What are the effects of work-related stress, and how can it be reduced?
In the daily basis activities, it is undeniable that people are getting even more stressed. Similarly, in today’s competitive business environment, employers and employees are getting more stressed due to so many factors such as performing the jobs that are physically and mentally demanding, unsupportive working environment and some other issues that can lead to occupational-related stress. The notion of work-stress is very crucial to be put into account, due to the reason that all of the jobs in the world exclusively cause stress (Usman et al., 2011, p. 203). Stress often refers to a bad feeling of anxiety when people cannot deal with their personal and social issues. There are so many people who cannot deal with stress, which may eventually lead them to physical or mental illness. Meanwhile, there are a lot of organisations who their main organisational purpose is to promote the idea of a healthy and safe workforce.
In academia furthermore, there has been a lot of research on the area of work-related stress, what causes the stress itself and how to tackle them as well as things that can be undertaken to reduce the risks of stress (Sauter et al., 2002; Schaufeli & Kompier, 2001, cited in Cox, Karanika, Griffiths and Houdmont, 2007, p. 349; Usman, Ahmed, Ahmed and Akbar, 2011, p. 202; Cox 1993, cited in Cousins, Mackay, Clarke, Kelly, Kelly and McCaig, 2004, p. 114). This is very important because the concerns of “employee health and well-being have gained increasing societal attention” (Smith, Karsh, Carayon & Conway, 2003, cited in Nixon, Mazzola, Bauer, Krueger and Spector, 2011, p. 1; Belkic, Landbergis, Schnall and Baker, 2004; Ferrie, Westerlund, Virtanen, Vahtera and Kivimaki, 2008, cited in Bloom, Geurts, Taris, Sonnentag, Weeth and Kompier, 2010, p. 198) and have also thibecome a serious concern in today’s business environment. It is said that workplace conflict is considered to be one of the most potent stressors in working life (Bolger, Delongis, Kessler, & Schilling, 1989; Newton & Keenan, 1985, cited in Dijkstra, Beersma and Evers, 2011, p. 169).
The aim of this essay is to discuss the notion of stress in occupational environment. First of all, this paper will attempt to provide definition as to what stress is. As this essay will also examine the effects of stress in working environment, it is fundamental for this essay to provide background information on stressors, which are factors that can cause stress. The effects of stress on both individuals and the entire organisation will also be delivered. Furthermore, relevant methods that can be used to cope with stress will be discussed.
The term stress is often referred to have negative impacts. The general notion of stress is simply having a bad felling when people are anxious because they cannot deal with their internal and external problems. These can be personal issues, family-related problems or even in broader circumstance, social relationship. There are factors that lead to stress. These factors are called stressors, which refer to things that can cause strains (Lepine, Podsakoff and Lepine, 2005, p. 764). “Strains include psychological, physical and behavioural reactions such as anxiety, exhaustion, depression and burnout” (Jex, 1998, cited in Lepine et al., 2005, p. 764; Nixon, Mazzola, Bauer, Krueger and Spector, 2011, p. 2). According to Lazarus (1966, 1999; Lazarus and Folkman 1984, cited in Carver and Smith, 2010, p. 684), stress is evident when people encounter a difficult situation where they cannot deal with, or the difficulties area higher than their ability to manage them. In addition to this, Carver and Smith (2010, p. 684) argue that a person can be really stressful when they have to cope with “obstacles or impediment or looming threat”.
There are a lot of factors that can cause stress in the workplace. The first critical stressor is workplace bullying, which refers to a situation where “negative acts are systematically directed at one or more employees over a period of time” (Einarsen, Hoel, Zapf, & Cooper, 2003, cited in Baillien, Rodriguez-Munoz, Broeck and Witte, 2011, p. 128; Heames, Harvey and Treadway, 2006, p. 348). It has long been assumed that stressful working condition may eventually lead to the development of workforce bullying (Leymann, 1996, cited in Hauge, Skogstad and Einarsen, 2009, p. 349). Leymann believed that bullying in workplaces may relate to both the personality of targeted individuals and the perpetrators. What this means is that when the targeted individuals indicate “weakness” such as “shyness” and “low social skills” (Einarsen, Raknes, & Matthiesen, 1994; Zapf, 1999, cited in Baillien et al., 2011, p. 129) the perpetrators will use this opportunity to bully them.
