Perceived Usefulness of Stress Management Strategies and Their Implementation: An Empirical Investigation

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Executive Summary

This paper reports an investigation of the nature of the stress management programs that were being implemented by a sample of organizations in the mid-West. It examines the attitude of managers towards individualized approaches to stress management programs and the level of their trust in their efficacy. It also examines the level of implementation of certain organizational-level stress management techniques. It argues that most stress management programs treat the problem of stress as an individualized issue and seek solutions through individualized treatment, while de-emphasizing organizational-level and collective interventions.


The study of occupational stress (from the Latin strictus, to tighten) has acquired considerable significance among management scholarship over the last several years. The reasons for this interest are not difficult to fathom. Ever since the pioneering work of Selye (1956), numerous studies have established that occupational stress is a major part of organizational life and tends to have an enormously negative effect on the functioning of the organization and its members. For example, stress is believed to result in absenteeism, turnover, accidents, increased health costs, and lower productivity (Jex, 1998). Stewart ((199O)) contends that depression and emotional exhaustion result in the loss of 16 working days per employee each year. Elkin and Rosch ((199O)) claim that 54% of the yearly 550 billion working days lost to absenteeism can be attributed to stress. Based on a similar study conducted in the United Kingdom, researchers believe that 50% of the annual 360 million working days lost are due to stress. Rosch ((1994)) reports that 60-80% of accidents can be attributed to employee stress. Fisher ((1992)) suggests that stress contributes to poor organizational performance not just through the costs of poor decisions made by employees under stress but also through the loss of innovative ideas that may have emerged in a relatively lower-stress environment. Several studies have tried to assign a dollar value to the "cost of stress" for the economy (Aldred, (1994); Jex & Beehr, (1991); Mulcahy, (1991); Stewart, (199O)) leading to estimates as high as $300 billion a year.

The ISR model (named after the Institute of Social Research at the University of Michigan) was one of the earliest attempts to model work stress (French & Kahn, 1962). This model suggests that there is a process by which employees appraise their objective environment resulting in their psychological environment. This appraisal results in physiological responses (for example, increased blood pressure), behavioral responses (for example, decreased effort) and affective responses (for example, reduced levels of job satisfaction). These responses could cause "strains" including adverse effects on physical and mental well being of the employees. These effects are mediated by the "enduring properties of the person" such as his or her genetic makeup, demographic characteristics and personality traits.

McGrath ((1976)) suggested a reworking of this relationship through his process model. This model contends that employees run into organizational situations causing them to appraise the conditions and make a decision about the nature of their response. The response in turn impacts the original situation, altering it in the process. A negative perception about the situation indicates the presence of a stressor, and possibly results in a negative behavior (for example, lower effort).

More recent work has sought to identify various stressors in the workplace. A look at the comprehensive reviews of occupational stress (for e.g., Ivancevich & Matteson, (1980); Jex & Beehr, (1991); Jex, 1998) suggests a taxonomy of workplace stressors that include factors such as workload, pace of work, work schedule, career security, role ambiguity, interpersonal conflict, situational constraints, and perception of control. …