Occupational stress goes hand in hand with work and interactions within a work environment. There is a great variety of causes leading to work-related stress; among the primary causes are excessive competitiveness, a strenuous team atmosphere with conflicts and ineffective communication practices, dense working conditions, pressure from senior management, and a failure on the part of the employees themselves to balance work and personal issues properly (Dwamena, 2012; Griffiths, Baxter, & Townley-Jones, 201; Trivellas, Reklitis, & Platis, 2013).
According to recent research on work-related stress, professional distress has negative consequences that affect both the physical and psychological wellbeing of those experiencing it in a working place (American Psychological Association, 2015; Hiriyappa, 2013; O’Keefe, Brown, & Christian, 2014; Patel, 2013). Stress affects employee productivity and mood, and it often entails a higher risk of emotional burnout, lower performance, and depression (Leon & Halbesleben, 2013).
Moreover, employees who become dissatisfied with their work environment often seek out opportunities to switch jobs (Campbell, 2015; Hakanen & Schaufeli, 2012; The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, 2014). Higher turnover rates and mental health concerns are not the only undesirable consequences of work-related stress, as it also causes absenteeism and excess expenditures related to either changing the work environment in order to meet employees’ expectations and reduce strain or training new employees to meet the need for a qualified workforce and fill vacancies caused by the high turnover rate (O’Keefe, Brown, & Christian, 2014; Patel, 2013; Prater & Smith, 2011; White, 2015).
Due to the gravity of the consequences of occupational stress, it is critical to design and implement strategies to diminish the risks of strain and minimize its negative effects. There are numerous ways to cope with the challenge. However, preventative measures – including establishing a friendly atmosphere and eliminating stress risk factors -have proved to be the most effective method, increasing performance and improving employees’ emotional and psychological well-being (Sherridan and Ashcroft, 2015).
According to Meško et al. (2013), these preventative techniques can be divided into two main groups: emotion-focused strategies and problem-focused strategies. The first method for reducing occupational stress, the emotion-focused strategy, is related to addressing emotional needs in the workplace. It implies dealing with negative emotions and focusing on improving the emotional wellbeing of employees. As for the second type of strategy, the problem-focused one, it refers to dealing with any problems occurring in the working environment caused by either work conditions or interactions between team members (Meško et al., 2013). Still, managers operating within different industries should adapt these strategies to satisfy the needs of their staff and comply with all of the requirements and specificities of their unique workplaces.
Occupational stress is particularly significant in the ship-repair industry because this sector is often associated with higher risks and greater intensity of work-related stress compared to other sectors of the economy (Aftab & Javeed, 2014). The issue is aggravated by lower levels of managerial effectiveness due to a deficiency in the skills needed to reduce occupational stress caused by long working hours and frequent accidents, as well as to overcome organizational difficulties related to it (Al-Raqadi et al., 2015; Cardoso, Padovani, & Tucci, 2014; Cezar-Vaz et al., 2014). For these reasons, an in-depth study of the ship-repair industry with a focus on managing and reducing occupational stress is required. Therefore, the aim of this research is to estimate the effectiveness of strategies for improving work conditions and minimizing the risks of stress in the ship-repair industry. To this end, techniques used by both employees and managers of a ship-repair service company located in the Hampton Roads area in Virginia as compared to strategies used by managers in other industries.
Currently, occupational stress is one of the key issues that managers are struggling to efficiently cope with. Extensive evidence showed that there is a necessity in the elaboration of effective strategies intended to reduce the adverse effects of occupational stress (Aftab & Javeed, 2014). There are numerous issues that transpire as a consequence of occupational stress. These complications include both physical and mental issues. The nature of occupational stress is broadly contingent on the occupation and working conditions. In the majority of situations, occupational stress causes a variety of cardiovascular diseases and may adversely affect the nervous system (Martin, Neighbors, & Griffith, 2013). On a larger scale, occupational stresses may provoke issues in families and spoil relations with relatives or friends. Job satisfaction is another crucial factor affecting the phenomenon of occupational stress. As a result, employees are ultimately required to battle their stress and anxiety.
Numerous researchers state that a relationship exists between occupational stress and job satisfaction (Aftab & Javeed, 2012; Cevenini, Fratini, & Gambassi, 2012; Chen et al., 2014). Employees have to deal with conflicts and cope with heavy workloads. Accordingly, low wages and excessive overtime hours trigger exhaustion and dissatisfaction in those employees (Chen et al., 2014). This situation encourages the workers to switch jobs, and this mainly results in high employee turnover rates and bigger costs related to hiring and training new employees. As a result, occupational stress is disposed to be the rudimentary cause of organizational and business issues, which include employee turnover, low percentage of sales, and overall time trouble (Kula & Sahin, 2015; Obiora & Iwuoha, 2013).
The researchers also point out employee absenteeism as one of the crucial variables in the equation of occupational stress. Employee absenteeism is an individual’s choice to procrastinate and overlook job duties (Prater & Smith, 2011). In most of the cases, the main cause of absenteeism is the feeling of weakness and fatigue that lowers the desire to keep working in a certain setting or atmosphere along with the loss of enthusiasm and an inability to psychologically handle job duties (Hakanen & Schaufeli, 2012).
Nowadays, more than 30% of U.S. employees suffer from depression and absenteeism (Martin, Neighbors, & Griffith, 2013). In reality, employers are spending a significant part of the company’s budget on the battle with absenteeism (Prater & Smith, 2011). Their main objective is to guarantee the safety and well-being of their employees while keeping up the level of organizational performance (The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, 2014). Nonetheless, another key feature of occupational stress is physical anxiety.
This includes physiological symptoms of a variety of illnesses. This means that even if an employee comes to work with certain symptoms, their performance will be adversely impacted by the organism’s reaction to the physiological impulse (Prater & Smith, 2011). Absenteeism in combination with physical anxiety should be carefully addressed by employers in order to minimize monetary expenditures and maximize the level of employee performance (Daniel, 2015; Roelofsen, 2012).
Research shows that occupational stress negatively impacts employees’ productivity (Campbell, 2015). There is a direct functional dependence between employee output and occupational stress because a higher level of occupational stress certainly elicits lower productivity and poorer value, and an employee might not even meet job demands (Daniel, 2015; Roelofsen, 2012). Both managers and employees should join forces in order to develop strategies that would be beneficial in terms of mitigating the risks of occupational stress.
The first category of strategies should focus on the events and complexities connected to the organization of the work atmosphere and occupational performance, while the second one should concentrate on coping with the emotional characteristics of work, such as tensions in the working environment or conflicts between employees (Meško et al., 2013). Occupational stress causes not only lower efficiency and performance but also a deficiency of employee attentiveness in relation to the job duties (Al-Raqadi, Abdul Rahim, Masrom, & Al-Riyami, 2015; Cardoso, Padovani, & Tucci, 2014). Taking this into consideration, it is critical to study the peculiarities of the industry along with their impact on tactics used by managers to successfully reduce occupational stress in ship-repair environments.
