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Organisational Behaviour - Stress in Organisations

Assignment 1

Why should Managers be concerned with the issue of stress in organisations? What are the causes and consequences of work-related stress?


Managers should be concerned with the issue of stress in organisations as the effects of stress can be costly, to both the individual and the organisation. Work-related stress can be attributed to the demands made on employees. The demands are called Stressors. Stressors produce physiological and psychological reactions. These reactions in turn have consequences, both for the employee and the organisation. An example of a negative consequence for an organisation would be an increase in absenteeism. Effective management of stress will determine whether the effect on employees and the organisation is positive or negative.

What is stress?

In order to answer this question, we will look at definitions of stress. Stress is the emotional response, typically consisting of fear and/or anxiety and associated physical symptoms, resulting from: (a) The appraisal of an object, situation, outcome, or idea, as threatening to ones physical or psychological well-being or self-esteem;

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(b) The implicit belief that action needs to be taken to deal with the threat thus producing conflict; and (c) The uncertainty regarding ones ability to successfully identify and carry out the requisite action (Brief & Nord, 1990:143-4).

The Australian Pocket Oxford Dictionary (1976:813) defines stress as: Pressure, tension, strain; force exerted between continuous bodies or parts.

Stress can also be defined as: An adaptive response, mediated by individual differences and/or psychological processes, that is a consequence of any action, situation or event that places special demands on a person (Ivancevich et al., 1997:208).

The word stress means different things to different people. To the Engineer, stress denotes a force which deforms bodies. To the business executive, stress is a necessary motivator, for without stress, employees would not work effectively (Deakin, 2001:4-3). This last statement indicates that stress can have positive effects on an individual.

In order to further understand the consequences of stress, it is beneficial to look at the General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS) concept developed by Dr Hans Selye. The general adaptive syndrome (GAS) is the human system that stimulates defences designed to help the body adjust or deal with stressors (Deakin, 2001:4-5). There are three stages of the individuals response. The first stage is the Alarm Stage. This is the initial response to the stressor. The brain sends a biochemical message to all of the bodys systems. Some of the effects include: an increase in respiration, blood pressure increases, pupils dilate and muscles tense up. The second stage is the resistance stage. This is where fatigue, anxiety and tension increase if the stressor continues. Because the person becomes fatigued, they can become more prone to illness. The third stage and final stage is exhaustion. Continued exposure to the same stressor can cause a person to become exhausted. The following

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statement on the effects of GAS, further reinforces the negative consequences of continued exposure to stress: The more frequently a person is alarmed, resists and becomes exhausted by work, non-work or the interaction of these activities, the more susceptible he or she becomes to fatigue, disease, aging and other negative consequences (Invacevich et al., 1997:210).

This is clearly a concern for Managers, as stress in organisations could cause a high level of absenteeism if employees succumb to disease as a result of continued stress. Managers also need to be aware that exhaustion could lead to lower performance, which may lead to lower productivity. This is another negative consequence of stress.

What are the causes of work related stress? Work stressors include group and organisational factors, the physical environment and individual factors (Ivancevich et al., 1997:230). Group factors include having a good relationship with other members in the team. Relationships that include conflict could be a source of stress for employees. Managers would need to be aware of this issue. Participation in decision making can also lead to stress in some individuals. Research shows that increased participation results in role overload, an additional source of stress for individuals (Ivancevich et al., 1997:213). Organisational Structure may be a factor that causes stress. Employees that work in less rigidly structured organisations may perform better, have higher job satisfaction and experience less stress than those employees that work in more formally structured organisations (Ivancevich et al., 1997:213). The level of an employee in an organisation may also have an effect on stress levels. A number of studies have examined the relationship of organisational level to health effects. The majority of these studies suggest the notion that the risk of contracting such health problems of heart disease increases with organisational level (Ivancevich et al., 1997:213).

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The physical environment that employees work in can cause stress. Some examples are extreme temperatures, working with toxic chemicals, physical overexertion and noisy environments. Role conflict, role ambiguity and work overload, or having too much work to do may also cause stress. Role ambiguity occurs when the job role is not clear and the person does not have a clear picture of the boundaries within which they are required to operate. A manager should set clear expectations in this area to avoid this problem. Work overload can be a cause of stress. Quantitative overload is having too many tasks to perform, or not enough time to perform the tasks of the role. From a health standpoint, studies as far back as 1958 established that quantitative overload might cause biochemical changes, specifically elevations in blood cholesterol levels (Ivancevich et al.,1997:215). Another type of work overload is Qualitative overload. This occurs when individuals feel that the performance measures or standards of the role are too high, or that they dont have the skills to perform the role. Managers need to be aware that overload can occur so that they can take steps to modify job descriptions in order to reduce overload.

Some jobs are more stressful than others , hence the type of job that we do can also be a cause of stress. For example, one study supports the hypothesis that job responsibility for people contributes to job related stress: The more responsibility for people reported, the more likely the employee was to smoke heavily, have high blood pressure and show elevated cholesterol levels. Conversely, the more responsibility for things the employee reported, the lower were these indicators (Ivancevich et al., 1997:215). Examples of jobs that involve responsibility for others are teaching, medical practice, and social work.

