Stress Management Within the Workplace
Kendall E. Williams
STRESS MANAGEMENT WITHIN THE WORKPLACE 2
Arthur Miller’s well-known plan Death of a Salesman details the tragic life and death of Willie Loman. After 34 years of traveling through New England, Willie had reached 60 years of age, and felt he could no longer stand the rigors of extensive international travel. After a number of nervous breakdowns, Willie reluctantly decided to pursue a position with the company at his home base in New York City. After several attempts to plead his case, the company informed Willie that his services were no longer needed. The company had consumed 34 years of Willie’s life, and sent him out to pasture as if he were an aged mule that had outlived its usefulness. Miller’s play stands as a fitting metaphor for the popular sentiment among workers that companies consume and exploit their employees. Many workers and managers at all levels of organization find their health and personal lives being sacrificed on the altars created by modern organizations (Morgan, 1997, p. 307). Insurance industry surveys among American workers have found that over forty percent of employees find their jobs very or extremely stressful. Moreover, it is estimated that somewhere between 75 and 90 percent of visits to physicians in the United States are stress related (Morgan, 1997, p. 321). For women, stress is identified as the number-one problem, highlighted as a major concern by an average of 60 percent over all occupational groups. The figures are as high as 74 percent for women in their forties in professional and managerial roles, and 67 percent for single mothers (Morgan, 1997, p. 321). Overwork, work/life imbalances, difficult work schedules, demanding bosses, economic problems and other contextual factors may contribute to stress in the workplace. High stress also correlates with increasing violence in the workplace. Data collected by the U.S. Department of Justice reveal that the number of work-related assaults is now in the region of one million per annum (Morgan, 1997, p. 321). STRESS MANAGEMENT WITHIN THE WORKPLACE 3
While a certain amount of stress is endemic in the workplace, much can be done to modify the levels of stress and tension experienced at work. Indeed, many organizations intentionally produce stress as a means of promoting organizational effectiveness. In the view of many experts a certain amount of stress is beneficial for organizations. However, undue stress has a costly long-term impact on organizations (Morgan, 1997, p. 322). We will examine the common causes and consequences of stress in the workplace, and then consider what organizations can to do to reduce undue stress in the workplace. What is Stress?
Muchinsky (2006) posited that there is no agreed upon definition of work stress. He added, “not all work demands are undesireable” (p. 352). To this end, myriad definitions have been offered on work stress. Muchinsky (2006) offered the following definition, “the response to stimuli on the job that lead to negative consequences, physical or psychological, to the people who are exposed to them” (p. 352). Similarly, Nobrega, Champagne, Azaroff, Shetty, and Punnett (2010) defined work stress as “the harmful physical and emotional responses that occur when requirements of the job do not match the capabilities, resources, or needs of the worker (p. 283). Stress is not necessarily bad in and of itself. Although stress is typically discussed in a negative context, it also has a positive value (Robbins, 2003, p. 577). Consider an employee who comes through in “clutch” situations; such...