ERIC Identifier: ED414521
Publication Date: 1995-00-00
Author: Long, Bonita C.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Counseling and Student Services Greensboro NC., Canadian Guidance and
Counselling Foundation Ottawa (Ontario).
Stress in the Work Place: ERIC Digest.
Work plays a powerful role in people's lives and exerts an important
influence on their well-being. Since the 1960s, paid work has occupied an
increasing proportion of most people's lives. Although employment can be an
exciting challenge for many individuals, it can also be a tremendous source of
stress. Consequently, as work makes more and more demands on time and energy,
individuals are increasingly exposed to both the positive and negative aspects
of employment. The relationship between work and mental and physical health may
also contribute to career adjustment as well as to the productivity and economic
viability of companies. Three concepts are important to understanding this
is an interaction between individuals and any source of demand (stressor) within
stressor is the object or event that the individual perceives to be disruptive.
Stress results from the perception that the demands exceed one's capacity to
cope. The interpretation or appraisal of stress is considered an intermediate
step in the relationship between a given stressor and the individual's response
are determined by the values, goals, individual commitment, as personal
resources (e.g., income, family, self-esteem), and coping strategies that
employees bring to the situation.
Newspaper headlines worldwide have heralded an unprecedented concern about
the detrimental effects of work stress. The United Nations World Labor Report
attributes the source of stress to work places that are unstable, impersonal,
and hostile. Since the early 1960s, researchers have been examining the
psychosocial and physical demands of the work environment that trigger stress.
Research has identified many organizational factors contributing to increased
stress levels: (a) job insecurity; (b) shift work; (c) long work hours; (d) role
conflict; (e) physical hazard exposures; and (f) interpersonal conflicts with
coworkers or supervisors.
Reciprocally, elevated stress levels in an organization are associated with
increased turnover, absenteeism; sickness, reduced productivity, and low morale.
At a personal level, work stressors are related to depression, anxiety,
general mental distress symptoms, heart disease, ulcers, and chronic pain
(Sauter, Hurrell, & Cooper, 1989). In addition, many people are distressed
by efforts to juggle work and family demands, such as caring for sick or aging
parents or children (Wiersma & Berg, 1991). Therefore, any exploration of
the relationship between work conditions and mental distress must take into
account individual factors such as sex, age, race, income, education, marital
and parental status, personality, and ways of coping.
To have a balanced approach to understanding work stress, it is necessary to
recognize that employment provides rewards that are both internal (intrinsic)
and external (extrinsic) (Locke & Taylor, 1990), (e.g., skill development,
self-esteem, money, variety from domestic surroundings, social contacts, and
personal identity). Although increasing the rewards of work can offset its
stressful aspects, the physical environment and the psychosocial conditions of
employment can have deleterious effects on workers' mental and physical
Lack of control over work, the work place, and
employment status have been identified both as sources of stress and as a
critical health risk for some workers. Employees who are unable to exert control
over their lives at work are more likely to experience work stress and are
therefore more likely to have impaired health (see Sutton & Kahn, 1984, for
a review, and Sauter et al., 1989). Many studies have found that heavy job
demand, and low control, or decreased decision latitude lead to job
dissatisfaction, mental strain, and cardiovascular disease.
In general, job control is the ability to exert influence over one's
environment so that the environment becomes more rewarding and less threatening.
Individuals who have job control have the ability to influence the planning and
execution of work tasks. Research has found that it is the influence resulting
from participation, rather than participation per se, which affects job stress
and health (Israel, House, Schurman, Heaney, & Mero, 1989). For example,
Jackson (1983) found that participation (attendance at staff meetings) had a
negative effect on perceived job stress, and a positive effect on perceived
influence. This, in turn, influenced emotional strain, job satisfaction,
absenteeism, and turnover intention. Similarly, Israel et al., (1989) concluded
that the ability to control or influence work factors (e.g., speed and pacing of
production) is linked to incidence of cardiovascular disease as well as to
psychosomatic disorders, job dissatisfaction, and depression.
Lazarus (1991) has identified three main
strategies for reducing work-related stress.
Alter the working conditions so that they are less stressful or more conducive
to effective coping. This strategy is most appropriate for large numbers of
workers working under severe conditions. Examples include altering physical
annoyances such as noise levels, or changing organizational decision-making
processes to include employees.
Help individuals adapt by teaching them better coping strategies for conditions
that are impossible or difficult to change. A limitation to this strategy is
that it is costly to deal with each individual's unique transaction with the
environment. Intervention strategies could include individual counseling
services for employees, Employee Assistance Programs, or specialized stress
management programs, such as cognitive behavioral interventions (Long, 1988).
Identify the stressful relationship between the individual or group and the work
setting. Intervention strategies might include changes in worker assignment to
produce a better person-environment fit, or it could involve teaching coping
strategies for individuals who share common coping deficits (e.g., training in
Individuals vary greatly in their capacity to
endure stressful situations, and there is, undoubtedly, self-selection in the
kinds of jobs and stressors that individuals choose. Because sources of stress
may vary from worker to worker, providing a solution for one worker may create
stress for another worker. For example, if the organization provides more
opportunity for influence over the work process, the change in control may be
experienced positively by some but negatively by others. A partial solution to
this problem (Lazarus, 1991) may involve intervening with groups of workers that
are formed based on person-environment relationships, and which contribute to
the generation or reduction of stress.
Israel, B. A., House, J. S., Schurman, S. J.,
Heaney, C., & Mero, R. P., (1989). The relation of personal resources,
participation, influence, interpersonal relationships and coping strategies to
occupational stress, job strains and health: A multivariate analysis. Work & Stress, 3, 163-194.
Jackson, S. E. (1983). Participation in decision making as a strategy for
reducing job-related strain. Journal of Applied Psychology, 68, 3-19.
Lazarus, R. (1991). Psychological stress in the workplace. Journal of Social
Behavior and Personality, 6, 1-13.
Locke, E. A., & Taylor, M. S. (1990). Stress, coping, and the meaning of
work. In W. Nord & A. P. Brief (Eds.), The meaning of work (pp. 135-170).
New York: Heath.
Long, B. C. (1988). Stress management for school personnel: Stress
inoculation training and exercise. Psychology in the Schools, 25, 314-324.
Sauter, S., Hurrell, J. Jr., Cooper, C. (Eds.). (1989). Job control and
worker health. New York: Wiley.
Sutton, R., & Kahn, R. L. (1984). Prediction, understanding, and control
as antidotes to organizational stress. In J. Lorsch (Ed.), Handbook of
organizational behavior. Boston, MA: Harvard University Press.
Wiersma, U., & Berg, P. (1991). Work-home role conflict, family climate,
and domestic responsibilities among men and women. Journal of Applied Social
Psychology, 21, 1207-1217.