Stress which was once held to be a middle class problem is now widely accepted to be found in people from all ‘classes’ and all work roles. Stress is seen in all forms of life, from modern working life to general ordinary day life it’s self. No longer is it seen with such an elitist eye as to say that only those in the more thought provoking workplace roles will suffer (Fincham & Rhodes 2005). With this in mind, it is evident that stress does play a part in modern working life, what’s more, with the excessive workloads, amount of time spent at work and the recent changes that are affecting the nature of work, it is not surprising that stress at work today is increasing (Szymanski, 1999). Within this paper, I will analyse the stress that comes through and within modern working life, while focusing on the effects and outcomes that stress has on individuals and organisations. Furthermore, it will question and examine the factors that cause stress and how stress in the workplace is combated and overcome.
Stress is widely accepted to have two opposite effects on individuals that are positive and negative, with stress being a very dynamic and complex concept, where the causes and outcomes can vary on both people and organisations (Stevenson & Harper 2006). L J. Mullins (2007) argued that stress is one of the biggest problems to companies and a major influence on the quality of working life and work performance. The United States National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (1999), state that job stress can be defined as the harmful physical and emotional responses that occur when the requirements of the job do not match the capabilities, resources, or needs of the worker. With this, it shows that stress can be overcome with the correct facilities, help and assistance suitable to the task and work set. Furthermore according to Oxford American dictionary (2009) stress is a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances. However, while analysing stress in the modern workplace, what exactly does an adverse or very demanding circumstance relate to? Simply by allowing for such a question to arise from the definition it becomes clear to see that stress can be viewed as a highly generalised topic area. With this, it is necessary to take a more direct, in-depth look at what are the factors and causes of stress in modern working life, along with the results and outcomes these cause to both individuals and organisations.
Factors influencing stress
People react differently towards different things, while organisations work, run and perform in their own unique way, so therefore different people and different organisations will all come across stress and feel stress in their own divergent ways. Our life is very stressful in today’s modern climate and one of the biggest sources of stress is work. There are many different types of stress, with contrasting factors and causes associated with many different environments and situations. Generally speaking, stress in the workplace can arise under three conditions: when the work becomes excessively difficult, when the worker is limited in his abilities to handle the pressures of the workplace; or when the employee is frustrated and exhausted due to work (Jaffe-Gill, 2007). This relates back to the definition of stress by The United States National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, that in modern working life, stress is down to the inability to complete work to the way the individual or organisation would desire, i.e. with ease, on time, to the highest standard or of more importance, being able to complete it at all. Armstrong (2000) argues that it is due to the increasing demands of a modern work environment exceeding the individual’s ability to cope. This shows that managers are trying to deal and keep up with the ever changing modern world, by demanding and assigning a larger workload to their employees that is simply not easily completed. This may seem a logical thing to do, but this will invariably lead to stress, as employees will not be able to cope with this. Through the development of the modern world becoming more and more demanding .i.e. for faster communication, faster completion of work and better quality and standard of work, this creates no single typical working pattern (Mavin 2001). By having no set working pattern, this may create more freedom for employees that may relieve any stress. Conversely, according to L.J Mullins (2007) effective works gets done through effective delegation and planning. On the other hand, with this aside, simply the job role itself may be stressful due to the risks involved and the nature of the job. Some jobs may involve risks with lives, not only yours but others, i.e. a fireman and also some can be emotionally draining i.e. social workers. On analysis of different kinds of modern workplace stress, it has been found that the stress is generally due to the following factors: high demands on the job, real or perceived lack of control concerning those demands, inefficient organization and communication, and an unsupportive work environment (Fincham & Rhodes, 2005; Jaffe-Gill, 2007; McKenry, 2005).