Statement of the Problem
Enhancing the emotional wellbeing of employees is the key to preventing occupational stress and minimizing its negative effects (Vainio, 2015). Although Britt and Jex (2013) claim that work-related stress boosts employee performance, it is the primary cause of serious health concerns, high turnover, and absenteeism (American Psychological Association, 2015; O’Keefe, Brown, & Christian, 2014). In fact, occupational stress causes decreased productivity levels in 20% of employees, dissatisfaction with the work environment and a desire to quit in 65% of employees, and absenteeism in 9% of workers (O’Keefe, Brown, & Christian, 2014). Moreover, it costs around $150 billion in healthcare expenses annually-representing 5 to 8% of all health-related costs in the United States (White, 2015).
The central problem related to occupational stress is the fact that its effects vary from emotional and physiological conditions – including such health concerns as depression, cardiovascular diseases, and emotional disorders – to serious organizational issues such as lower job performance, conflicts with team members, and injuries in the workplace related to mental disturbances and lack of concentration (Patel, 2013; Leon and Halbesleben, 2013; O’Keefe et al., 2014).
In the ship-repair industry, the most disturbing matter of concern related to occupational stress, absenteeism, and turnover to increase employee performance is the lack of skills among senior management, which results in a failure to recognize the importance of preventative measures as well as the inefficacy of deployed strategies (Sherridan & Ashcroft, 2015). To address the lack of understanding of the skills necessary to successfully reduce work-related stress, absenteeism, and increase performance in the maritime industry, I will conduct the study at a ship-repair company so that I can gain an in-depth understanding of the strategies that the managers used to address the abovementioned issues.
Purpose of the Study
The purpose of this qualitative exploratory case study is to discover strategies that managers in a ship-repair company, in the maritime industry, use to minimize occupational stress, absenteeism, reduce turnover rates, and increase employee performance and identify the most effective methods or techniques as compared to the methods or techniques that leaders in other industries use. Information will be obtained by conducting interviews with employees of one ship-repair service company located in the Hampton Roads area in Virginia.
The study will analyze responses to interview questions from five helpers, five trade persons, and seven managers. Interviews will include open-ended questions designed to gather necessary facts, gain an in-depth understanding of the peculiarities of work-related stress in the ship-repair industry, and estimate its influence on employee turnover, performance, productivity, and absenteeism. The questions will focus on the feelings of the interviewees and their perceptions of the issue under investigation. The personal experiences of both employees and managers might be helpful to address a range of societal and organizational issues related to professional stress and to improve strategies used for reducing stress in the work environment.
The foundation of this study is the job demands-resources model (JD-R model), which is commonly used as a tool for forecasting the potential influence of increased job demands on the level of occupational stress among employees. The rationale for choosing this model as a theoretical basis is the fact that it is helpful for understanding factors leading to work-related stress and aspects of employee personality that are affected by them such as physical and emotional wellbeing and behaviors in both working and personal environments (Demerouti, Bakker, Nachreiner, & Schaufeli, 2001). This model is appropriate for the purposes of the research because it recognizes that work engagement and emotional burnout are the two factors that have the most significant impact on employee wellbeing and are the primary cause of work-related stress. Moreover, these two factors are closely related to job demands, which are directly connected to occupational stress and employee performance (Demerouti et al., 2001).
The issue of high job demands is closely related to two aspects of the working environment. On the one hand, employees’ personal aspirations, such as dedication and the desire to do a good job, form the foundation of positive employee performance and a high level of productivity. However, these aspirations can also lead to burnout, as dedication to work inevitably leads to higher demands and pressure on the part of senior management, thus increasing the risks of occupational stress and creating a more strenuous team atmosphere—which in turn results in various health concerns and a growing negative perception of the workplace and of the employee’s own position in a company (Xanthopoulou, Bakker, Demerouti, & Schaufeli, 2007).
High job demands and resources are two aspects of the JD-R model. As discussed above, the first aspect is synonymous with the cause of professional stress, while resources are seen as the totality of steps and measures taken to reduce stress and improve employee wellbeing (Xanthopoulou et al., 2007). This model centers on several different features of a work environment such as its organizational, social, and physical characteristics and their links to employees’ physical and emotional dedication to job functions (Demerouti et al., 2001).
That said, job resources, i.e., (measures aimed at promoting health and wellbeing), have a positive impact on both employees and employers because they increase employee dedication to a company, foster personal growth and a desire for self-development, reduce the negative influence of increased job demands, (i.e., the costs associated with addressing occupational stress), and increase enthusiasm (Bakker & Demerouti, 2007; Xanthopoulou et al., 2007). However, in order to guarantee a positive correlation between job demands, resources, and employee performance, it is imperative to focus on finding the balance between available resources and employee satisfaction. Otherwise, the consequences of applying this model and changing the work environment may differ from theory and vary from positive to negative (Bakker & Demerouti, 2007).
The job demands-resources model is an appropriate choice as the theoretical framework of this research because it is helpful for estimating the impact of an unhealthy work environment and employees’ subsequent health concerns on the level of occupational stress. In fact, its significance for achieving the purposes of this study cannot be underestimated, as it will be used to ascertain whether higher job demands are the source of work-related stress among employees in the ship-repair industry and to gain a better understanding of the roots of occupational stress, which is an invaluable piece of information for organizational managers.
To achieve the research objectives and gain a comprehensive understanding of the research problem, as well as fill the existing knowledge gaps regarding occupational stress in the ship-repair industry, it is imperative to focus on the following research questions:
- RQ1. What are the primary aspects of work that lead to occupational stress in the ship-repair industry?
- RQ2. What are the occupational consequences of work-related stress in the ship-repair industry?
- RQ3. How does work-related stress affect employees, employee performance, turnover, and absenteeism?
- RQ4. What strategies are most effective in reducing work-related stress and improving overall performance in the ship-repair industry?
Nature of the Study
The researcher chose an approach that presupposes a qualitative exploratory case study. The current qualitative design is efficient in terms of reaching research objectives and answering research questions. The researcher selected this particular method due to the prospects it grants in terms of evaluating individual experiences, societal background, and conduct (O’Sullivan, Rassel, & Berner, 2008). The researcher did not choose a quantitative research design because it focuses on reason-and-consequence relations and simplifications. The researcher did not choose a mixed research design either because it utilizes an amalgamation of qualitative and quantitative methods to present both descriptive and explorative characteristics of the study. Qualitative research, on the contrary, offers a comprehensive understanding of the subject under consideration (Caruth, 2013; Frels & Onwuegbuzie, 2013; Lund, 2012).