In the case of workforce bullying, the targeted individuals will in a sense be in the situation of inferiority, while the perpetrators become more superior (Einarsen and Skogstad, 1996, cited in Baillien et al., 2011, p. 128; Brodsky, 1976, cited in Hauge, Skogstad and Einarsen, 2009, p. 350). The reason behind this can probably be the age gap, level of seniority or having a higher position in the organisation (Hauge et al., 2009, p. 352) as well as gender issue (The Pearson, 1999, cited in Heames et al., 2006, p. 349). This often occurs when employers or even senior employees see themselves as having more experience and knowledge as well as the feeling of superiority. The targeted individuals are in a sense controlled by perpetrators in the way that they have to do and follow what the perpetrators ask them to do. Another case is that individuals who are being bullied in the workplace are not allowed to give opinion and having said their thoughts.
Furthermore, diversity in workplace also contributes to occupational related stress. Spataro (2002, cited in Heames et al., 2006, p. 349) argue that in the organisations, diversity is a very hard issue to deal with, as it is hard to integrate individuals with different attitudes, family background, social status, educational background, personal values and religious believes into teamwork. This will often create conflicts and may eventually lead to a distressful situation. In terms of diversity in religious beliefs for instance, Adventist employees may consider Saturday as the day when they should not work, meanwhile other religion may see Saturday as a normal day where people can go to work regardless whatever it takes. The stress will arise when managers require them to work on Saturday, by which they are pushed into a dilemma, where working on Sabbath is religiously forbidden but on the other hand, they may lose their job if they refuse to.
Another factor is job security. “Job insecurity can be one of the more important stressors in employment situations’’ (Hartley, Jacobson, Klandermans, and van Vuuren, 1991, cited Hansson, Vingard, Arnetz and Anderzen, 2008, p. 70). Furthermore, Lazarus and Folkman (1984, cited in Hansson et al., 2008, p. 70) believed that feeling of job insecurity can potentially have both direct and long-term negative implications. Direct stress implication can be in a form of carrier dissatisfaction and may affect employees’ involvement and participation within the organisation (De Cuyper & De Witte, 2007, cited in Hansson et al., 2008, p. 70). The long term consequence involves continuous frustration and lack of effective dealing strategy. One practical example of this stressor would be when an employee in an organisation has very limited skills and knowledge in performing the organisational tasks. The feeling of job insecurity will exist simply because there could be thousands of job seekers out there who are very competitive and have the skills and high standard knowledge that employers need. In this sense, the employee will encounter the situation where they may lose their job. They can easily get frustrated by the fact that they have to find a new job which is considerably difficult in today’s competitive business world.
Furthermore, Usman, Ahmed, Ahmed and Akbar (2011, p. 202) believed that the effects of globalisation in this contemporary business world can also promote stress. This refers to the idea that business world is getting more competitive, by which companies will also have to increase their organisational performances. To achieve this, employees are forced to perform far beyond the companies’ expectations. This will be a stressful situation because job pressure is getting higher and physically and psychologically demanding.
Additionally, Nixon et al. (2001, p. 1) argue that occupational-related stress can occur because workers are uncertain with what their roles are, regarding what they should do and what they should not do. Role ambiguity occurs when an employee experiences some degree of uncertainty and unclear direction on performing particular organisational tasks (Robbins et al.,2009; Fry et al., 1986; Johnston et al., 1990a; Netemeyer et al., 1990; Sager, 1994, cited in Usman et al., 2011, p. 204). The potential conflict can be in a form of confusion as to who is doing what or which, as well as what the organisations expect from them in terms of achieving the organisational goals. This role ambiguity may eventually result in job stress. The authors also added that long working hours, workload and inadequate control skills will potentially promote stress.
Stress can have negative effects on both individuals and the organisations as a whole. In regards to its effects on the individuals, “stress can have negative effects on individual’s mental and physical health (Health and Safety Executive, 2001; Cooper et al., 2001, cited in Johnson, Cooper, Cartwright, Donald, Taylor and Millet, 2005, p. 178; Sverke et al., 2002, cited in Hansson et al., 2008, p. 70). Stress can cause “physical symptoms” such as headache, eye strain, sleeping disturbance and stomach distress” (Nixon et al., 2011, p. 2). However, authors did not mention that the effects of stress on individuals can be even more severe than those. In a lot of cases, there are employees who end up committing suicide because the job is physiologically and psychologically frustrating and the level of stress is just too high and they cannot manage to deal with it.
In addition to this, occupational related stress also affects individuals’ mental and psychological well-being (Hauge et al., 2009, p. 350). They believed that stressor individuals encounter in the workforce may reinforce negative feelings and emotions within themselves, which may potentially lead them to be emotionally aggressive towards other people. Spector and Fox (2005, cited in Hauge et al., 2009, p. 350) added that role ambiguity, role conflict and poor interpersonal communication skill may potentially cause individuals to engage in aggressive behaviour. Furthermore, job-related stress is said to have a positive relationship with job satisfaction. Landsbergis (1988; Fletcher and Payne, 1980, cited in Usman et al., 2011, p. 204) argue that if the level of work stress is higher, the level of job satisfaction will be low. This means that job dissatisfaction is the result of stressful working environment because workers who are under a stressful situation are not normally satisfied with their job.
