Stress in the Workplace

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  • Created by: Amy
  • Created on: 15-05-12 09:26

Workplace stress is now considered one of the major sources of stress for many people.  It can lead to poor performance, increased absenteeism and stress related illness

If you are an employee why will it be an advantage for you that psychologists are researching workplace stress?

  • Because then they can enforce law/requirements etc. To make the workplace less stressful, increasing well being etc

If you are an employer, why will it be an advantage for you that psychologists are researching workplace stress?

  • Because not only will you be less stressed because of research, employees being less stressed will be good for work
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Workload and control

Too much work is harmful but also having too little to do can have similar effects (Dewe). This is because people will get bored, and they have to stay there at work with nothing to do when they could just go home.

The amount of control the individual has over their workload directly affects the level of stress they experience.

High levels of control lead to lower levels of stress while low levels of control (typically experienced by workers lower down the organisation hierarchy) can increase stress levels

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Research into workplace stress

Johansson investigated whether workplace stressors increase stress-related illness.

  • The first group was a group of 14 ‘finishers’ in a Swedish sawmill
  •  Their work was machine paced, isolated, very repetitive yet highly skilled 
  • finisher’s productivity determined the wage rates for the entire factory
  • The other group was a low-risk group of 10 cleaners, whose work was more varied, largely self-paced and allowed more socialising with other workers.
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What did Johansson measure?

Levels of stress-related hormones (adrenaline and noradrenaline) on work days and on rest days.

What were the findings?

The high risk group of 14 finishers secreted more stress hormones on work days than on rest days, and higher levels than the other group of cleaners.

The high risk group of finishers also showed significantly higher levels of stress related illness such as headaches and higher levels of absenteeism, than the low risk group of cleaners

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What conclusion did they draw about the effects of workplace stress on employees?

A combination of work stressors – especially repetitiveness, machine pacing of work and high levels of responsibility – lead to chronic physiological arousal. This in turn leads to stress-related illness and absenteeism.

If employers want to reduce illness and absenteeism in their workforce, they need to find ways of reducing these work stressors.

Based on these findings, suggest what employers could do to reduce illness and absenteeism in their workforce?

Introduce variety into employees’ work and by allowing them to experience some sense of control over the place of their work

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Marmot

The aim of this study was to investigate the link between workplace stress and illness. Marmot argued that jobs with high demand and low control created the most stress (his job strain model).

7,372 civil servants (of which were both male and female volunteers from London) answered a questionnaire and were checked for signs of cardiovascular disease. Job control and demand were measured using self-report surveys and observations by managers. Records were kept of stress-related illnesses and other variables were correlated. This was a longitudinal study so five years later the participants were reassessed

It was found that participants that were ‘higher up’ in the profession had the fewest cardiovascular problems. Those with low job control were four times more likely to die of heart attacks than those that had high control – they were also more likely to suffer from cancers, stroke and gastric ulcers. In short, it was found that there was a negative correlation between job control and illness.

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It was concluded that low control is associated with high stress and stress-related illnesses; although there was little to support the claim that high demand was associated with stress. This implies that control can be a major stressor and should be addressed to reduce work place stress overall.

The sample used was unrepresentative and biased – only one profession (civil servants) was focused on and therefore cannot be generalised to all workplaces - low external validity. It also only represents a busy, western city and culture as the study was carried out in London – it does not apply to non-western (collectivist) cultures.

Also, as this was a longitudinal study, there is the problem of participant attrition as people can drop out as time goes on, which makes the sample even more biased and the findings unreliable

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Fox et al found that a combination of low control and high demands was related to higher blood pressure in nurses (a risk factor for heart disease.

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