Moreover, this research design is beneficial in terms of the option that presupposes work with small sample sizes (Dworkin, 2012). The researcher believes that qualitative research method is the best for this particular study. This choice of research design is backed by the elaboration of research questions that were established in view of the perceived knowledge, individual experience, and insights of the interviewees in order to emphasize on research objectives and answer the research questions (Agee, 2009).
The researcher chose to conduct a case study in order to address goals of the study fully. The investigator chose the case study approach for the reason that it is naturally paired with qualitative research. Case studies are valuable in terms of the thorough understanding of the issue and the fact that they can be effectually utilized when actions and responses are triggered by exterior factors instead of a researcher (Yin, 2013). In other words, the researcher picked a case study because it gives an opportunity to investigate current subjects that are straightforwardly impacted by transformations in the environment (Yin, 2013).
This qualitative exploratory case study will be founded on several hypotheses. These hypotheses, also called constructs, are the key topics that are relevant throughout interviews because of their importance and involvement in the process of finding the accurate answers to the research questions (Roller & Lavrakas, 2015). For this particular research, the researcher will concentrate on expressive and logical constructs, in addition to those connected to knowledge.
The researcher will conduct interviews in order to obtain the necessary data. This data will allow the researcher to scrutinize the diversity of perceptions of the subject under investigation and gain a detailed insight into the research topic (King & Horrocks, 2010). The interviews will consist of open-ended questions. By doing this, the researcher expects to find the answers to the research questions. This type of questions is more useful than close-ended because the former are appropriate for collecting facts and perceptions connected to the interviewees’ personal experience and can be effortlessly altered during an interview (Seidman, 2013).
Open-ended questions will motivate the interviewees to share their feelings and experiences connected to occupational stress. Particular answers are believed to provide the researcher with an in-depth understanding of the research subject (Grbich, 2013). The researcher decided to use the phenomenological interview for this particular study. The rationale for choosing phenomenology as the basis of this research is its close connection to qualitative research and the lived experience of interviewees. These two metrics are required to gain the essential data and evidence for the purposes of this research (Ericson & Melin, 2010; Seidman, 2013). The researcher will emphasize on the experience of occupational stress, the steps taken to diminish it (if any), and the efficiency of these steps.
So as to achieve the research objectives, it is necessary to pick a proper sample population. In compliance with this statement, the researcher will only interview those people who are at this time employed by a corporation in the ship-repair business. The researcher believes that these employees have enough experience, knowledge, and skills to take part in the interview (Miles et al., 2014; Palinkas, Horwitz, Green, Wisdom, Duan, & Hoagwood, 2015). Five coworkers, five trade individuals, and seven executives employed at a ship-repair corporation located in the Hampton Roads area in Virginia will be the sample for this research. Additionally, the small sample size is backed by the requirement to obtain a thorough understanding of the research topic, which would not be possible if more individuals were involved, given the restricted resources of the projected research (Miles, Huberman, & Saldaña, 2014).
Significance of the Study
Today, occupational stress is among the primary causes of job dissatisfaction, high turnover rates, absenteeism, and low employee performance (Aftab & Javeed, 2014; American Psychological Association, 2015; O’Keefe, Brown, & Christian, 2014). For this reason, managers use a variety of techniques to diminish the risks of work-related stress or eliminate its negative influence, with emotion-focused and problem-focused strategies as the two central types of tools for addressing the issue (Meško et al., 2013).
In the maritime industry, the challenge of professional stress is aggravated by more taxing and demanding working conditions and a lack of managerial skills to reduce stress. Some managers ignore the significance of preventative measures for diminishing the risks related to distress in the work environment and its consequences (Aftab & Javeed, 2014; Sherridan & Ashcroft, 2015).
The significance of this study cannot be underestimated because it will serve as the first step toward filling the existing gap in knowledge of strategies for reducing occupational stress in the ship-repair industry. Moreover, it will add to a better understanding of the effectiveness of stress-reducing techniques used by managers and their perception by employees who feel the impact of both stress and strategies.
Even though the sample size is small, this research will set the foundation for further investigation of related issues, contributing significantly to the improvement of numerous social and organizational methods of minimizing the risks of professional stress and mitigating its negative consequences on the physical and psychological well-being of employees, as well as on the outcomes for the company and industry as a whole.
Definition of Key Terms
Stress: Stress refers to the interdependence between an individual and demands from managers or job duties within an environment (Naqvi, Khan, M., Kant, & Khan, S., 2013).
Job satisfaction: Job satisfaction refers to the positive emotional perception of individuals’ work and contentment with the work environment and conditions connected to their job experience (Gupta, Kumar, & Singh, 2014).
Job performance: Job performance refers to the different behaviors in which employees are engaged while carrying out their job duties and fulfilling their job functions (Gupta et al., 2014).
Productivity: Productivity refers to the ratio of output to input and the real output per unit of labor (Naqvi et al., 2013).
Motivation: Motivation refers to the inner force driving individuals to accomplish job tasks and achieve any predetermined goal, either personal or organizational (Naqvi et al., 2013).
Today, occupational stress has become one of the most acute organizational issues requiring attention from both managers and employees in order to mitigate its negative consequences, which include higher turnover rates, lower employee productivity, emotional burnout, depression, and growing dissatisfaction with work conditions (Adriaenssens, De Gucht, & Maes, 2015; Campbell, 2015; Leon & Halbesleben, 2013; Meško et al., 2013; Prater & Smith, 2011). Based on the findings of past research, the ship-repair industry is characterized by higher rates of workplace stress caused by heavy workloads, overtime shifts, a high likelihood of work-related accidents and subsequent health effects, and strenuous working environments (Bakotić and Babić, 2013; Cardoso, Padovani, & Tucci, 2014; Cezar-Vaz et al., 2014).
Furthermore, the challenge is aggravated by managerial problems including a lack of expertise in addressing stress and a lack of concern regarding the significance of preventative measures (Aftab & Javeed, 2014; Sherridan & Ashcroft, 2015). For this reason, it is necessary to investigate the peculiarities of the ship-repair industry and explore how they influence the effectiveness of managerial strategies aimed at reducing occupational stress. Ultimately, the purpose of this qualitative exploratory case study is to determine what strategies are most effective for minimizing the risks of workplace stress in the maritime industry and mitigating its negative consequences. For the purposes of this study, a group of five helpers, five trade persons, and five managers will be interviewed about their personal experiences and perceptions of addressing stress. Recommendations to fill the existing knowledge gap will be made, pointing to most effective techniques for decreasing stress in the workplace.
This section was written once a thorough online search of the existing literature had been conducted. Relevant sources were found by using Google’s search engine and selecting articles accessed from the library. For the purposes of this research, there were no limitations in place regarding the country of origin or database in order to guarantee the inclusion of all relevant literature and to avoid the possibility of missing some valuable information. A variety of keywords was targeted in the searches, including workplace stress, occupational stress, causes of work stress, workplace stress outcomes, job dissatisfaction causes, turnover causes, depression, and stress coping mechanisms. Still, there were some criteria in place for choosing the source of information.
