Stress in the Workplace – Starting a Discussion on Organizational Design

Non Sequitur - Aphorism TroubleRecently, I was told that stress in the workplace was the most significant factor in how people in workplace settings can be understood.  I disagreed, rather pointedly, but the bias of the person making this statement was too loud for other points of view and perspectives.  Although the conversation got me thinking, I present the following as my perception of stress in the workplace.

Detective 4Labeling stress as a “significant factor in the modern workplace[s]” is disingenuous at best and thoroughly deceitful at worst.  What is the purpose of the stress being experienced?  Who is experiencing stress?  How resilient is the person?  These questions and more never appear in the research on stress in the workplace, but they are fundamental to understanding stress.  Training, experience, job satisfaction, home life quality and quantity, personal physical fitness, and so forth all play roles in stress (also referred to as anxiety) in the workplace and to lump all of what is being experienced into a label such as “stress” deceives and destroys where health and growth might be occurring, except for the label stress (Garcia-Izquierdo, de Pedro, Ríos-Risquez, & Sánchez, 2018; Moore, 2018; Sok, Blomme, & Tromp, 2014; Strutton & Tran, 2014; Vanhove, Herian, Perez, Harms, & Lester, (2016).

Scared Eyes!Garcia-Izquierdo et al. (2018) researched resilience among nurses and reported connections between emotional exhaustion and cynicism and nursing professionals experiencing burnout; yet, resilience was found to have positive causal relationships to psychological health, emotional exhaustion, and cynicism.  Hence, merely presuming all stress is harmful reflects an ingrained bias against stress, and the positive and healthy aspects of stress are never mentioned or researched honestly (Strutton & Tran, 2014; Vanhove, Herian, Perez, Harms, & Lester, 2016).  The more resilient a person chooses to be, the more potential they have to harness stressors from the environment and produce positive results; thus, Strutton and Tran (2014) maintain that stress can be a positive force for good.  The conclusions present a roadmap for businesses to follow.  Leaving a question, if resilience can be learned and trained, if stress is good and through learning resilience productivity has the potential to improve, why the focus on flexible working arrangements instead of productive tasks, e.g., employee training (Strutton & Tran, 2014; Dizaho, Salleh, & Abdullah, 2017)?

Baby Blues - Good AnswerDizaho, et al. (2017) again lumped all workplace activity into the term stress, doesn’t mention employees’ resilience, or differentiated between males and females, resilient employees and less resilient employees.  Dizaho, et al. (2017) labels stress as bad and promote flexibility in the workplace as an employer issue to manage through flexible schedules, job-sharing, part-time work, shift work, telecommuting, and encouraging a work/life balance arrangement.  While some employees might need these tools due to personal choice regarding the onboarding of resilience training, it seems to me that the academic community is cheating businesses through the disingenuous lumping of all anxiety from the workplace into stress and overlooking the positive effects of stress and the causal relationship in resilience.  Leading to several questions on this topic:

      1. Why is this a business organizational problem?
      2. Where is the individual employee held accountable and responsible for their own anxiety and personal training on resilience?
      3. Dizaho, et al. (2017, p. 462) make clear concluding the problem is “paramount,” and the business organization is responsible, but why is the business organization responsible?

Male v. FemaleAnother aspect to the flexible work environments discussion brought forth and detailed by Gloor, Li, and Puhl (2018) is the inequality of treatment between the sexes in receiving flexibility in the workplace.  Females are more likely and have an easier time obtaining flexibility in working arrangements, even when García-Izquierdo (2018) reflects both male and female nurses can experience resilience, learn resilience, and all mammals can experience anxiety in some fashion or another.  Why are females treated differently by policies for flexibility in the workplace (Vanhove, et al., 2016)?  The same inequality is apparent between male and female disabled individuals as well.  As a male disabled person, the processes are skewed to females with disabilities.

ParadoxA paradox occurs when two seemingly opposing items are compared, and reality shows the articles under question are more related than different.  Anxiety in the workplace is a paradox.  Understanding this dichotomy while embracing the power and influence of resilience is part of the solution to leading an organization in fundamental change.  An essential characteristic and work circumstance that can positively affect change-induced anxiety (stress) in the workforce will be resilience (Garcia-Izquierdo, de Pedro, Ríos-Risquez, & Sánchez, 2018; Moore, 2018; Sok, Blomme, & Tromp, 2014; Strutton & Tran, 2014; Vanhove, Herian, Perez, Harms, & Lester, (2016).

Strutton and Tran (2014) laid out three different plans worthy of modeling for turning non-productive anxiety into growing and motivating stress:

      1. Leveraging anxiety through pragmatic optimism.
      2. Leveraging anxiety through constructive impatience.
      3. Leveraging anxiety through confident humility.

Strutton and Tran (2014) discussed how to mitigate the risk of workplace violence during change by examining the positive influence of tension, claiming, “too little tension may promote contentment… too much tension may promote challenges that appear too large and increases anxiety (p. 1098-1099).  Gluschkoff, Elovainio, Hintsa, Pentti, Salo, Kivimäki, & Vahtera, (2017) emphasized that rampant anxiety can lead to violence.  Gluschkoff, et al. (2017) related how well an individual sleeps is an indicator of anxiety having a negative influence in the workplace; thus, the employees need encouragement in improving how to sleep as a managerial tool for organizations experiencing fundamental change.  Hence, a mitigatory force in workplace violence is how well an employee sleeps; but this leads back to a question of employee responsibility, not organizational change.

