Sustained Stress may have a fatal impact on Physiological Health
Stress is known for causing the increased secretion of cortisol, a hormone that could halt the production of cytokines, which are vital for maintaining a functional immune system (Kiecolt-Glaser et al., 2002). Over the years, a large number of research has also found positive correlations between daily cortisol levels and general health. The different levels of cortisol secretory activity have been linked to health problems such as hypertension, burnout, emotional distress, upper respiratory illness and eating behaviour. However, cortisol is paramount to increasing access to energy during stressful experiences and is released on a daily pattern by 2 well defined components; the “Cortisol Awakening Rise”; and the Diurnal levels that gradually decrease over the day. It has also been found that high levels of stress could lead to less cortisol being produced in the morning (O’Connor et al., 2009b). An individual going through a serious series of stressful events would have an increased risk of developing an infectious disease with no regards to their age, sex, education, allergic status and/or body mass index (Cohen, 2005).
Two types of stress associated with increased health deficiency
Cohen et al. (1998) identified two types of stress associated with increased health deficiency; these were interpersonal problems with family and friends; and/or enduring problems associated with work. As further research unveiled the dangers of stress, Janice Kiecolt et al. (1995) found that wound healing was also prolonged on people exposed to continuous stress, along with the lower levels of cytokine. Similarly, Marucha, Kiecolt-Glaser and Favagehi (1998) also concluded to findings over healing being prolonged on test subjects (dental students) where quicker healing was observed on vacation and not before their exams. Eventually, the conclusion of stress being a response to stressors lead to the latter being investigated in our daily lives by researchers for improvement.
Stress may be perceptual deficiency depending on whether subjective appraisal is Positive or Negative
Stress is generally perceived as negative perceptions and reactions when pressure is excessive. The transactional approach devised by Lazarus defines stress as “a particular relationship between the person and the environment that is appraised by the person as taxing or exceeding his or her resources and endangering his or her well-being” (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984, p.19) The theory has so far been one of the most solid finds in the field of occupational and organisational psychology and continues to be applied to various sections in the quest to enhance quality of both work and output.
Occupational Psychology in the Workplace: Stressors
In the field of Occupational psychology, the main focus has been on the study of human behaviour and experience in the workplace. As the world of work in the present generation is constantly changing, with companies adopting more flexible styles – along with developing technology – Lazarus and Folkman’s theory has been used in most stages of the employment life cycle in order to minimise the effects of stress on employees while maintaining a sensible amount of “good stress” (pressure) to maintain motivation. The concept is based on such solid logic that it could be applied to most areas of human interactive environment.
Applying Lazarus and Folkman’s theory of stress to occupational psychology will consider all elements that cause stress in the workplace connected to the physical requirements of the job. Stress can be physical, with factors such as noise, unsafe heights or slippery floor. These factors when present will not only cause the employee to be on guard but also likely distract them from being fully concentrated on their job for fear of harm. The solution would be to make a safer and more comfortable environment, however too safe is known to affect performance. The perfect fit would be right balance between motivational factors (incentives) and physical environment (not overly comfortable), that would lead to a design for the best fit for the job to the person (Morgeson & Campion, 2002). The human element should also not be forgotten in the case of a sociotechnical system (Trist & Bamforth, 1951) present where a Swiss cheese defence system might be in place to correct possible human errors. As mentioned, the stress element requires modelling according to Lazarus’ Theory which proves to be versatile for its huge range of application when considering different types of stressors and how to balance their effect on the employee.
Organisational “Culture”: Synchronised Workforce through situational patterns of performance-oriented behaviour
A strong culture is also essential for the organisation as this ensures the employee fits in with the organisation’s values. The organisation also has to ensure that most stressors are regulated and checked in order to ensure a stable functioning of the work force.
According to Richard Lazarus’ transactional theory of stress, minor day to day problems known as “hassles” can accumulate and cause stress. However one coping mechanism from the theory comes from coping which follows the appraisal stage. When a task is being appraised, the outcome defines whether the employee will see it as stress. However, the stressor can be approached positively and be re-appraised to instead fit the employee’s belief and capacity. Different appraisals usually define how the employee copes, such as understanding employee needs using Maslow’s hierarchy of Needs (1974). It is assumed that some needs are basic and innate and have to be met to sustain motivation. Managers can provide environments that harmonise with the needs of employees after learning what they are.