First of all, inclusion depended on the nature of the source; only scholarly articles published in peer-reviewed journals were included in the literature review in order to ensure the credibility of the research. Moreover, even though preference was given to papers published within the last three years, some older sources were also included in order to estimate the dynamism of changes in the perceptions of occupational stress and primary stressors in the workplace. Primary emphasis was placed on the causes of occupational stress in the ship-repair industry. However, sources were not limited to those specifically covering the maritime industry because, in most cases, the causes of workplace stress and turnover intentions are similar across different career fields and industries.
The literature review will include several subsections that provide further detail on topics related to occupational stress, identifying the nature of the concept in the first place and then investigating job satisfaction, employee absenteeism, employee productivity, and strategies used to minimize the risks of occupational stress and mitigate its consequences in the ship-repair industry. The motivation behind the division is a desire to provide insight on matters related to professional stress and clearly point to the existence of the knowledge gap in the existing literature, underpinning the significance of the proposed study. Additional information on the selected sources is included in the table provided in Appendix A.
Today, occupational stress is one of the most severe challenges faced by leaders and managers (Aftab & Javeed, 2014). Because working environments have grown highly competitive and increasingly intense, employees find themselves caught in strenuous atmospheres and constant mood swings caused by harsh work conditions and the necessity to foster personal development in order to remain employed (Dwamena, 2012). Exposure to stress at work has an impact beyond professional life and extends to personal affairs, as most employees find it nearly impossible to reach a balance between work and life; as a result, they feel the negative influence of work-related stress on family relationships, physical and mental health, communication with colleagues, personal development, and job performance (The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, 2014).
Apart from the impact that occupational stress has on employees, it also affects organizations by harming brand image, fostering negative changes in the workplace atmosphere, and wasting valuable human resources as employees switch jobs in the hopes for a more comfortable place to work and higher chances for career development. The following review of literature will present the many different manifestations of occupational stress that occur today, such as dissatisfaction with job conditions, absenteeism, low productivity, and a variety of mental and physical health concerns in both the maritime industry and other sectors of the economy.
Occupational Stress: Causes and Consequences
Occupational stress is one of the most challenging problems of the modern workplace organization, having adverse effects on both the welfare of employees and the future of an organization. Cevenini et al. (2012) believe that the phenomenon of occupational stress is closely related to the concept of occupational health, meaning that external factors specific to a particular working environment impact both the physical and emotional wellbeing of employees. Just like health promotion, the issue of occupational stress should be addressed by monitoring and satisfying the needs of staff, eliminating potential risks, and recognizing the severity of consequences. Work-related stress is a common cause of serious health concerns such as cardiovascular diseases and depression, which affect the performance and success of the whole organization (Cevenini et al., 2012; Leon & Halbesleben, 2013; Meško et al., 2013; The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, 2014).
Because the problem is severe and has significant consequences, a comprehensive approach to estimating the risks of occupational stress is required. According to Cevenini et al. (2012), an effective approach includes both preventative and educational measures that point to the significance of health and job productivity promotion and teach employees and managers to identify the signs of occupational stress and strategies to cope with it. The approach should incorporate psychological, physical, and social estimations of the working environment and should also conduct investigations of the workplace atmosphere on a regular basis (Cevenini et al., 2012).
Hakanen & Schaufeli (2012) prove that workplace wellbeing is the primary determinant of the long-term wellbeing of an employee. The authors claim that remaining in a constant state of helplessness and anxiety leads to serious health concerns such as burnout and possibly depression. One of the most significant breakthroughs made by these researchers is the discovery that there are two aspects of occupational stress: positive and negative.
On one hand, a strenuous atmosphere in the working place causes low employee productivity, enhances absenteeism, and fosters a desire to switch jobs. However, on the other hand, if the atmosphere in the workplace is comfortable and employees feel the support of senior management and team leaders, they become motivated to fulfill their job duties effectively and make the maximum effort to increase productivity and performance (Adriaenssens et al., 2015; Hakanen & Schaufeli, 2012; Kula & Sahin, 2012; Patel, 2013).
Griffiths et al. (2011) claim that regardless of field or industry, it is impossible to avoid workplace stress altogether. Still, those who work in the public sector are at higher risk of workplace stress because they fulfill job duties in environments with lower social support and less social appraisal or gratitude. Together with overtime shifts and low payment, these problems make public service employees the central risk group for occupational stress (Griffiths et al., 2011; RAND, 2015).
Teo, Pick, Newton, Yeung, and Chang (2013) claim that workplace stress is the byproduct of organizational changes to areas like budgeting, workloads, or recruitment requirements. Because such changes are usually unexpected and are not accompanied by appropriate notice to employees or modifications to organizational policies and management styles, the emergence of stress at work is inevitable, and its consequences can be adverse.
The causes of occupational stress vary from organizational to emotional issues. However, the foundation of stress is some kind of change in a stressor. In the simplest terms, a stressor is an irritant; once the comfortable and acceptable level of a particular irritant is exceeded, it invokes a negative reaction that is known as stress (Kelly & Barrett, 2011). For example, Adriaenssens et al. (2015) believe that work-related stress is the outcome of changes in job demands, a lack of social support, or a lack of job control. These aspects form the foundation of the job characteristics model that can be used for both estimating workplace conditions and forecasting the risks of occupational stress (Adriaenssens et al., 2015). However, in a broader context, they can be used to determine the primary causes of occupational stress.
As a general matter, there are several groups of stressors further divided into causes of occupational stress based on the specificities of the environment of operation. According to Kelly and Barrett (2011), among these groups are job qualities, role conditions, career progress, lack of challenges, and work relations. Job qualities refer to job schedules, i.e., (the over-loading or under-loading of job duties), and are closely related to the number of tasks, their nature, and the length of shifts. Job qualities can be viewed from two perspectives: qualitative and quantitative. Quantitatively, they are estimated in terms of the number of tasks or the length of job duties; forcing an individual to cope with more tasks than is predetermined for an ordinary shift is known as overload. Otherwise, the situation is called underload. From the qualitative point of view, job qualities are analyzed by viewing the job requirements, whether they include quality standards or the skills and knowledge necessary to cope with the task appropriately (Kelly & Barrett, 2011).
Overloads, both qualitative and quantitative, are common determinants of occupational stress because they cause an employee to either be unable to complete everything that was scheduled or to work with maximum effort for too long, leading to burnout. On the other hand, underload is a rare stressor due to the very nature of human beings and their natural desire to avoid excessive workloads. However, in some cases, underload also entails workplace stress because it can be seen as synonymous to being undervalued and unimportant (Kelly & Barrett, 2011; Teo et al., 2013).
