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Stress Essay

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Personnel Management Essay: Stress

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Table of Contents

Introduction......................................................................................................................... 2 Stress & Personnel ............................................................................................................ 2 Stress & Organizational Behaviour ................................................................................ 2 Sources of Organizational Stress ........................................................................................ 3 Causes of Stress ................................................................................................................. 3 Types of Stress............................................................................................................... 4 Effects of Stress on Personnel ............................................................................................. 5 Physical Effects ................................................................................................................. 5 Behavioural Effects ........................................................................................................ 5 Effects of Stress on Organizational Behaviour .................................................................. 5 Stress Management ............................................................................................................. 6 Managing Stress: Personnel ............................................................................................... 6 Managing Stress: Workplace .......................................................................................... 7 Case Study: ScottishPower ................................................................................................. 8 Conclusion ........................................................................................................................... 9 Bibliography ...................................................................................................................... 10


Discuss the effects of stress on personnel and organizational behaviour. Highlight the importance of stress management and suggest various ways to reduce stress in the workplace.

Stress & Personnel Fincham and Rhodes (1999) define stress as “a combination of external stressors and our response or the physical or psychological strain we experience as a result”. Indeed, stress is the number one proxy killer in the world today. With heightened work pressures and increasing expectations at the workplace, employees’ stress levels take a toll on them. Stress not only has harmful effects on individuals’ mental and physical health, but also negatively affects organizational outcomes. These outcomes can impair performance and increases employee turnover. When stress contributes to feelings of diminished personal accomplishment, it inadvertently leads to deleterious effects on a company’s organisational behaviour.

Stress & Organizational Behaviour Brooks (2006) defines organizational behaviour as “the study of human behaviour in organizational contexts with a focus on individual and group processes and action”. This implies that an organisation’s performance has a strong correlation to the employees’ productivity and teamwork. Therefore when stress interferes in personal goal-setting endeavours and group decision making processes, it would act as a hindrance to the development of the organisation itself.

Taking this into consideration, this essay will be focusing on the implications of stress, assessing how it is harmful to an organisation’s progress and how good stress management practices are vital in reducing stress in the workplace.


Sources of Organizational Stress
Causes of Stress Before analyzing the effects of stress, it is important to understand some of the sources of both personnel and organizational stress. To the individual, the cost of stress is usually in terms of health and to the organization; it is in terms of performance. Beehr and Newman (1978) define workplace stress as “conditions arising from the interaction of people and their jobs, which are characterized by changes within people that force them to deviate from their normal functioning”. In today’s society, the nature of work and the working environment is considerably different relative to earlier times, thanks to globalisation. Longer working hours and frequent changes in organizational structure and culture also contribute to greater levels of stress in employees. It is therefore essential that organizations customize a strategy to alleviate stress before their employees become casualties to workplace stress and hamper its progress. Types of Stress Cooper and Marshall (1976) identified major categories of work stress particularly in the areas of role in the organization, organizational development, organizational structure and climate, relationship at work and external organizational sources of stress. We shall focus on two vital types of stress which are the role interaction stress and the external organizational sources of stress.  Role Interaction Stress

Role interaction stress can be divided into two components: role ambiguity and role conflict. Role ambiguity occurs when there is information deficiency on the expected role an individual has to perform with regards to his job or specified responsibility. When this happens, stress follows. According to Selye (1976), role ambiguity can be both "good" (eustress) and "bad" (distress). An example would be an individual who is attending a job interview who benefits (eustress) from a certain amount of stress. This stress provides the individual with focus and gives him his "competitive advantage" that will help him to think clearly and express his thought in ways that will benefit his interview process.


