Academic journal article SAM Advanced Management Journal

Stress and Stress Management

Academic journal article SAM Advanced Management Journal

Stress and Stress Management

Article excerpt

Stress is found in all aspects of life. Hans Selye, a pioneer in stress research, has defined stress as "the nonspecific response of the body to any demands made upon it" (Kreitner & Kinicki, 1992, p. 597). It is considered to be an internal state or reaction to anything we consciously or unconsciously perceive as a threat, either real or imagined (Clarke, 1988). Stress can evoke feelings of frustration, fear, conflict, pressure, hurt, anger, sadness, inadequacy, guilt, loneliness, or confusion (Cavanagh, 1988). Individuals feel stressed when they are fired or lose a loved one (negative stress) as well as when they are promoted or go on a vacation (positive stress). While many individuals believe they must avoid stress to live longer, Freese (1976) argues that it is the salt and spice of life and that to have no stress we would have to be dead.

Review of the Literature

In the workplace, stress can affect performance. Individuals under too little stress may not make enough effort to perform at their best levels, while those under too much stress often are unable to concentrate or perform effectively and efficiently. The relationship between stress and performance is complex. Employers, however, have primarily been concerned about the rising costs of overstressed employees. The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 and many state laws hold employers liable for "all diseases arising out of and in the course of employment" ("Analysis of," 1985, p. 3). This means that employers are often held liable for stress-related illnesses of their employees.

Most estimates place stress-related costs to companies between $100 and $300 billion per year ("Economy creates," 1992; Stewart, 1990; Wang et al., 1987). These costs include absenteeism, accidents, health care expenses, and lower productivity. For example, it has been estimated that approximately 75% to 90% of all visits to primary care physicians are job related along with more than half of the 555 million work days lost annually to absenteeism. One study reported that typically 16 days per year are lost due to emotionally exhausted or depressed employees (Stewart, 1990). Also, 60% to 80% of accidents are estimated to be due to employee stress (Rosch, 1994). In addition, there are the costs of poor decisions made under excess stress, of fewer innovative ideas, and of replacing debilitated employees (Fisher, 1992).

Stress can result in physical, psychological, and behavioral responses. Stress has been implicated as contributing to a variety of physical disorders that include heart disease, high blood pressure, strokes, migraine headaches, cancer, gastrointestinal disorders. (e.g., heartburn, ulcers) (Murray & Schoenborn, 1987) along with asthma, diabetes, and multiple sclerosis (Fleming & Baum, 1986). One study reported that a company spent $3,400 annually for one employee with anxiety headaches, which included the loss of productivity, doctor visits, and negative effects on coworkers (Manning & Curtis, 1988). Psychological disorders are not always readily identifiable, but symptoms include anxiety, depression, job dissatisfaction, maladaptive behavioral patterns, chemical dependencies, and alcohol abuse (Sauter, Murphy, & Hurrell, 1990). Psychological disorders have been recognized as one of the 10 leading work-related diseases in the country today by The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) (Millar, 1990). Finally, behavioral responses include the coping behaviors exhibited in dealing with stressful events (Newton, 1989).

Employers cannot ignore the stress of their employees, and it is in management's own self-interest to find ways to reduce it. However, stress is subjective, and people react to it in different ways (Szilagyi & Wallace, 1990). Some adapt while others tolerate it or try always to avoid it. Some go to pieces at the first sign of stress while others seem to thrive on it. Much of a person's reaction depends on the situation and their skills in prevention and reduction (Cavanagh, 1988; Smeltzer, 1987). …

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