Another common stressor is role conditions, a concept that is made up of two constituents: role conflict and role ambiguity (Kelly & Barrett, 2011). Role conditions are determined by the list of job duties and responsibilities. However, there is one crucial difference that should be kept in mind when estimating the importance of these stressors. In the case of role conflict, an individual cannot cope with his or her duties or make appropriate decisions to better address a challenging situation-meaning that the employee is given full responsibility for actions and decisions but lacks the competence or confidence to take it. On the other hand, role ambiguity refers to a lack of clear instructions and tasks-meaning that the individual cannot fully carry out job duties because they are not stated clearly (Kelly & Barrett, 2011; Teo et al., 2013).
The authors believe that both role ambiguity and role conflict have an identical influence on the risk of occupational stress, as they both impose significant levels of stress on an employee. Together, these concepts are even known as role stress, which points to their nature and their influence on an individual. It is imperative to note that these role challenges might be dealt with by introducing a relevant system of social support to help employees make necessary and accurate decisions (Adriaenssens et al., 2015). However, as noted before, the lack of adequate social support is a stressor itself (Griffiths et al., 2011; RAND, 2015), so only well-planned systems would be effective for addressing the problem of role stress.
Another critical cause of occupational stress is career progress. According to Kelly and Barrett (2011), this issue can be viewed from two perspectives: under-promotion and job insecurity. First of all, the problem includes the issue of under-promotion, which occurs when an individual is precluded from career development on the basis of bias or any other subjective reason. The primary focus in this area is made on the intended actions of managers or other team members who have enough authority to influence the career path of colleagues (Kelly & Barrett, 2011). On the other hand, there is also the challenge of job insecurity. In simple terms, job insecurity corresponds to the absence of guarantees of future career development and to a lack of protection of their right to career progress.
This cause of occupational threat is synonymous with the instability of a position within a company or organization. Kelly and Barrett (2011) claim that under-promotion and job insecurity are the primary irritants invoking work-related stress. However, they miss out on one more crucial problem: a lack of career opportunities. This challenge, mentioned in numerous studies, refers to the uncertainty of further career development. Still, it is imperative to note that this problem is related to a lack of company resources dedicated to enhancing employee self-development rather than to the influence of any external factors (job insecurity) or the subjectivity of influential and powerful colleagues (Griffiths et al., 2011; Trivellas et al., 2013).
One more type of stressor, a lack of challenge, is closely related to both career progress and role stress. Generally speaking, it refers to the feeling of boredom in the workplace. This sensation can be stimulated by the feeling of unimportance that derives from qualitative or quantitative underload or by seeing no prospects for career development (Kelly & Barrett, 2011).
However, it is also important to draw attention to another case: a strong leader too competent for his or her occupied position. In some cases, employees find tasks too easy and complete them so quickly that they find themselves caught up by their competence, as if the potential and energy they possess are being wasted. Such individuals often end up feeling demotivated because they cannot find reasons for further personal development, as they already have enough knowledge and skills to fulfill their job duties (Cevenini et al., 2012). The issue might become severely aggravated if there is a lack of future career opportunities and under-promotion.
Finally, there is one more group of stressors involving common irritants: work relations. These causes of occupational stress include a variety of problems and challenges, from ineffective communication to job pressure and frequent conflicts in the workplace. According to Kelly and Barrett (2011), the challenge has only one aspect: supervisor-employee interactions. They see the main problem as authoritative leaders who supervise with an iron fist and do not build any other interaction with team members.
This model of communication becomes a source of occupational stress due to the way it suppresses the personalities and aspirations of colleagues and makes them feel depressed and even want to switch jobs (Kelly & Barrett, 2011). However, there are other stressors that could also be mentioned within this group of irritants, including misunderstandings, conflicts, ineffective communication, lack of trust and openness, and a strenuous atmosphere in the workplace (Griffiths et al., 2011; Trivellas et al., 2013).
Furthermore, it is worth paying attention to the existence of particular risk factors that determine exposure to occupational stress regardless of the specific field of professional activities. These factors can be divided into two groups: organizational and personal. According to Mosadeghrad (2014), the workplace environment is the primary organizational stressor. The environment includes a variety of factors such as differences in workloads and salaries, management styles, job duties, the availability of resources and the effectiveness of allocating and managing them, career prospects, and the overall atmosphere in the work environment (Mosadeghrad, 2014). These challenges can largely be eliminated by altering management styles and adapting organizational policies.
Another group of factors that increase the risk of workplace stress are personal factors. Indeed, there are complex socioeconomic determinants aggravated by the weight of social opinion and prejudice as well as both internal and external characteristics of an individual. Among the more significant factors within this group of personal predictors of workplace stress are gender, as women are more emotional and predisposed to experiencing stress because they work both at home and at work; educational level, which directly affects job duties and the ability to complete tasks or foster career development; and status as a member of a racial or religious minority, which is closely connected to under-promotion or overload based on prejudice and subjectivity (Mosadeghrad, 2014).
These challenges can be addressed by developing the character traits of a strong leader and learning interpersonal communication. However, in people with weaker personalities, they become a significant stressor that may be impossible to cope with or eliminate (Mosadeghrad, 2014).
There is one more approach to the understanding of stressors offered by Teo et al. (2013). The authors believe that stressors can be either administrative or non-administrative. The first group of irritants is easy to identify because it includes items such as workloads and schedules. The primary emphasis is on the exclusion of factors determining the nature of the external environment and the selected management and communication style. Administrative stressors also include cooperation between team members and workplace atmosphere. However, for those stressors related to professional activities, they are closely interwoven with personal factors. Even though the nature of the activity (e.g. the necessary level of skill or knowledge required to cope with the tasks) determines one’s predisposition to occupational stress, the final outcome depends on personal character traits and inner barriers to stressful situations, as personality is what defines a person’s predisposition to stress, either at work or in private matters (Teo et al., 2013).
The consequences of workplace stress are adverse. In most cases, they are related to the organization, such as employees growing dissatisfied with a current position or having the desire to switch jobs, a drop in employee productivity and worsened performance, and employee absenteeism (Adriaenssens et al., 2015; Al-Raqadi et al., 2015; Chen et al., 2014; Kula & Sahin, 2015; Obiora & Iwuoha, 2013; O’Keefe et al., 2014; Patel, 2013; The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, 2014). However, in the most severe cases, occupational stress leads to serious health concerns including emotional burnout and depression, cardiovascular disease, workplace accidents caused by a lack of concentration, excessive aggression, and cynicism that worsens the team atmosphere and the work environment as a whole (Adriaenssens et al., 2015; Aftab & Javeed, 2012; Cevenini et al., 2012; Chen et al., 2014; Dwamena, 2012; Griffiths et al., 2011; Hakanen & Schaufeli, 2012; Trivellas et al., 2013).
