Stressors and Burnout: The Role of Employee Assistance Programs and Self-Efficacy

Article excerpt

Stress is prevalent in modern society and can have many consequences in the business world, including job burnout, ill-health, high staff turnover, absenteeism, low morale, and reduced efficiency and performance (Hannigan, Edwards, & Burnard, 2004). Various models of stress theory have been proposed for managerial job stress, such as the Person-Environment Fit model (Caplan, 1983; Cooper & Marshall, 1978), and the Demand-Control Model (Karasek, 1979). The model is explicit with respect to the types of stressor and outcomes. The outcomes can be grouped into two categories: individual level, including physical health and mental health, and organizational level. The best known model explaining the phenomenon of stress is that offered by Lazarus and Folkman (1984). According to this model, stress occurs when an individual appraises a situation as taxing his or her resources and threatening well-being. Burnout as a psychological syndrome occurs in response to chronic stressors and is characterized by three symptoms: emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced personal accomplishment.

Individuals have many different strategies to cope with stress, including emotion-focused and problem-focused coping, and assimilative and accommodative coping (Brandstadter, 1989). Because of the broad field of the concept of stress-coping strategies, in this study we focused on the micro aspects and a specific new group of individuals--Taiwan's employees in high-tech industries.

By measuring stress reduction and burnout we also attempted to examine organizational intervention--such as employee assistance programs (EAP)--and individual-level strategies, such as self-efficacy, and also the effectiveness of EAPs.

EAPs have become a very important and popular institutional mechanism in many enterprises for promoting health and emotional well-being, reducing absenteeism, and improving performance (Cooper, Dewey, & O'Driscoll, 2003; Ruiz, 2006; Strazewski, 2005). The rapid growth of these programs has been partly because of the phenomenon of workplace stress (Coles, 2003). While EAPs are readily available at many workplaces in affluent Western countries, they are still rare in other parts of the world. Taiwan's EAP implementation lags significantly behind the Western countries. While EAPs are common in Taiwanese high-tech workplaces, the research to specifically evaluate its effectiveness is very limited. Therefore, study and analysis of EAPs in Taiwan is still much needed.

Murphy (1995) suggested that an EAP is a tertiary intervention in stress management. Ramanathan (1992) found that EAPs are an effective means for helping employees deal with stressors, enhance performance, reduce work-related accidents, and cut down healthcare-related costs. Highley and Cooper (1996) found that EAPs also play a role in dealing with stress in both personal and work life. However, recent research on the effectiveness of EAPs as a stress management tool has had mixed results.

High self-efficacy helps employees cope with changes, overcome obstacles, perform challenging tasks, and improve work performance (Bandura, 1977; Schunk, 1990). Self-efficacy has been argued to be an important variable when examining the health consequences of stress, and it has also been found that high perceived self-efficacy reduces the occurrence of burnout (Bandura, 1997; Jex & Bliese, 2001). Researchers have found strong links between perceived self-efficacy and both stress and burnout (Chan, 2007; Lu, Siu, & Cooper, 2005).

Most high-tech employees endure a high level of work stress, which may be derived from work, non-work, and/or personal factors (Schuler, 1980). Taiwan's phenomenal economic success in the past two decades has been propelled largely by its vibrant high-tech sector. However, short product life cycle, fast technological innovation, and fierce competition have subjected high-tech employees to tremendous work stress. …