Maslow’s model puts forth the belief that safety and security have to be met before one can realise their full potential. One this basic need is satisfied, Maslow assumes the attention is shifted to the next need, which in this case would be a motivated move towards achieving the job. However, if this need is not satisfied, this gives rise to discomfort. Indirectly, Maslow’s model is applying the logic of Lazarus & Folkman (1984), as the stressors – which in this case is the inability to feel safe and secure – are being targeted while the manager would try to motivate the employee. Some criticism however questions the flexibility of the model for its assumption. Assuming several needs become important & crucial simultaneously how would the motivation of the employee be affected? Furthermore, self-actualisation is hard – if not impossible – to define, therefore it is hard to confidently know whether someone has reached the stage.
Mismatch between employee & job may cause Occupational Stress
Mismatch between an employee and a job can also cause occupational stress (French, 1973). If the job demand is appraised as too high, the employee could feel discouraged if the task creates demands than exceeds his/her capabilities, unless he has a stake in the outcome of his/her performance motivation will not be successful. Lazarus and Folkman’s theory of stress is once again applied with great efficiency as it opens the door for reasoning in how to deal with stressful situations and find the right coping mechanism that would allow the employee to carry on without negative attributions. One example of this application is to organisational development which is premised on the assumption of planned transformational change.
Organisational development has been defined as “a systematic effort applying behavioural science knowledge to planned creation and reinforcement of organisational strategies, structures and processes for improving an organisation’s effectiveness” (Huse & Cummings, 1985). The aim is to achieve commitment from the whole organisation dedicated to change. Organisational development intervention looks to a range of planned programmatic activities pursued by both clients & consultants. French, Bell and Zawacki (1994) differentiate between interventions directed at individuals (coaching, counselling), dyads (arbitration), teams (feebacks), inter group configurations (Survey, Feedback, etc) and organisations as whole (business process re-engineering). As the focus is swapped from one level to the next, the number of dimensions to consider increases, this adds to the complexity of the intervention process. However, all interventions tend to rely on organisational diagnosis [the assumption that something is not performing well enough and needs to be changed).
Tuning the Environment to balance Stress Levels
Appreciative inquiry is an organisational development model that focus on how things might have been or might be better (Cooperrider & Srivasta, 1987). The whole concept of organisational development follows the logic of Lazarus & Folkman (!984), as the transitions are all supported by teams of professionals [counselling / accustoming] which are geared at balancing the stress levels of accustoming the workforce to the new changes through a combination of modifications to the environment, motivational factor and security and support.
As organisational psychology deals with the administrative side and operational psychology deals with the task itself, they are still very closely associated. Changes in operational hassles will reduce the stress on the employee, as this would assumingly make the task at hand much more simple and straightforward. Changes in organisational hassles will increase the job satisfaction of the employee, as his time at work would be less cumbersome.
Interventions: Better Outcome when the Source of Stress is the Primary Focal Point
The main concepts of interventions usually concentrates primarily on reducing the source of stress, and secondly by reducing the impact on individuals which has been found to be more effective on people than reducing the risk (LeFevre, et al. 2006). Such an example can be seen when dealing with occupational problems, such as the termination of employment. Such an event can have a devastating effect on an employee’s life, especially if it was unpredicted [redundancy, released]. One way to deal with such a situation would be to provide counselling support to the released employee; these include trained professionals with listening, questioning & goal setting skills who help people to carry on in life (Egan, 1996). Clarifying with employees, the employable, marketable skills and helping them to plan short term goals by which skills might be applied in other situations.
Allowing the person concerned to release their feelings by speaking out over vocational and personal concerns, and helping them assess their resources. Finally help them find a placement or employment while also reinforcing with the employee, reminding them that they are skilled and mature and that their redundancy was a purely professional decision. What the whole process seems to have once again applied, is the logic of Lazarus & Folkman (1984) that proves itself as a solid formula applicable in most situations where stress is involved. In this context, the employees have been professionally re-appraised and should be better mentally to deal with upcoming challenges for fresh employment.
Reflexion: Appraisal & Subjective Perception is Key
The particular relationship between a person and his/her environment will vary on the positive or negative depending on the appraisal. Appraisal can sometimes be instinctive, and/or influenced by an individual’s perception which can in turn be influence by other biological factors (hunger, pain). This shows that no matter how deep the stress causes may be, Lazarus’ formula – although simple – has an application that can logically construct or deconstruct most situations dealing with occupational and organisational stress.
One of the main points worth considering however, is the fact that men tend to experience more stress than women from the “need for recognition” pressure, while women experience more stress from health issues; social support benefits stress levels for males and females but affects them differently [organisational commitment in males & state of mind in females].
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22.04.2014 | Danny J. D’Purb | DPURB.com
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