Role conflict refers to incongruent expectations that can occur between and within roles. For instance, unreasonable deadlines and excessive pressure from team leaders can lead to role conflicts. This is supported by Greenberg, in a 2002 book that stress can also be caused “when the worker is required to do more than is possible in the specified time or actually doing too little”. In addition, when an individual is bombarded with too many responsibilities it is unavoidable that stress occurs. In the case of managers who are responsible for their subordinates, they not only have to motivate, communicate and reward employees, but also have to mediate and manage workplace conflicts between subordinates and deal with organizational policy changes that create an impact on them and their job. Emma (2011) claims that in a survey conducted by Skillsoft Limited, “worryingly, almost 70 per cent of managers say they wake up in the night due to feelings of stress”. (Cited, 5 November 2011). Hence, we can observe that with role stress experienced by individuals, dysfunctional outcomes like uncertainty and increasing role conflict and ambiguity, there is a higher likelihood of burnout within the sphere of organizational behaviour. This in turn becomes detrimental to the organization’s productivity level.  External Organizational Source of Stress

Moreover, namely political and socio-economic factors form to be forces of external organizational stress that can add pressure to the individual and organization. Political Factors: Due to globalization and an increase in the demand for diverse skills, changes in political ideology can lead to a shift in the working industry from knowledgebased to technical-based where this becomes essential for individuals’ to learn new skills in order to keep their jobs. This can induce stress as people are “forced” to develop and train themselves in order to survive in this competitive world. Socio-economic Factors: Anything that threatens the stability or certainty of future employment can become a stressor and Frey (2011) refers to this stressor as “chronic anxiety that brings (fear) about unemployment in the minds of employees”. (Cited, 5 November 2011). On a more personal scale, when economic downturns and recession periods plague the economy, there is added tension


in fear of job cuts in families where both spouses need to work to maintain a decent standard of living.

Effects of Stress on Personnel
Physical Effects The physical symptoms of stress largely point towards deteriorating health conditions. These may include conditions such as high blood pressure, migraine, fatigue, lack of appetite, lack of concentration, insomnia and sometimes even skin problems (Murray and Lopez, 1994). When physical well-being is compromised, it would inevitably put greater emotional strain (as will be explained below) on the ability of the employee to handle pressure at work. Behavioral Effects The behavioral symptoms of stress also induce poor mental and emotional health conditions. These include aggressiveness, distress, lack of interest in life, feelings of futility, alcohol abuse, anxiety, hypertension and even depression in extreme cases (Arnold et al. 1998, p.424). In both the cases, physical and behavioral, the quality and quantity of job performance is compromised as stress reduces efficiency and effectiveness of an individual. Unless one learns vital coping and stress management skills, it becomes difficult to maintain a healthy balance of professional and personal life.

Effects of Stress on Organizational Behaviour

The negative effects of stress lead to undesirable outcomes on individuals’ task performance and productivity in the workplace. The employee has an increased tendency to be irritable and possess lower morale, therefore making poor decisions and eventually becoming a burnout casualty, where he slowly begins to feel detached from his work. This lack of commitment has a boomerang effect on the organization as it carries with it significant economic implications. For instance, when labour turnover, early retirement or employee-illness rate is high, there are high replacement costs as well as an increase in

training and recruitment costs. It is estimated that over $700 million per year is spent by US employers, to replace 200,000 men aged 45-65 years, who die or are incapacitated by illness due to stress (Baker et al. 1988). In addition, when more employees take sick-leave, the organization also bears the increase in costs of sick-pay and health-care. The cost of corporate health benefits, as a percentage of after-tax profits, has increased from 26% in 1989 to 45% in 1990 (Health care benefits survey, 1991). Furthermore, the loss in productivity would also mean that low quality goods and services are produced and this could damage the corporate image of the organization and possibly result in bad customer-supplier relationships. However in some cases, high levels of stress seem to act as a “eustress” (as mentioned earlier) for some individuals. These individuals make an effort to develop an interest in their tasks when pushed to their limits, which enables them to perform better. Therefore they are able consider a stressful situation as a challenge and maximize their own potential.

Stress Management

Stress management refers to a set of practices or techniques oriented towards workplace related stress that are intended to help people cope more effectively with stress. Although a range of strategies exist to help people control their stress by coping, Cunningham (2000) states that “conquering stress is more beneficial than merely managing and coping with it”. The ability to handle stress in the workplace makes a huge difference between success and failure in the job. Stress has an impact on the quality of interactions individuals have with their peers. Hence, the better one is at managing his own stress, the more he will positively affect those around him and the less he would be negatively affected by other’s stress. Managing Stress: Personnel There are a variety of steps to deal with workplace stress and according to Slocum and Hellriegel (2007, p.190), “the first step involves recognizing the stressors that are affecting the person’s life”.