Concerns about career development can also cause stress. The five following aspects of career development seem to be a common cause of stress: under promotion, over promotion, lack of job security, thwarted ambitions and success (Deakin 1997:4-7). A further cause of stress with regard to careers is obsolescence. This could occur when a particular job is no longer necessary to the organisation. For example, the implementation of new

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technology may have made the job redundant. Managers that are aware of these issues could take action and discuss short term and long term career plans with their staff.

It is important for Managers to also consider the stress that employees can suffer in their personal lives. Events such as the Death of a spouse or Divorce can cause stress. The hassles that we experience on a daily basis, such as travelling in traffic or preparing meals can also cause stress. These stressors are intertwined with our work stressors. The distinction between stress at work and home is an artificial one at best (Ivancevich at el., 1997:210). This has clear implications for an organisation. A person that has experienced stress at home may not be able to cope with additional stress at work. It is important for Management to understand that family responsibility can affect productivity at work.

A persons perception can determine the way they handle a stressful situation. Managers may prefer to hire a person with an optimistic outlook as they may be able to cope more effectively with a stressful job: Individuals with a positive outlook actively attempt to control their environment and to reduce the stress that they experience (Ivancevich et al., 1997:221). Social Support is another important area for Managers to consider as research has shown that social support can have positive effects on reducing job stress. In a sample of over 300 police officers and fire fighters, the researchers found that social support buffered the effects of job stress on physical health complaints (Ivancevich et al., 1997:221).

What are the consequences of Work Related Stress?

Stress can have positive and negative consequences: Stress is not always useful as a response to mental and emotional stressors. A mild level of stress can provide a sense of excitement and help people perform at their peak. Severe stress can fill people with worry and prevent effective behaviour. Stress that lasts a long time can weaken health and interfere with happiness (World Book Encyclopaedia CD Millennium 2000:stress).

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Positive consequences include increasing a persons motivation and creativity. However, the organisational implications of stress tend to be negative. Some of the negative factors of stress on the organisation could include; higher absenteeism, low productivity, job dissatisfaction, alienation from co-workers, reduced organisational commitment and loyalty, decline in work and working excessive hours (Deakin 1997:4-12). All of these factors would be of great concern to management in an organisation as they would impact on the productivity of the organisation. Managers should be concerned with the issue of stress in organisations due to the high costs associated with stress in the workplace. One of the major negative impacts is cost associated with lost time due to stress. According to Australias National Safety Council, stress is costing Australian Industry and commerce A$1.4 billion a year in lost work time (Carlin & Farnell 1985)(Deakin 1997:4-3).

Another consequence of work related stress is Job Burnout. This can occur when an individual has a high degree of commitment to their job. Staff may suffer emotional exhaustion and feelings of low achievement. This creates a dilemma for Management where the people that are committed to the organisation are suffering from work overload and eventually start to become less effective.

There are individual and organisational based strategies that can be used to minimise the impact of stress in the workplace. Managers that are aware of these strategies could use them to minimise the effects of stress. Individual strategies include using relaxation techniques, and having a healthy lifestyle. Research shows that when individuals engage in regular exercise, they are better able to cope with stress in their lives: when faced with stressful events they are less likely to become ill than individuals who do not exercise regularly (Ivacevich et al., 1997:229). This is a great reason for having an employer sponsored exercise program in the workplace or even a privately owned Gym located within the building. Organisation based strategies may include; using the participative approach in decision making, providing clear Job descriptions and career planning, matching people to

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the demands and requirements of the job, regular team meetings, good communication within the organisation, and introducing stress management programmes for employees. An example of an organisation based strategy is the Employee Assistance Program. The program is run by an external provider. Staff have access to counselling services, either by phone or by a visit to the provider. The Telstra Intranet site describes the goal of the program This program is designed to assist in identifying and resolving work related and personal problems that might impact on well-being and productivity (EAP,

Conclusion Stress can develop and motivate employees, however it can also have negative consequences. Some employees need stress to operate at their peak, however too much stress can have harmful effects. The causes of stress can be a combination of work and personal factors. Managers need to be aware of the causes and consequences of work related stress and personal factors so that they can support their people in the management of stress. Managers can encourage employees to use stress management programs in order to minimise the effects of stress. By managing stress in the organisation, managers can prevent burning out the high performers and reduce the harmful effects of stress on other employees. The Manager needs to understand the issue of stress in organisations, as the effects of stress can be costly, in dollar terms, to both the individual and the organisation.


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Ivancevich, J., Olekalns M. and Matteson, M (1997) Organisational Behaviour and Management, Irwin, Australia.

Brief, A., and Nord, W. (1990) Meanings of Occupational Work, Lexington Books, Canada.

World Book inc (1999) World Book Encyclopaedia CD Millennium 2000 International Standard English Edition.

Melbourne Oxford University Press (1997) The Australian Pocket Oxford Dictionary, Oxford University Press, Australia.

EAP LTD Intranet , Australia

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