Many people think that stress is a simple problem. Conversely, stress is complex and often misunderstood. Many definitions have been put across in trying to explain what stress is and what it entails. Stress refers to unfavourable reaction to excessive pressure or other types of demands on an individual (Spiers, 2003). It arises when a person perceives that he or she will not cope with those demands Organizational stress refers to harmful emotional and physical responses, which occur when the requirements of the job do not meet the resources, capabilities and needs of the worker. In general, terms, stress is a person’s adaptive response to a stimulus that places excessive pressure that may be physical or psychological (Cartwright & Cooper, 1997).
Causes of stress in an organization
As noted above, definition of stress tends to favour a transactional perspective. This shows that stress is not in the person or within his or her environment but in the relationship between the two. Therefore, stress arises from the overall transactional process. Causes of stress within an organization can be divided in to two broad categories, Organizational stressors and life stressors.
This refers to various factors within the organization that can cause stress. These include task demands, role demand and interpersonal demands.
Refers to stressors associated with the specific job a person performs. Generally, some jobs are by nature stressful than others. For example, a surgeon’s job is more stressful than an actuary’s job, because the former requires a lot of concentration takes many hours without breaks and is associated with high expectations. Security threats in a job are also task demands that can lead to stress. Some jobs pose a threat to the worker’s health and as a result lead to stress. For instance, coal mining and toxic waste handling, whereby the worker risks being infected or poisoned. People carrying out such jobs are likely to be stressed compared to those in jobs that have few health hazards (Spiers, 2003).
Security can also be in the form of permanency of a job, whereby an employee perceives that the future of his or her employment is not certain. A person in a relatively secure job is likely to worry about his or her job. However, if the security of the job is threatened then the stress levels will rise dramatically. For example stress levels within an organization always increase when the company is downsizing or during mergers. Work overload can also be a task demand that leads to stress. A person requires some level of pressure to reach an optimum level of performance, whereby they feel calm, creative and highly motivated to do a given job well. However, when the pressures exceed a person’s ability to meet the demand, then they will experience, burnouts, and exhaustions and may eventually collapse. Example of work overloads include having too much to do in the allowed time and a fast pace of work, which is mostly controlled by others or machines (Spiers, 2003).
One of role demands that lead to stress is role conflict, whereby the roles are clear, but contradictory or mutually exclusive. This can be in two aspects, inter-role conflict and personal role conflict. Inter-role conflict occurs when one is to meet the demands of two parties who have opposing requirements. For instance, a supervisor has been asked by the management to pressure the subordinates to stick to the new rules. On the other hand, the subordinate pressure the supervisor to have the same rules changed. There can also be personal role conflict, whereby a person is required to carry out a task that is against his values, beliefs or norms (Cartwright & Cooper, 1997).
This is another set of organizational stressors, which is divided in to three categories; group pressures, leadership and interpersonal conflict. Group pressures can lead to stress, whereby an individual is forced to meet the demands of a group. For instance, when one wants to associate with certain group in the organization he or she may feel pressured to meet its requirements, which might lead to stress. Leadership style can also be a cause of stress, whereby employees need a certain type of leadership, while the management uses another type. For instance, if employees need a supportive style of leadership, while the leader uses authoritative style. Lastly, interpersonal conflicts can lead to stress, which involves conflicting personalities and behaviours. For instance, one person may prefer to have a close control of how things are done, while the other wants freedom, and hence resulting in conflict, which increases stress levels (Spiers, 2003).
Apart from organizational stressors, there are also life stressors, which are causes of stress influenced by events outside the organization. Changes that happen in affects someone’s personal life cam lead to stress at work. For instance, loss of a spouse can lead to stress at the work place. Secondly, life trauma can also lead to stress at the workplace. This includes being diagnosed with a traumatic disease such as HIV Aids. Therefore, the worker will be stressed as he or she thinks of his or her uncertain future (Spiers, 2003).
Effects of work-related stress
Occupational stress can have a negative impact in a person’s life, the organization or other relationships he or she has outside the organization.
Effects on an individual
The effects of stress on an individual can be psychological, physical or behavioural. Psychological symptoms associated with stress are generally a normal occurrence. For instance, it is common experience for someone to feel anxious before a major presentation. However, it becomes abnormal when the feeling persists for a long time and one becomes chronically stressed. This might result in irritation, impatience, anger and other negative emotions such as depression and hopelessness (Cooper, Weinberg & Sutherland, 2010).
In addition to psychological impact, stress can lead to physical health on an individual. For instance, stress can weaken the immune system leading to increased susceptibility to illness. Prolonged stress can also make minor illness to become serious conditions. Lastly, stress has a negative impact on a person’s behaviour, because the behaviour patterns can change for worse. When people are unable to cope with pressures at work, their anger and frustration may be triggered by relatively small issues. Some of the stress victims can turn in to bullies, as a defensive mechanism. For instance, some managers can adopt intimidating style to maintain control in the organization (Cooper, Weinberg & Sutherland, 2010).