Firstly, workplace stress can be reduced by being conscious of oneself. When stress on the job starts to interfere with one’s ability to manage his personal life, he should start to turn his attention towards improving his physical and emotional well-being. This includes doing aerobic exercises, which increases energy and sharpens focus that also helps to relax the mind and body; making healthy food choices or having small but frequent meals throughout the day that helps to maintain an even blood sugar level, and finally getting enough sleep. This helps to prevent insomnia and with sufficient sleep it's much easier to keep one’s emotional balance, which is a key aspect in coping with workplace stress. Secondly, workplace stress can be reduced by practicing good time and task management. This involves prioritizing and organizing one’s responsibilities. One should aim, to create a balanced schedule, that spaces out time between work, family life and social activities. Also, by not overloading oneself with too many commitments, unwanted stress can be avoided. More importantly, one should plan regular breaks throughout the day as this can help to relax the mind and rejuvenate the body. Managing Stress: Workplace Workplace stress can be managed when managers start to act as positive role models and expend their efforts in reducing the significant sources of stress. Blake et al. (1996) explains that “this (effort) leads to a higher employee satisfaction, increases the productivity of the workforce and reduces negative consequences of stress, which at the end results in higher profits”. Firstly, managers should improve communication with their subordinates by sharing information on job expectations and long-term goals with them. They should also clearly define employees’ roles and responsibilities and through proper feedback channels, ensure that communication flow is made in a friendly and efficient manner while addressing key concerns such as job security and further training. Furthermore, the managers need to be approachable, so that when an employee faces a work-related problem, cooperation and discussion would be made easier, thus widening the possibilities of finding an appropriate solution. Secondly, managers should give the personnel opportunities to participate in decisions that affect their jobs, their work schedules and work rules and regulations. Managers must also be fair in ensuring that the workload is suitable to employees’ individual abilities and should

avoid setting unrealistic deadlines that are to be met. Such superior-subordinate working relationship would make the employee feel more valued in the workplace and thus helps to keep employee stress levels to a minimum. Thirdly, managers should acknowledge their subordinates’ good work performance verbally and institutionally and offer rewards and incentives. Also, the managers should delegate appropriate work to their subordinates that promotes employee empowerment and create an independent and innovative work climate. According to Seltzer et al. (1989), “individuals with managers who use mostly relationshiporiented behaviours have been found to have less stress in the long term than individuals who have managers who exhibit more task-oriented or laissez-faire behaviours”. Hence, it is the ultimate responsibility of managers to establish a flexible positive working relationship with their subordinates through mutual respect and support.

Case Study: ScottishPower

ScottishPower is one of the UK's top customer service suppliers of gas and electricity. Located at England and Scotland, it has about 9000 employees with around 5.2 million customers. (Cited, 5 November 2011). ScottishPower realized that stress levels in the company had increased when it saw a rise in sickness and absence rate among its employees. Therefore, it decided to embark on stress management intervention programs to reduce stress levels. These programs were aimed at improving the working lives and health of employees at ScottishPower. Firstly, an on-line stress survey was designed and sent out to approximately 5000 staff in the company’s Energy Retail departments. Absence data for each department including stress related absence were also analysed and monitored. Focus groups were set up to shed light on the survey results to feed into the action plan. Next, stress management interventions (action plans) were put in place at both the individual and organizational level. This included the creation of better communication channels throughout the company, introduction of 360° feedback at all levels, more participation of senior managers at team briefs and a wider use of Occupational Health Services. The focus

groups provided a real chance for people to have an input into the business strategies and the participation of employees and safety representatives in the steering groups also contributed to significant improvement in workers’ engagement. Hence, through these programs, ScottishPower achieved the following benefits:
 

An 11% decrease in sickness absence overall. Development of a pragmatic approach to tackle work related stress not only at individual but also at an organizational level. (E.g. workload, lack of control over work etc.)

Increase in awareness on the sources of stress and their management within the whole organisation.


