Paper on Stress

This essay has a total of 2842 words and 11 pages.


Occupational Stress
By: David J. Derro (

Opening Statement: This paper will examine some causes and some of the effects of stress
on individuals in the work environment. Role overload will be discussed as a major agent
of stress at both work and home. Role Underload, Role Conflict, Role Ambiguity will be
discussed briefly for comparison. Examples of stress in the work place will be used to
illustrate the broad ramifications of stress in the occupational setting. Examples of
Electromyography (EMG) will be given as a means of biologically diagnosing occupational
and personnal stress cases as opposed to occupational soft muscle tissue diseases.
Finally, interventions such as stress management programs will also be explored, as well
as the benefits such programs can deliver to an organization. What is Stress?: "Stress -
The confusion created when one's mind overrides the body's basic desire to choke the hell
out of someone who so desperately deserves it" (Author unknown). There are many
biological, engineering and physiological definitions of stress but, the definition above
is the most simplified and applicable in today's fast moving business world. More
classical "engineering" definition cited by R. Kahn (1992) use during the 18th and 19th
centuries described stress as "A force or pressure exerted upon a material object, or
person". Stress as defined by Quick, Horn and Quick (1987) "is a naturally occurring
experience essential to our growth, change development both at work and at home. Depending
on the way stress is handled it may have a detrimental effect on our health and well-being
or it may have a beneficial effect". In order to have stress there must be a stressor, or
a physical or physiological stimulus to encourage the onset of stress response. A physical
stressor in a manufacturing setting may be noise, heat, dust, mist, fumes, poor lighting
etc (Evans, Cohen 1987). Psychological stressors could be items such as conflicting views
with your manager or, seemingly unattainable deadlines. Problems at home may compound
these issues when they are presented in an occupational situation. Stress may be caused by
many different situations in the various environments that we are a part of each day. Some
social stress factors may be measured by Life Crisis Units (LCU) (Holmes and Rahe, 1967).
This scale is used to aid in evaluation of, but not predict, an individuals susceptibility
to stress based on naturally occurring stressors taking place in their life. The following
stressors are ranked based on this scale: Death 100 Life Crisis Units Separations or
divorce 50 Life Crisis Units Arguments with important people 25 LCU. Life Crisis Units
Sound familiar? A lot of the above circumstances are as unavoidable death and taxes
(Unless you are Leona Helmsly and even then the IRS will catch up to you). At work, some
stress factors may be; the possibility or reality of losing your job, poor supervision,
lack of goals, rotating shifts and the inability to keep up with technology. Let's look at
the technology and the rate of change in computers in just the last 10 years. To a ten
year old this may be no big deal, the stressor may not exist because the child is a
product of a computer driven society. But to a fifty year old person, the rate of
technology advancement over this period of time may be to much change compared to their
experience. In some cases, failure to understand such technology in the work environment,
may mean the loss of possible advancement opportunities. One stressor may cause another to
create a domino effect of stressors. According to W. Hendrix (1987) these stressors may
build up and cause job as well as social stress. Are some individuals more prone to stress
than others?: By use of the Person/Environment Fit Model (Kahn 1964-1979-1992) it can be
hypothesized that certain individuals may be at a higher risk for work related stress then
others. For example, a person who has "Role Overload" (Kahn 1979-1992) may feel unable to
complete the amount of work given in an ordinary day; the amount of work interferes with
the quality of work. This person is more likely to suffer from work stress then one who
has an even predictable workload. Role Overload, as stated by Jackson and Maskach (1982)
may, in theory, produce another stressor called "Role Conflict". Role Conflict as Samuel
Bachrach (1991) cites Kahns (1964) is definite as "The simultaneous occurrence of two or
more sets of pressures in the workplace such that compliance with one, would make
compliance more difficult with the other." Role Conflict may develop if a person receives
conflicting directions from two individuals or if the instructions are different then
acceptable practice, or the individual must utilize more time to complete both projects.
This may be seen in organizations where there is a struggle for power, neither and
individual will relinquish control of a project thus, subordinates suffer by trying to
satisfy both individuals. This type of situation may be seen in organizations that use a
matrix reporting structure. "Role Underload" is defined by Kahn (1979-1992) as "a chronic
under-use of intelligence, knowledge or manual skills". In the work force, this may mean
that an individual is not suited for the task because the job does not challenge their
intellectual or physical capabilities. This lack of challenge may leave too much time for
individuals to ponder other personal problems that they may be experiencing. This may also
contribute to an individual developing poor self esteem, which in turn, may precipitate a
poor mental outlook. It seems like a strange point, if a person is over challenged they
may feel stress and as in this case if they are under challenged they may feel stress.
Balance of stressors seems to be the key! "Role Ambiguity" as seen in Kahn (1979) is "The
changing status of time or information that a person has and the amount that is required
to perform the role adequately". Role Ambiguity may involve a mismatch of a persons
intellectual skills and knowledge. For example, a technically gifted engineer for purposes
of career development is assigned to work as a production supervisor for an assembly
operation. Instead of dealing with designs enhancements and process improvements, he is
dealing with production deadlines and Union Representatives. Not many engineering classes
prepare you for these scenarios. In engineering, the individual is within their
environment and capable of handling day to day happenings. In the ever changing world of
production supervision, they would be at odds with their environment. This scenario could
be defined as a conflicting Person-Environment interface. In List 1.0 are ten occupations
where Role Conflict could result in stress. These jobs, as documented by The National
Institute on Workers Compensation; American Institute of Stress (1988), are highly
stressful due to the multiple tasks that the individual needs to be performed, the danger
or pressure involved, or the responsibility without control over the environment. 10 Tough
Jobs Inter-city High School Teacher Police Officer Miner Air Traffic Controller Medical
Intern Stock Broker Journalist Customer Service/Complaint Department Waitress/Waiter
Secretary List 1.0 Which brings me to my next point, the impact on an organization by
individuals who may be suffering from stress within the work environment. Products of
Occupational Stress: There is an old saying, which probably originated from the HR
movement of Cow Sociology; "A happy worker is a productive worker". An employee who is
suffering from stress on the job is neither happy nor productive. In a study done by
Hendrix (1987), employees who were suffering from occupationally related stressors were
more prone to illness. In this study it was found that "Type A" or perfectionist like
managers were more prone to contract coronary heart disease, such as high blood pressure
and increased heart rate. Although other studies indicated that there were multiple Type A
classifications, Type A individuals in general, have a greater risk of being afflicted by
a heart attack or stroke. Other stress related symptoms are headache, heartburn, backache
and generalized fatigue (Quick and Quick 1984). List 2.0 are 10 common warning signs of
stress taken from National Institute on Workers Compensation; American Institute of
Stress. Note that the signs vary from physiological or biological responses to
physiological reactions/ Warning Signs Intestinal Distress Rapid pulse Frequent Illness
Insomnia Irritability Nail Biting Lack of Concentration Increased use of Alcohol & Drugs
Hunger for Sweets List 2.0 When an individual reaches the point of emotional exhaustion or
burnout, you may see a rise in absenteeism and low moral. The symptoms of the ailment that
are less noticeable by coworkers in most cases, but contribute to the degradation of the
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