Outcomes and effects of stress
Individuals and organisations are similar in the way that no organisation or individual is exactly the same. Each has their own unique characteristics which make them what they are. Consequential to this, the outcomes and effects of stress is going to differ depending on whom or what the individual or organisation is or like. Lau, V P. & Shaffer, M A. (1999) argues that generally personality when related to a subject (in this case is stress), is defined as the dynamic and organised set of characteristics of a person that uniquely influences his or her cognitions, motivations, and behaviours. With this in mind, it is clear to see that people are in fact ‘unique’, their personality is what uniquely influences their motivations and behaviours, and so in relation to stress it is hard to see whether or not stress is able to have a blanketed effect on all types of people. However, as Ryckman, (1997) stated, personality is never completely determined, us as people are changeful and always free to reinterpret their experiences. With this, it may now appear that stress may not affect all people, but highlights that with there being many different types of stress that is associated with different environments and or situations, the outcomes and effects of stress are going to be different in all organisations and individuals. Therefore, in general, acceptable levels of stress help to improve the individual’s performance whilst excessive amounts of stress can lead to a decreased performance (Dooley & Harper 2006). Furthermore, when there is stress in the workplace it can cause both physical and mental suffering (Cooper and Cartwright 1994; Cooper and Payne 1988). It can also increase the occurrence of accidents in the work place (Sutherland and Cooper 1991). There are different levels of stress and the effects of the stress can vary, as seen in The Social Readjustment Rating Scale (T H & Rahe, R H 1967). The use of the scale is to measure the magnitude of certain events which can be very useful in determining the influence or outcome of an event on the occurrence of something else, and in this case stress within an organisation or on an individual. This rating scale works by quantifying events on a sliding scale basis, with the more stressful events having higher numbers and the less stress causing events having lowered ones. From this scale three events can be drawn out, to help further question the validity of the statement, a high ranking event, a middle ranking event and a low ranked event, comparing the magnitude of the events to what the statement infers. With this scale, it gives us an idea of the outcomes and effects of stress on an individual or in an organisation. However, the way each family and individual deals with this stress creating event varies (McKenry 2005). Stressors that arise from the modern workplace can create events which can become positive, yet the actual stress is not. In addition, in terms of the organisation, stress levels should be such that they do not cause deterioration in employee performance as stress has been proven to lower working ability and performance. (Harper & Stevenson 2006). Furthermore, as stress is becoming more and more common in modern working day life, it has a very high cost on employees, their employers and organisations. There are many different effects and outcomes of modern day working life being stressful. The productivity of employees working in an organisation is highly affected due to stress. (Shuttleworth, 2004). Different people may react in a different way to stressful situations and by creating conflicts or tension this will lead to communication problems within the organisation. Health and psychological problems have also arisen from stress, and according to BBC.co.uk Health Conditions (2009) these include, boredom, low self-esteem, forgetfulness, depression, anger, apathy, worry and anxiety. Physical consequences, may include, but are certainly not limited to, headaches, diabetes, fatigue, hypertension, chest and back pain, ulcers, or even infectious diseases.
Overcoming and reducing stress
Overcoming and reducing the pressures of stress, in conjunction with making modern working life less stressful, is achieved in a number of different ways. Individual reaction to stress is varied and sometimes the different types of stress that individuals face can cause problems that may contribute towards organisational stress. It is essential for organisations to have a defined stress management programme and strategy to manage stress effectively. Pretrus and Kleiner (2003) suggested that stress should be managed. This was identifying a threefold approach to managing workplace stress, which involved assessing the workplace in order to identify factors which could cause harmful stress, implementation of measures to reduce these, and ongoing monitoring and adjustment of the programme (Stevenson &Harper, 2006). In a study by Topper (2007), she argues that there are a number of effective ways to combat stress. Try to seek more information about the situation, try to express your feelings to an uninvolved individuals, leading onto building your support system outside from the workplace where you are felling stress, try to increase your physical exercise to have a greater feeling of wellbeing, lighten or brighten the environment by bringing in pictures, flowers or food for example and step away from the workspace to have a break or lunch or even take a walk to refresh your mind, finally she argues that you could search for a philosophical or spiritual meaning in the stressful experience. However in contrast to Tropper’s beliefs, while stress management techniques like exercise is great, if your boss is draconian, exercise is not going to help” (Jaffe-Gill, 2007). According to Dolley et al (2006), unlike machines, humans do feel stress and pressure. Therefore managing stress is pivotal, and to do this you need to share the workload out evenly, train employees to cope and deal with the pressures of their work while change needs to be taken into consideration. Some employees might be resistant to technology in the modern workplace and find such change difficult, therefore helping, aiding and training is essential in some jobs. Training programmes are deemed very effective; Sparks (2001) felt that if relevant training is provided, it would be possible to increase the employees’ perceived control so that they can cope more effectively. Managing stress is fundamental in gaining the best out of your employees as well as having general workplace health. Individuals, through stress can suffer from worrying levels of depression, fatigue, panic attacks and irritability. With there being many different ways to reduce and prevent stress, nevertheless, according to L J. Mullins (2007) there are never any easy remedies for stress and much depends on the individual and organisation. Each individual and organisation will find different ways to reduce and prevent stress, where some may find remedies effective; others may find them fruitless and ineffective.
In reviewing the factors that make modern working life stressful, along with looking over the effects and outcomes of these stressors, I have learnt that modern working life is stressful and stress is a part of everyone’s life. Moreover, in order to prevent stress at work we should define and act upon the different factors that provoke it. Managing one’s stress is a balancing act. However, with practice and planning one can learn to handle stressful situations by learning how to identify stress and developing strategies to deal with them (Tropper, 2007). Concluding, this paper has argued that there are many different types of stressors that make modern working life stressful, meaning stress is a common occurrence and that no individual or organisation is able to overcome this with both feeling the strain of stress at some point. L.J. Mullins (2007) agrees that stress and work is a big problem, but stress can also result in spurring the individual and organisation on. Therefore, with stress being a part of life, (Shuttleworth 2007) and stress being deemed as a negative aspect of work and life itself, stress can also be seen a positive factor in modern working life with pressure being healthy (Grout 1994), as it can be used as a basis to gain better results and push and spur individuals and organisation forward. I believe, no place, time or circumstance can prevent an individual or organisation from stress, so we have to accept that modern working life is stressful, and therefore regrettably accept stress is something that we all face.