ResilienceVanhove, et al., (2016) and Sok, et al., (2014) possess the last word on organizations in fundamental change or organization-wide changes; the need to learn resilience.  Resilience is learned through workplace programs that facilitate employees maintaining a healthy work/life balance and understanding that work spillover is not always a bad thing for employees.  Those employees with work spillover need monitoring, but that is a leadership function at all times and seasons, not just during change initiatives.  Employers and business leaders need to understand the individual nature of workplace anxiety.  The leaders must not force a one-size-fits-most policy onto the employees.  However, knowing the employees, and training employees, opens doors to evaluate employee actions towards stressors in the environment and potentially select new leaders post-change.

Calvin & Hobbes - Pragmatic PrinciplesFascinating and related to stress in the workplace was how much of the literature rejects how beneficial stress can be.  Research also appears to contradict how stress is a choice and how choosing resilience, training about resilience, and improving a person’s resilience are better actions for an employer to take than what is indicated by the lawyers, researchers, and NGO’s (Garcia-Izquierdo, et al., 2018; Gok, et al., 2016; Moore, 2018; Sok, et al., 2014; Solomon, 2003; Strutton & Tran, 2014; Vanhove, et al., 2016; Zabawa, 2017).  Workplace stress is rarely, if ever, considered beneficial, but the research always wants to hold the employer responsible for reducing stress.  Frankly, I was appalled that the employer would be given more power over the employee’s life (IRS.gov, 2018).

Leaving me with questions:

      1. If the employer is responsible for employee stress, what about the employee’s role in choosing healthier emotional responses (Solomon, 2003)?
      2. What about employee responsibility and accountability for their own health, mental, physical, and spiritual (Garcia-Izquierdo, et al., 2018)?

BiasArnulf, Larsen, Martinsen, and Bong (2014) detailed how internal bias predicts results; thus, we can discount most stress-related research as nothing more than bias magnified and personal opinion presented as research, how the research questions are formed dictates the answer that will be arrived at when the study concludes.  Of all the topics I have learned and relearned, the need to question everything, ask more questions, and become ever more selective in the materials I cite has been confirmed.  Interestingly, the more I think I know, the more sure I become that I do not know anything; but, I want to learn so much more.

References

Arnulf, J. K., Larsen, K. R., Martinsen, Ø. L., & Bong, C. H. (2014). Predicting survey responses: How and why semantics shape survey statistics on organizational behaviour. PloS One, 9(9), e106361. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0106361

Dizaho, E. K., Salleh, R., & Abdullah, A. (2017). Achieving work life balance through flexible work schedules and arrangements. Global Business and Management Research, 9(1), 455-465. Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.contentproxy.phoenix.edu/docview/1903433226?accountid=35812

García-Izquierdo, M., de Pedro, M. M., Ríos-Risquez, M. I., & Sánchez, M. I. S. (2018). Resilience as a moderator of psychological health in situations of chronic stress (burnout) in a sample of hospital nurses. Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 50(2), 228-236. doi: http://dx.doi.org.contentproxy.phoenix.edu/10.1111/jnu.12367

Gloor, J. L., Li, X., & Puhl, R. M. (2018). Predictors of parental leave support: Bad news for (big) dads and a policy for equality. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, 21(5), 810-830. doi:10.1177/1368430217751630

Gluschkoff, K., Elovainio, M., Hintsa, T., Pentti, J., Salo, P., Kivimäki, M., & Vahtera, J. (2017). Organisational justice protects against the negative effect of workplace violence on teachers’ sleep: A longitudinal cohort study. Occup Environ Med, oemed-2016.

Gok, K., Sumanth, J. J., Bommer, W. H., Demirtas, O., Arslan, A., Eberhard, J., … & Yigit, A. (2017). You may not reap what you sow: How employees’ moral awareness minimizes ethical leadership’s positive impact on workplace deviance. Journal of Business Ethics, 146(2), 257-277.

Moore, P. V. (2018). Tracking affective labour for agility in the quantified workplace. Body & Society, 24(3), 39-67. doi:10.1177/1357034X18775203

Purcell, N., Shovein, E., Hebenstreit, C., & Drexler, M. (2017). Violence in a US Veterans Affairs healthcare system: worker perspectives on prevalence, causes, and contributors. Policy and Practice in Health and Safety, 15(1), 38-56.

Sok, J., Blomme, R., & Tromp, D. (2014). Positive and Negative Spillover from Work to Home: The Role of Organizational Culture and Supportive Arrangements. British Journal of Management, 25(3), 456–472. https://doi-org.contentproxy.phoenix.edu/10.1111/1467-8551.12058

Solomon, R. C. (2003). Not passion’s slave: Emotions and choice [Kindle 6.10 version].

Strutton, D., & A. Tran, G. (2014). How to convert bad stress into good. Management Research Review, 37(12), 1093-1109. doi:10.1108/MRR-06-2013-0139

  1. S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS.gov) (2018). Independent contractor vs. employee. Available from http://www.irs.gov/businesses/small/article/0,id=99921,00.html
  2. S. Internal RevenueService (IRS.gov). (2018). The Agency, its Mission and Statutory Authority. Retrieved from http://www.irs.gov/irs/article/0,,id=98141,00.html

Vanhove, A. J., Herian, M. N., Perez, A. L. U., Harms, P. D., & Lester, P. B. (2016). Can resilience be developed at work? A meta-analytic review of resilience-building programme effectiveness. Journal of Occupational & Organizational Psychology, 89(2), 278–307. https://doi-org.contentproxy.phoenix.edu/10.1111/joop.12123

Zabawa, B. J. (2017, November 14). Using the law to reduce worker stress – WELCOA. Retrieved from https://www.welcoa.org/blog/using-law-reduce-worker-stress/

© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

Published by

msalis1

Dual service military veteran. Possess an MBA in Global Management and a Masters degree in Adult Education and Training. Pursuing a PhD in Industrial and Organizational Psychology. Business professional with depth of experience in logistics, supply chain management, and call centers.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s