In addition to the causes of occupational stress mentioned above, there is one more critical factor that should be mentioned, the primary assumption of which is that there is a link between the meaningfulness of a task and occupational stress (Daniel, 2015). This idea can be viewed from several perspectives. First and foremost, the concept of task meaningfulness can be analyzed in terms of workplace importance. For example, an individual usually assigned simple tasks may tend to feel underestimated, thus exacerbating his or her sense of helplessness and lack of job control. On the other hand, this problem can be seen as a constituent of underload or under-promotion, in that tasks of no significant importance may be used as a tool for promoting inequality in the workplace. Still, Daniel (2015) points to the existence of the following trend: realizing that one’s work is meaningful, has a positive impact on organizational outcomes, and is valued by colleagues reduces workplace stress and increases job satisfaction.
To summarize these significant findings, the consequences of occupational stress can be grouped into personal ones, which are related to an individual and his or her personal life, and organizational, which affect the company or organization. The individual effects of work-related stress can be further divided into physical and psychological ones. The first group includes headaches, cardiovascular disease, musculoskeletal pain, increased blood pressure, disordered eating habits, substance abuse and various addictions, and chronic fatigue. Psychological distress caused by occupational stressors may be exhibited in a lack of concentration, mood swings, sleep pattern disturbances, anxiety, cynicism, aggression, depression, emotional exhaustion, and even suicidal ideation or depersonalization (Adriaenssens et al., 2015; Hakanen & Schaufeli, 2012; Meško et al., 2013; Mosadeghrad, 2014).
The influence of professional stress on an organization is reflected in employee performance, decision-making, and workforce organization; such stress has a significant impact on management style and leadership, workplace morale, job satisfaction, quality of work in both manufacturing and service sectors of the economy, incidents of critical errors and mistakes, absenteeism, and the intention to switch jobs (Adriaenssens et al., 2015; Mosadeghrad, 2014). The following subsections will provide a detailed overview of the influence of occupational stress on the level of job satisfaction and employee productivity and explore how stress contributes to absenteeism.
Job satisfaction is strongly correlated with occupational stress because the higher the level of work-related stress is, the more dissatisfied employees grow with the current work conditions (Chen et al., 2014; Griffiths et al., 2011). There are many studies devoted to the connection between professional stress and job satisfaction, and all of them highlight the fact that the influence of stress is devastating regardless of the field of professional activities and the past experiences of employees and management (Aftab & Javeed, 2012; Cevenini et al., 2012; Chen et al., 2014; Griffiths et al., 2011; Trivellas et al., 2013).
The feeling of stress in the workplace can be overwhelming, but it all starts when employees feel a loss of control over events in the work environment. The causes of occupational stress may differ from heavy workloads and excessive pressure from senior management to taxing job duties and conflicts with other team members (Griffiths et al., 2011; Trivellas et al., 2013). However, in nearly all cases, professional stress results in a sensation of helplessness and fatigue accompanied by anxiety and a lack of hope for career development. Similar workplace situations are possible to avoid or moderate, but to do so requires the provision of a social support system and the effective implementation of such professionals in the workplace environment. If such systems are unavailable and an employee or a whole team is left alone with ineffective models of communication and no support from leaders or senior management, they cannot find relief in the workplace, leading them to negative emotions and dissatisfaction with their working environment (Griffiths et al., 2011; RAND, 2015). If these feelings of devastation and helplessness persist without being properly addressed, they have an adverse impact on the level of job satisfaction and increase the risk for anxiety disorders, aggression, depression, and emotional burnout (Adriaenssens et al., 2015; Griffiths et al., 2011; Hakanen & Schaufeli, 2012).
There are numerous scientific studies pointing to the existence of the correlation between workplace stress and job dissatisfaction mentioned above (Aftab & Javeed, 2012; Cevenini et al., 2012; Chen et al., 2014; Trivellas et al., 2013). One of the primary findings from recent investigations is the fact that the trend toward low job satisfaction in cases of high occupational stress is strong across all spheres of professional activities. For example, studies point to the high risk of work-related stress among financial counselors (Griffiths et al., 2011).
Because financial counselors are often isolated from social support networks and the significance of their hard work is usually underestimated, these employees tend to experience high levels of occupational stress. The issue is more severe in remote areas or in small companies that lack the resources for appropriate educational and preventative measures, including the implementation of stress coping strategies. Moreover, these positions are known to have an older workforce and constantly increasing workloads (Griffiths et al., 2011). Griffiths et al. (2011) also underscore the fact that even though only around 7% of respondents among financial counselors reported being dissatisfied with work conditions because of reasons connected to occupational stress, the figures are higher in other professional disciplines, and no employees can avoid it, regardless of whether they are employed in a blue-collar job or as an engineer in the aircraft industry.
It is especially significant to note that the level of workplace stress is one of the most effective tools for estimating the level of job satisfaction and is even used to forecast changes in the latter (Griffiths et al., 2011). Addressing the challenge of work-related stress by creating a friendly atmosphere in the workplace, moderating workloads, and fostering other preventative measures is one of the best options for increasing job satisfaction and improving employee performance and financial outcomes for an organization.
It is worth mentioning that employees who frequently work with people and who are forced to fulfill job duties known for heavy overloads are at higher risk of occupational stress. Healthcare workers are the best representation of this fact. The high pressure and heavy workloads that are common in this career field result in high turnover intentions and low job satisfaction (Cevenini et al., 2012; Trivellas et al., 2013).
Cevenini et al. (2012) argue that medical workers are exposed to the risks of occupational stress because of a lack of social appraisal of their work. Because they are not often rewarded, healthcare professionals tend to feel demotivated and believe that their work is ineffective, despite the fact that they save thousands of lives annually. Such feelings may include anxiety and stress, which foster a desire to quit or an unwillingness to improve and develop professionally (Cevenini et al., 2012). Moreover, Trivellas et al. (2013) claim that there are other stress-related reasons for growing dissatisfied with work conditions. The authors highlight that healthcare professionals are usually involved in constant conflicts with colleagues and lack access to information about preventative measures and management of the work environment. Because their work is known for heavy workloads, a lack of career opportunities, a negative and death-filled atmosphere, and a feeling of responsibility for human life, medical workers are exposed to more stress and have lower job satisfaction compared to workers in other industries (Trivellas et al., 2013).
The understanding of work-related stress and its influence on job satisfaction can be complemented by reviewing the research conducted by Adriaenssens et al. (2015), who offer a model of job characteristics that is beneficial for estimating the levels of satisfaction with work conditions and occupational stress. There are three vital elements of the model: job control, job demands, and social support. Job control refers to the feeling of freedom and the sense of opportunity for career development and career switching in case of need. When an individual has job control, he or she fulfills job duties in a comfortable environment and recognizes full responsibility for decisions made and actions taken. Moreover, job control is the knowledge that no pressure on the part of a team leader or senior management can affect career opportunities.
