influential factor in influencing antisocial behavior. The people with high stress levels agreed to have been involved in antisocial behavior at their workplace like one erasing the entire database while other involved in stealing stationery items.
When asked regarding the most influential and the least influential job stressor at workplace while working individually or in groups, 2 out of 5 said that role conflict and ambiguity can result in lot of stress, while the rest decided on relationship with others, workload pressure and performance pressure to be biggest stressor. Majority agreed workload pressure to be the least influential stressor.
All the participants were given a common situation of joining XLRI and effect of the change in their lifestyle and habits on the stress levels and their performance in this one and a half month period. The findings were very interesting. Stress has a lot of influence over the performance of everyone. Everyone agrees on the fact that a certain level of stress is essential for high performance. Also the people who were perceived to be stress free agreed upon the fact that their performance has increased after coming to XL as compared to their previous graduation or work-ex days while one with already high levels of stress feels their performance and commitment towards work has deteriorated. Almost everyone of them feels the surprise quizzes to be more stressful rather than exciting and feels they are not able to perform well due to lack of preparation which is primarily due to lack of time. Staying away from their loved ones is also a stressor for 2 of them while few said that they are not able to maintain balance between academics, extra-curricula's and leisure which is causing the stress to build up. A type A kind agreed that impulsiveness or completing the task as soon as possible is an influential factor for his bad performance in quizzes. Unhealthy and unbalanced diet is the worst thing they like about the place which is a big stressor for almost all of them.
Some of the most stress-causing situations or stressful situations faced by participants are listed to bring into light the factors which sometimes considered irrelevant but have a significant effect on group dynamics and job performance.
Unable to meet self-expectation or doing sub-standard job
Insufficient information or data regarding the job
Colleagues taking away stationery and not returning back.
Inconsiderate working towards each other.
Over interfering boss (e.g. call in every 15 minutes to know the status of the job)
Assignment of incomplete work of others.
Psychological trauma of colleague receiving pink-slip.
Working on Sundays and holidays.
Implication of Group Work
Stress can have a significant effect on the individual behavior as well as group dynamics and the overall group behavior.
Effects of Stress on individual behavior:
The people become highly distressed and irritable due to which he is neither able to concentrate on his work nor he is able to relax to get energized.
Logical thinking ability is severely affected and decision making power almost reduces to zero which finally reduces their work commitment and job involvement.
Difficult to maintain work-life balance when under stress and get influenced under bad habits like smoking, drinking or other harmful drugs.
A stressed individual generally becomes short-tempered and is not able to enjoy his work deteriorating his performance severely.
A stressed individual experiences serious physical problems, such as heart disease, digestive system disorders, increases in blood pressure, headaches, etc.
Effects of Stress on Group behavior and Organizational behavior:
A group consisting of type A and type B kind of people can be very unstable. Seeing at their individual traits, there are high chances of intra-group conflicts, delay of work impairing the performance and productivity.
Stress results in increase in absenteeism because an individual feels he would not be able to meet up with job requirements or he would feign something like illness to avoid the stress at work place.
Decision making capability of group under stress will be very low
The chances of antisocial behavior increases exponentially with increase in stress as people try to take wrong means to let off their anger and stress.
Due to poor performance, complaints from clients and customers increase damaging the organization's image internally and externally.
Actions by stressed workers can lead to increase in liability to legal claims thus resulting in losses to organizations.
The final action of a stressed individual would be to move away from the organization if he is not able to handle the stress anymore thus resulting in high turnover rate for company.
Contribution to OB
Various aspects of stress are tried to be covered in this study and the interviews with different kinds of individuals has given us deeper insights into the effects of stress on an individual and organizational behavior. It has also given certain preliminary solutions; organizations could adopt to counter the harmful effects of stress which reduces the overall effectiveness and productivity of organizations.
Clear and precise information regarding organizational practices, role of the individual in the structure and complete understanding of the job.
Jobs should be allotted to persons based on their interest area and competencies.
Balanced workload to every individual.
Structuring groups according to similar behavior and personality types.
Socializing is a key requirement of an individual and the best stress-buster.
In the subsequent studies, ways to prevent stress in organization and issues on stress management can be studied in details.
Stress as a behavior and its impact on the individual, group and the organizational levels was studied. Stress in scientific terminology is simply defined as force applied per unit cross-sectional area. It is not much different in behavioral terminology. The force acting can be all the external force which has the capability of disturbing your equilibrium state while the area is the level of tolerance which is governed by your values, attitude, belief system and the overall personality. Stress can be reduced either by reducing the magnitude of external forces or by increasing the tolerance area. Stress and job performance are totally inter-related with one affecting the other. Hence, the study of stress as a behavior becomes extremely critical for the overall job performance and organizational development.