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Occupational Stress A Global Phenomenon Psychology Essay

1701 words (7 pages) Essay in Psychology

5/12/16 Psychology Reference this

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Occupational stress is becoming increasingly a global phenomenon, affecting all categories of labor throughout the world. It has an enormous effect on the organizational behavior in a company. One side of the problem is that stress on the work place threatens workers to suffer mental or physical health problems, but another is that it can affect the bottom line of a business. Productivity can be largely affected by the level of stress that the workers are experiencing. Because of its economical significance, organizations should be very concerned about occupational stress, and should try to actively manage its levels. The goal of this research paper is to examine the relationship between stress and job performance. Studies show that some degree of occupational stress is desirable and increases job performance, but in very high levels it can have a devastating impact on person’s ability to do his or her job. By examining sources of stress, its effects, and how the individual copes with the stress experienced, the paper will try to determine a level of occupational stress that may be desirable by organizations. The paper will also describe approaches that are made by progressive organizations in helping employees manage stress levels better.

Stress is increasingly recognized as one of the major causes of mental and physical sufferings of individuals in the contemporary society. Although the term stress is being used by many people, the scientific definition is not understood by most of them. Stress is a universal phenomenon affecting every living creature. It can be defined as a dynamic condition in which an individual is confronted with an opportunity, a demand, or a resource related to what the individual desires and for which the outcome is both uncertain and important. [1] Stress on the workplace is mostly associated with a mismatch between the demands and the resources. Demands are the responsibilities, obligations and pressures that an individual faces at work (high workloads, role overload, role conflict, time pressure). An individual makes use of all the available resources, such as social support, performance feedback, autonomy, in order to resolve a demand. If demands are greater than the resources available, stress occurs.

But stress doesn’t necessarily have a negative effect. Some level of stress is a necessary part of our lives. The absence of stress can be viewed as death. There is a substantial amount of research on the stress – performance relationship. Most of it concludes that it has an inverted U-shape. [2] This means that some level of stress can actually improve job performance. These moderate levels of stress can be even healthy, because they increase our ability to react. This is viewed as good stress. But when the amount of stress experienced reaches some optimal point, job performance starts rapidly declining, leading to exhaustion and breakdown. After this point the individual is not able to meet the job demands with the recourses available. This results show that managers should actively manage the levels of stress, because it is one of the most significant factors affecting performance. [3] The absence of such management may lead to large economic losses. But if appropriate stress management is applied the U-shaped curve can be straightened, increasing the optimal point of stress, after which performance starts declining, and in this way enhancing it.

Now let’s turn to the potential sources of stress. More generally they can be categorized in three groups: environmental, organizational, and personal. [4] The environmental sources of stress are technological, economical, and political. The technological uncertainty deals with the continuous innovation in technology and the inability of the individual to keep up and adapt to it. Economic sources of stress are concerned with the changes in the business cycles and economic growth. Economic crisis is one of the biggest stressors for an individual, because when the economy is contracting workers are not sure of their finances, whether they will be able to remain employed, etc. Political instability is the third type of environmental sources of stress. It is comes from the unexpected changes in the national and international politics.

Stress can arise also from the organization itself. Working conditions can be a major stress source for the employees. People working in noisy, crowded, polluted, or dangerous conditions tend to be subject to more stress. Task demands are also a potential source of occupational stress. They are connected to job characteristics. Poorly designed tasks and task overload are possible stressors in an organization. Role ambiguity and role overload are other sources of stress. They occur when the role is not clearly defined or understood, and when the role expectations are not matched with adequate time to be completed. Interpersonal pressures arising from other employees can cause stress on the workplace. Throughout its life a business undergoes different cycles. Two of them, the birth and the decline of a firm, are connected with a great deal of uncertainty, and thus can be very stressful for the workers.

Although this paper is concerned with occupational stress, the personal sources of stress should be also included. A person experiencing high levels of stress outside the organization tends to be more vulnerable to stress inside it. Main personal factors are concerned with the family, social and economical status, and relationship with others.

As there are very different sources of stress in an organization the consequences of stress are various. In general one can group the effects of job related stress as follows: physiological, psychological, and behavioral. [5] The common thing is that all these effects directly influence important organizational performance variables, such as productivity, turnover, absenteeism, and motivation. Physiological and health related effects may result in: high blood sugar, increased heart rate and blood pressure, or even heart attacks. Psychological symptoms of job related stress are depression, aggression, boredom, anxiety, and fatigue. On a behavioral level stress is the source of inability of making decisions, low concentration, or even alcohol and drug abuse.

The organizational stress can have, in extreme cases, a distinct expression in the form of the so called “burnout”. “Burnout” appears after prolonged action of stressful factors and leads to emotional exhaustion, loss of interest in the job, sense of helplessness. The burnout is a long-term effect of occupational stress, which appears in highly bureaucratic organizations in which the individual feels that he cannot change anything. It is the result of no active management of the stress levels in an organization. In terms of organizational performance variables it leads to lower job satisfaction and productivity. [6] 

But the above consequences are not the only reason that occupational stress should be considered by managers. It also has a large economic significance in terms of costs for the organization. Some of them are: accumulated costs from decreased productivity, higher replacement costs due to turnover, and increase in the sick-pay. The problem is that it is almost impossible to calculate these costs and directly account them as induced by occupational stress. This is probably why not many companies are actively managing its levels in the organization.

All these negative effects of occupational stress show the need of stress management strategies in the company. The variety of techniques to deal with stress can mainly be categorized into two basic approaches – individual and organizational. The individual strategies are those that can be used by employees in order to reduce or eliminate stress. Organizational approaches, in turn, are programs and techniques that organizations implement to successfully manage the stress levels in a company. Despite such differentiation of management strategies, it should be clear that employees and management must take joint responsibility for the prevention of stress and eliminate its harmful effects. This mutual process is the underlying effective technology for dealing with stress. It is important to note that in dealing with stress, managers should consider the individual personality traits of their employees. Overall the difference between people concerning stress can be expressed by the concept of the so called stress threshold. It is a subjective characteristic that describes the threshold of sensitivity to different stressors. Individuals have different internal resources to cope with stressful situations. Threshold stress depends primarily on the following personality factors: temperament, self-experience, individual differences, etc.

As each individual experiences stress and responds to stressors differently, appropriate stress management technique should be applied. Owen Moran, a health educator at Concordia University (Canada), has developed a 5-step framework that can help individuals in coping with stress. [7] The steps are as follows:

Step 1: Identify if a person is stressed

Step 2: Identify the stressor(s)

Step 3: Determine the reason for this stressors

Step 4: Select and apply an appropriate stress management strategy

Step 5: Evaluate the results

The most famous individual stress management strategies are designed to improve the physical condition of the person. These physical techniques include stretching exercises, breathing exercises, meditation. Diets also can help people in handling stress. By avoiding alcohol, tobacco, caffeine people are reducing their vulnerability to stressors. In addition to these factors rest is also very important.

Other individual strategies for coping with stress include development of skills for more efficient working methods. Time management techniques for example are an effective method of dealing with stress due to overload or inefficiency in the workplace. Handling job-related problems by planning, budgeting, and proper time allocation is very helpful. These strategies depend largely on the commitment of the individual and his willingness to apply them regularly. Positive thinking is another behavioral technique.

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