Simply speaking, job control is about being confident in one’s self and in future possibilities for development. This aspect is supplemented by job demands, which are determined by the list of job duties and responsibilities. This factor is also related to the hierarchy of functions in a team and the interaction between senior and junior team members. In an ideal world, job demands would refer only to carrying out the functions predetermined by the employment contract, but in practice, there might be additional pressure from managers that forces employees to work beyond the determined scope of responsibilities. Finally, social support is the system of social justice incorporated and operating within an organization; it strives to create a friendly atmosphere in the working environment, enhance trust and open communication between team members, and recognize the significance of occupational health (Adriaenssens et al., 2015). Any change in one or more constituents of the work environment brings about corresponding changes in levels of job satisfaction and work-related stress.
That being said, positive changes—such as introducing a system of rewards and benefits or moderating workloads—have a positive impact on job satisfaction, fostering dedication and motivating employees to make more effort to carry out predetermined job duties. However, the opposite case is also true; negative changes in work environment lead to decreased satisfaction and increased stress (Adriaenssens et al., 2015). All three aspects of the job characteristics model described above appear in one form or another throughout various studies of professional stress in different sectors of the economy such as those conducted by Aftab and Javeed (2012), Cevenini et al. (2012), Griffiths et al. (2011), RAND (2015), Trivellas et al. (2013), and others.
Other studies point to high levels of workplace stress and its influence on job satisfaction in public service positions, highlighting the critical role of little appreciation and uneven workloads (Kula & Sahin, 2015; Obiora & Iwuoha, 2013). For example, Obiora and Iwuoha (2013) underscore the significance of employees having a rewarding and self-satisfying feeling about their work. If an individual fulfills job functions in poor work conditions accompanied by low or unequal pay, overloads, hazardous working conditions, and difficulties in work-life balance, he or she is more likely to experience higher levels of occupational stress, contributing to lower levels of job satisfaction. The issues mentioned above are common for public service positions and impose additional emotional strain on workers (Obiora & Iwuoha, 2013).
According to Kula and Sahin (2015), the risks of occupational stress entailing low job satisfaction are higher when employees must work in hazardous conditions and under a constant threat to health and wellbeing. Even though the authors focus on the physical safety of employees operating in the law enforcement sector, they recognize the fact that the link between physical safety and emotional wellbeing is strong, with the first having a strong and direct impact on the latter (Kula & Sahin, 2015).
Although both groups of researchers investigate the cases of people fulfilling job duties in different sectors around the world, they arrive at identical conclusions that underscore the role that low pay and overtime have in contributing to employee dissatisfaction with work conditions in public sector careers. Both sets of researchers also point to the fact that these factors are the primary contributors to increasing turnover rates and wasted human resources, directly affecting the operational outcomes of organizations and the opportunities for future growth (Kula & Sahin, 2015; Obiora & Iwuoha, 2013).
Low job satisfaction is a common cause for employees’ desire to switch jobs, which in turn becomes the ground of turnover intentions and high turnover rates. As shown by the findings of recent research, only a combination of multiple factors entails a decrease in job satisfaction determined by occupational stress. The same is true about turnover intention related to workplace stress. In order to invoke the desire in employees to change places, job dissatisfaction must be accompanied by other more significant issues such as frequent conflict at work, excessive pressure from management, or an overly dominant supervisor (Kelly & Barrett, 2011). Even though there are several factors that minimize the risk of turnover intentions—such as employee marital status, gender, job experience, and age—the correlation between turnover intentions and job dissatisfaction is significantly affected by the level of occupational stress (Adriaenssens et al., 2015; Chen et al., 2014).
Some studies offer suggestions for increasing job satisfaction (Maran, Varetto, Zedda, & Ieraci, 2015; Teo et al., 2013). The primary mechanism of these strategies is to decrease the level of occupational stress or, at least, moderate its negative influences. Both Teo et al. (2013) and Maran et al. (2015) promote employee involvement and participation as the foundation for reducing professional stress and increasing job satisfaction.
The motivation behind these and similar recommendations comes from the view of job dissatisfaction as the result of a lack of job control and social support (Adriaenssens et al., 2015). Once cooperation between individuals and senior management is enhanced and joint efforts are taken to cope with the current organizational issues, feelings of self-confidence and importance within a working environment are stimulated, thus increasing the level of job satisfaction.
The findings of the investigations mentioned above point to the existence of a strong correlation between occupational stress and job satisfaction, highlighting the fact that the working environment is the major stressor that leads to lower job satisfaction (Kula & Sahin, 2015; Obiora & Iwuoha, 2013). The challenge is further aggravated by a lack of job control, career progress opportunities, and social approval; many employees, especially those employed by companies operating in the public sector, lack public gratitude and thus feel unimportant and see no meaning to their work (Griffiths et al., 2011; Kula & Sahin, 2015 Obiora & Iwuoha, 2013; Trivellas et al., 2013).
This sense contributes to demotivation and helplessness (Cevenini et al., 2012; Hakanen & Schaufeli, 2012), which may make the employee unwilling to develop new skills and obtain the necessary knowledge to fulfill job duties and help others. Therefore, the level of occupational stress skyrockets, leaving employees dissatisfied with their lives and their work.
Closely related to the challenge of occupational stress and job satisfaction is the problem of employee absenteeism. To put it simply, this phenomenon refers to employees ignoring work schedules and not attending work (Prater & Smith, 2013). This failure can be caused by a variety of reasons, but occupational stress is the most significant one. It is sometimes accompanied by a hazardous workplace environment, the risk of work-related injuries, low pay, frequent conflicts with colleagues, and more. However, taking a closer look at the factors that contribute to absenteeism, it becomes evident that they are synonymous with the causes of occupational stress. In fact, the more determiners of work-related stress such as emotional burnout and depression that occur in a workplace, the higher the risks of absenteeism (Daniel, 2015).
Regardless of the nature of the working environment and the causes of occupational stress, the factors that foster absenteeism can be divided in two groups: subjective and objective. This division is drawn by Meško et al. (2013), who believe that, in some cases, absenteeism is forced and may even be the best choice for guaranteeing safety in the workplace. To begin with, it is imperative to point out the difference between subjective and objective causes of absenteeism. Subjective reasons are related to any individual perceptions of the workplace; they can include being dissatisfied with work conditions, growing tired of ineffective communication strategies, having no job control or career opportunities, and feeling helpless and fatigued.
Generally speaking, subjective causes of absenteeism cover personal concerns related to the psychological wellbeing of an individual and his or her comfort in the workplace (Meško et al., 2013). On the other hand, objective reasons are not determined by an employee or organization, but rather they refer to the unpredictable and uncontrollable external environment and situations that contribute to the choice to miss work. These reasons usually involve some serious health concerns, natural disasters, or political and military developments.
