Academic journal article Management Revue

Work Experience, Work Stress and HRM at the University**

Academic journal article Management Revue

Work Experience, Work Stress and HRM at the University**

Article excerpt

Current research on stress among academic university staff indicates that occupational stress is alarmingly widespread and increasing (Kinman/Jones 2004; Winefield et al. 2003; Bamps 2004; Tytherleigh et al. 2005). Therefore the work environment needs to be examined and more specifically organisational specific characteristics, like HR-practices. In line of Timmerhuis (1998), we believe that management of human resources in the academic sector is very useful and necessary.

The aim of our study is to investigate (1) the well-being (job stress and job dissatisfaction) of academic staff at the University of Antwerp, (2) the specific factors of the work environment who have an impact on employee well-being, and (3) the interaction between HR practices and employee well-being. (4) Finally, suggestions of improvement of the work environment are to be formulated.

In order to meet this purpose, we designed a conceptual model, based on the stress model developed in the Institute for Social Research (ISR) (University of Michigan), and on the HR-model of Peccei (2004). Central to the model is the idea that employee satisfaction and stress are a function of the subjective perception of the work environment which, in turn, is affected by the HR practices that are in place in organisations.

The elements most likely to cause job stress, according to our participants, were workload and time pressures, uncertainty, lack of feedback and social support. Further, it appeared that the HR-related job characteristics cause job dissatisfaction: perceptions on participation, assessment, reward and support have an impact on job satisfaction of the academic staff. Finally, suggestions of improvement of the work environment were mentioned.

Key words: Employee Well-being, Human Resource Management, Universities, Job Stress


Until fairly recently, most of what was know about occupational stress among university academic staff was derived from a limited number of studies, conducted in the USA - like the pioneering study by Gmelch et al. (1984, 1986) and small-scale researches conducted in single institutions (e.g. Daniels/Guppy 1994; Abouserie 1996). Although these studies have yielded interesting and useful findings, relatively few larger-scale investigations of work stress among academic staff in the university context were carried out (Kinman 2001). This shortcoming is now being corrected: large-scale and/or longitudinal researches are being conducted in the UK (Kinman 1998, 2001; Kinman/Jones 2004) as well as in Australia (Gillespie et al. 2001; Winefield et al. 2002, Winefield et al. 2003) and New-Zealand (Boyd/Wylie 1994).

Consequently, there is growing evidence that universities no longer provide the low stress working environments that they once did. These current researches on stress among academic (and general) staff of universities indicate clearly that the phenomenon of occupational stress in universities is alarmingly widespread and increasing (Winefield 2000 in Gillespie et al. 2001) and they've found that academic stress has become a cause for concern (Winefield et al. 2003).

What causes this increase of job stress among academic staff? Political, economic and social changes cause a change in the organizational climate of most institutions of higher education (Doyle/Hind 1998). For example, the move towards mass higher education without a corresponding increase in resources has been another obvious symptom of change. The increased participation has been accompanied by the introduction of market-driven philosophies and growing government interest and intervention in the activities of universities. Demands for greater accountability, efficiency and quality have taxed the resources of the sector (De Jonghe/Vloeberghs 2001: 200, 204). Universities responded to this changing environment with strengthened and often more centralized systems (Kinman/Jones 2003). Consequently, staff had to cope with the imposition of new managerial and funding systems, and with research and quality assessment exercises (Doyle/Hind 1998). …

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