In relation to its effects on the organisational performance, stress is strongly linked to organisational commitment and participation. It is hard for individuals who experience too much stress to stay in the organisation. If employees experience too much stressful situation in the organisation, they would consider themselves to quit and leave the company. It is evident that turnover intention has a very strong and positive relationship with occupational-related stress (Zhang and Lee, 2010, p. 268). They argue that organisational lost due to employees resigning their job can be even higher. This is because when the workers quit, the organisation will have to consider finding new employees, hire trainers to train them along with the administrative costs that will come across. This will eventually lead to the decrease in the quality of organisational performance, and may also lead to poor customer satisfaction.
There are varieties of different ways that people can undertake to minimise the effects of occupational-related stress. Different personalities would have different point of views on managing themselves in regards to minimising the negative implications of workforce-related stress. Firstly, individuals have to have the right and positive perception towards themselves (Treven, 2010, p. 1). What this means is that people should believe in themselves and be confident that they have the ability and the capacity to manage conflicts. Individuals who have higher confidence and self esteem tend to react to stress more positively than those who have negative perception towards themselves (Davis et al, 2000, cited in Treven, 2010, p. 1). Another important aspect is “control, cope and problem-solving conflict management” (Dikjstra et al., 2011, p. 170). They argue that coping behaviour is very beneficial if individuals are able to control their level of stress. In this case, individuals focus on their problems with clear mind so that they can be in charge of the conflicts and not be controlled by them (Aspinwall & Taylor, 1992, cited in Dikjstra et al., 2011, p. 170).
Individuals can have personal methods in coping with occupational-related stress. According to Treven (2010, p. 2), this methods can be regular physical exercises such as walking, jogging, swimming, and cycling. These exercises can improve breathing quality, self efficiency, discipline and overall well-being. In addition to this meditation is also important in balancing and relaxing the body, mind and soul.
Managers play pivotal roles in helping their subordinates to reduce the risks of stress (Lepine, Podsakoff and Lepine, 2005, p. 770). They said that managers can promote communicative activities to reduce physical strain, getting more involved in social relationship with workers through providing some time off for exercising and relaxation. Lepine et al., also added that managers could facilitate training on how to deal with organisational challenges and how to prioritise assignments. Furthermore, it is also important to maintain positive sense of social belonging and identity (Fiske, 1992, cited in Dijkstra, Beersma and Evers, 2011, p. 168). This can be done through creating a better relationship and maintaining stronger ties with others (Baumeister, 1995, cited in Dijkstra et al., 2011, p. 168). Another important aspect is to have “key partner” in handling the work-related stress (Health and Safety Commission, 2000, cited in Cousins, MacKay, Clarke, Kelly, Kelly and McCaig, 2004, p. 115). What this means is basically having someone to talk to about the conflicts, ask them for opinion and advice so that individuals can have friends whom they can share their burdens with.
In conclusion, work-related stress always exists in organisations. This is simply because all jobs cause stress. It is found that people are even more stressed with their occupations than they were. It has been discussed that there are varieties of different factors that can induce stress in working environment. Workforce bullying for instance, is said to be a critical stressor. It occurs when some particular employers and employee have the feeling of being more superior and influential than others in the organisations. This superiority can be in a form of age gap, having more knowledge and experience, higher position and gender. Stress can also be caused by diversity, where different attitudes and social values may result in organisational conflicts which will eventually lead to stress. Job insecurity is another example of stressor, where individuals are forced to perform beyond the limits to meet the organisational expectations. If they do not, they may potentially lose their carrier. This high pressure will promote stress and depression. Role ambiguity also contributes to stress, where individuals are having some degree of uncertainty on what tasks they should do and what the organisations expect from them. Work-related stress can affect both the individuals and organisations. The effects on individuals can be physical symptoms such as headache and sleeping disturbance. Psychologically, individuals will be emotionally aggressive which will cause them to engage in aggressive behaviour towards other people. The effects on organisations can be linked to turnover intention, by which employees will consider to leave the organisation if they feel too much stress throughout their career. After all, there are varieties of different methods that can be used to minimise the risks of job-related stress. Regular physical exercises such as jogging, walking, cycling and swimming can be very effective. These activities help to improve breathing quality, self efficiency and discipline. Recreation such as picnics and fishing are also beneficial. Above all, it is the individuals themselves who have to have the right and positive self perception. Having high self confidence self esteem are crucial when dealing with critical and stressful situations.
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