Sun Tzu once said that, “Know thy self, know thy enemy. A thousand battles, a thousand victories”. It is vital that an individual knows his own talents and capabilities and also be aware of the causes and implications of stress, so that he is better equipped with skills to manage the work pressure at hand. However, in the workplace, a definite amicable managersubordinate relationship has to be established in order for both parties to not only cope with job stress but also fully understand organizational behaviour and make the best out of the latter.


Arnold, J., Cooper, C.L., and Robertson, I.T., 1998. Work Psychology: Understanding Human Behaviour in the Workplace. Financial Times Management, pp.421-37. Baker, L., Cooper, C., and Cooper, R., 1988. Living with Stress. Harmondsworth, New York: Penguin Health. Beehr, T.A., and Newman, J.E., 1978. Job stress, employee health, and organizational effectiveness: A facet analysis, model, and literature review. Personnel Psychology, 31 (4), pp.665-99. Blake, C.G., Saleh, S.D., and Whorms, H.H., 1996. Stress and satisfaction as a function of technology and supervision type. International Journal of Operations & Production Management, 16 (5), pp.64-73. Brooks, J., 2006. Organizational Behaviour. London: Pearson Educational Limited. Cooper, C.L., and Marshall, J., 1976. Occupational sources of stress: a review of the literature relating to coronary heart disease and mental ill health. Journal of occupational psychology, 49 (1), pp.11-28. Cooper, C.L., and Sutherland, V.J., 2000. Strategic Stress Management: An Organizational Approach. New York: Palgrave. Cunningham, J.B., 2000. The Stress Management Sourcebook: Everything you need to know. 2nd Edition. New York: McGraw-Hill. Emma, S., 2011. Managers are stressed at work too., (online). Available from: Cited 5 November 2011. Fincham, R., and Rhodes, P., 1999. Principles of Organizational Behaviour. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Frey, R.J., 2011. Stress. Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders, (online). Available from: Cited 5 November 2011. Giles, L., 1910. The Art of War by Sun Tzu. New York: Cosimo Publications. Greenberg, J., 2002. Managing Behaviour in Organizations. London: Prentice Hall. Health and Safety Executive, 2009. ScottishPower Case Study. (online). Available from: Cited 5 November 2011. Health Care Benefits Survey, 1991. Indemnity Plans: Cost, Design, and Funding. Princeton, New Jersey: A. Foster Higgins & Co., Inc.


Hellriegel, D., and Slocum, J.W., 2007. Organizational Behaviour. 11th Edition. Mason, Oklahoma: Thomson Higher Education. Murray, C. J., and Lopez, A. D. eds., 1994. Global comparative assessments in the health sector: Disease burden, expenditures, and intervention packages. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization. Seltzer, J., Nomerof, R.E., and Bass, B.M., 1989. Transformational leadership: It is a source of more burnout and stress? Journal of Health and Human Resource Administration, 12, pp.174-85. Selye, H., 1976. The Stress of Life. New York: McGraw-Hill.


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...DEFINITION OF STRESS Based on Organizational Behavior text book, stress is defined as an adaptive response to a situation that is perceived as challenging or threatening to a person’s well being. Stress is a physiological and psychological condition that prepares us to adapt to hostile or noxious environmental conditions. Stress is typically described as a negative experience. This is known as : Distress : the degree of physiological, psychological and behavioral deviation from healthy functioning. Eustress : a necessary part of life because it activates and motivates people to achieve goals, change their environments, and succeed in life’s challenges. DEFINITION OF STRESSOR/CAUSES OF STRESS Stressors can be defined as any environmental conditions that place a physical or emotional demand on a person. There are three of the most common stressors. STRESSOR EXPLANATION Harassment and Incivility Psychological harassment – includes repeated and hostile or unwanted conduct, verbal comments, actions, and gestures that affect an employee’s dignity or psychological or physical integrity and that result in harmful work environment for the employee. Sexual harassment – a type of harassment in which a person’s employment job performance is conditional and depends on unwanted sexual relations (called quid pro quo harassment) that unreasonably interferes with work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment. Work......

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