Effects on the organization
Organizations are also affected when stress levels go up within an organization. Some of the effects include employee absenteeism, low production and accidents. Previous researches have shown that over sixty percent of sickness absences at work are stress related. As an employee feels overwhelmed with job pressures, they often opt to miss work. This is costly to the organization, because the employees end up being paid for days they were not productive. Secondly, stress in organization leads to low production. Stress is infectious, and hence when one employee is stressed, he or she can pass it o other employees. As a result, the employees’ performance will decrease, which will in turn result in to reduced overall production of the company. Stress can also result in accidents at the work place. Stressed employees have low concentration and performance ability. Therefore, they can mismanage procedures and machines, which might lead to injuries as well as property losses (Cartwright & Cooper, 1997).
Stress management versus stress reduction
To manage stress effectively, it is important to differentiate it from stress reduction. Stress reduction refers to those techniques that produce a lowering of the unpleasant feeling associated with the pressures. This is a temporary measure, because stress levels are bound to rise again if the technique is not repeated at regular, close intervals. For instance, when one goes for massage only when he or she feels stressed, then this is a reducing technique, because the stress levels will always come up and the massage will only serve to reduce the levels. On the hand, stress management is a more comprehensive technique compared to stress reduction. Stress management involves lowering or eliminating the unpleasant feeling of strain, whereby a person’s feelings improve and are maintained at the same level. Therefore, stress management includes stress reduction techniques, which are done on a regular basis to reduce and maintain stress at lower levels (Nctmb, Ch & Fried, 2008).
Risk Management of Stress
Effective stress management program should capture the broader risk management process. Subsequently, any risk management methodology must take in account the nature and the effects of the stress. This involves some stages, which include, first, identification and assessment, followed by risk reduction or elimination, then there is monitoring the results and making necessary adjustments (Griffin & Moorhead, 2010.
Identification of causes and hazards
This involves finding out the sources of stress within an organization. It involves interviewing employees and observing their current behaviours to determine the stressors in the organization. In addition, the management can go through past stress experiences to find out the stressors that cannot be identified through observation and interviewing (Griffin & Moorhead, 2010.
Assessment of the causes and associated risks
This involves assessment of associated risks and the groups at risks. As noted in the stressors, stress is subjective. Therefore, it is not only enough to identify the causes, but is also important to categorize them. In addition, those stresses that are likely to happen are identified and those that have a relatively high impact are categorized. Some types of stress can have a higher likelihood of happening, but a small impact. On the other hand, some stresses rarely occur but when they do, they cost the organization greatly. For instance, loss of a spouse can lead to suicide of an employee, but they rarely occur (Nctmb, Ch & Fried, 2008).
Designing reasonable control strategies
The strategies can be grouped in to two broad categories, elimination strategies and reduction strategies. There are stresses that cannot be eliminated, but can only be reduced to lower levels. Some strategies involve avoiding operations that cause those stresses. For instance, stresses that are caused by pressures from informal groups can be eliminated by abolishing those groups. Therefore, members will not be striving to meet the demands of those groups. There are also countering strategies, whereby measures are put up to ease out the sources of stress. For instance, stresses that results from tight work schedules can be countered by introducing flexible work schedules. Therefore, workers can choose work schedules that fit in to their plans (Clarke & Cooper, 2004).
Implementation of the strategies
This should be done carefully and in stages, because rushing the process can result in negative reactions. Some stress causes requires a tailored rather than a prescriptive approach. In addition, some measures might change the everyday operations of employees. Therefore, this discomfort can be met with negative reactions. The management also needs to budget for adequate resources and have a careful plan to ensure success in implementation (Clarke & Cooper, 2004).
Monitoring and evaluation
Stress management is continuous and a regular process, which requires that regular evaluation, be done to ensure that the set up strategies are effective. Some types of stresses cannot be eliminated, which means that the employees have to be trained to cope with them. However, constant evaluation helps in finding out weaknesses in the stress reduction techniques, which can be improved. In addition, feedback channels should be set up through which the affected people can convey their concerns and suggest possible changes (Clarke & Cooper, 2004).
Stress management is a very complex concept as opposed to what many people think. Many definitions have been developed in trying to figure out what stress entails. Most of these definitions indicate that stress is the adaptive response to stimuli that exerts pressure on an individual. An effective stress management starts with identification of the causes, which are divided in to two broad categories; organizational stressors, which are causes within the organization and Life stressors, which are causes from outside the organization. Identification is then followed by assessment and evaluation, whereby the causes are categorized according to their impact and frequency. Lastly, control strategies are developed and implemented.
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