Meško et al. (2013) claim that in cases of serious objective causes, especially regarding health concerns such as a lack of focus or concentration, absenteeism is justified and may even be the best possible option. In this rationale, it is better and safer for an employee to stay away from work in cases of extremity given the potential opportunity to save the life of the absent individual or even those surrounding them. These decisions are extremely important when considering professional activities of doctors or those who work in hazardous environments and are responsible for dangerous activities such as construction or working with weapons.
Because workplace stress significantly affects the psychological wellbeing of individuals, the issue of absenteeism should be viewed in terms of emotional burnout and other mental concerns. First and foremost, it is paramount to note that burnout is characterized by a sense of constant mental fatigue, feelings of helplessness and demotivation, an unwillingness to complete work, a loss of concentration, and procrastination (Hakanen & Schaufeli, 2012). Hakanen and Shaufeli (2012) state that in the most severe cases, burnout can lead to depression, substance addition, despair, anger, aggression, and other self-destructive behaviors (Martin et al., 2013).
These cases are among the instances of justified, objective absenteeism because the individual requires professional help before getting back to work with colleagues. The challenge is especially severe for public servants and healthcare professionals. The difficulty with depression is the fact that some of its physical symptoms such as nausea, stomachaches, headaches, and diarrhea are common and not only related to the severe mental health concern (Prater & Smith, 2011). For this reason, some individuals choose to ignore them and attend work anyway. This phenomenon is one of the aspects of presenteeism, i.e., (always being present at work) and making maximum effort to fulfill job duties, even while ignoring physical signs and the potential impact on organizational outcomes and the wellbeing of colleagues (Martin et al., 2013).
This phenomenon is described in detail by Martin et al. (2013), who draw attention to the fact that around 30% of Americans experience severe health concerns but do not seek professional help, instead choosing to attend work out of a fear of being fired and thus losing an opportunity to make a living, accompanied with the further exacerbations of occupational and personal stress on their work and family relationships. This vicious cycle is impossible to disrupt, as it requires the involvement of the affected individual—forceful activities on the part of senior management will lead to no positive outcomes.
Prater and Smith (2011) point to the negative impact of presenteeism on the performance of both the affected individual, who has shown up to work while ignoring health concerns, and his or her colleagues. The primary challenge in attending work while suffering from serious health concerns is the risk of spreading a contagious disease to other members of a team. Similar cases are frequent and influence organizations negatively, as they are forced to increase spending to cope with the illness and promote health.
According to Prater and Smith (2011), not only do ordinary employees tend to ignore the signals of their bodies and attend work out of a fear of being punished or sanctioned for the absence; managers and team leaders who are responsible for the physical and emotional wellbeing of their colleagues also choose to be present at work while ignoring the need for professional help and increasing the risk of infecting others. Such rash acts have a negative impact on both individual and organizational performance, as physical health is the foundation of emotional wellbeing and reduces the risks of occupational stress (RAND, 2015; The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, 2014).
Significantly, this challenge of absenteeism is closely related to the concept of occupational health due to the fact that employers are legally obligated to provide employees with the necessary care to promote emotional and physical wellbeing and to eliminate any physical hazards in the workplace. Similarly, organizations must minimize the risks of occupational stress, as the costs deriving from the negative outcomes of occupational stress are spectacular (The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, 2014). For example, Prater and Smith (2011) highlight the fact that American companies spend $83 billion annually to combat the consequences of depression and anxiety disorders among employees.
Absenteeism can be further encouraged by feelings of demotivation caused by a lack of social appreciation or gratitude of one’s work. These instances are frequent among healthcare professionals, financial counselors, and public service workers (Griffiths et al., 2011; Kula & Sahin, 2015 Obiora & Iwuoha, 2013; Trivellas et al., 2013). Because these positions are usually known for low pay and heavy workloads, those employed within these sectors of the economy end up thinking that their work is not important—so there is no reason to attend and fulfill job duties (Kelly & Barrett, 2011; Teo et al., 2013).
Lack of public appreciation, low pay, and heavy workloads are not the only causes of absenteeism. It is also fostered by a great number of different determinants of occupational stress such as job dissatisfaction, bullying in the workplace, a strenuous atmosphere, unrealistic job demands having nothing to do with job duties, a lack of positive interventions aimed at promoting employees’ physical and mental wellbeing and improving the working environment, and ignoring the significance of health and employee wellbeing (RAND, 2015; Tadesse, Ebrahim, & Gizaw, 2015).
It is furthermore highlighted that the opposite of these determinants enhance positive presenteeism, contributing to higher levels of employee productivity and lower levels of occupational stress. Moreover, according to RAND (2015), the intentions to miss work are motivated by low employee performance and a failure to meet quality requirements, especially when systems of sanctions are implemented within a working environment.
Tadesse et al. (2015) believe that absenteeism has origins in mental sicknesses. Even though it is caused by occupational stress, its roots go beyond work conditions and extend to social bias and prejudice; indeed, not only do heavy workloads contribute to absenteeism but also belonging to a racial, religious, or gender minority. Findings by Tadesse et al. (2015) can be supplemented by the results of the investigation conducted by Chakraborty and Subramanya (2013), which point to the strong correlation between absenteeism intentions and sociocultural factors such as age, sex, educational background, and marital status; personal cognitive matters such as substance abuse, constant emotional fatigue, and depression; and organizational factors including heavy workloads, gross pay, and overtime shifts. Indeed, these three groups of factors—sociocultural, personal, and organizational—predetermine one’s disposition to absenteeism and aggravate the severity of the sickness (Chakraborty & Subramanya, 2013; Tadesse et al., 2015).
Absenteeism is a serious organizational problem common for countries and industries around the globe. According to the findings of Sharma and Magotra (2013), around 10% of employees do not attend work regularly, ignoring the fulfillment of job duties and the significant role they play in achieving organizational objectives. There are several significant antecedents that predetermine absenteeism intentions. As mentioned above, they are divided into personal and organizational factors (Chakraborty & Subramanya, 2013; Tadesse et al., 2015).
However, paying more precise attention to the causes leading to absenteeism is a valuable contribution to the understanding of occupational stress and employee productivity. Several groups of researchers, namely Tadesse et al. (2015), Chakraborty and Subramanya (2013), and Sharma and Magotra (2013), point to the influence of gender on the intention to miss work. More specifically, women are more likely to miss work than men. There are several reasons for this phenomenon. First of all, women are typically responsible for a variety of functions at home including childrearing, which is why some women find it especially difficult to find a balance between personal life and work. On the other hand, men are often assumed to be the breadwinners.
For this reason, the responsibility to attend work and earn money is higher for men, thus leading to lower rates of absenteeism compared to women. It is paramount to note that there is no distinction between industries of operation or positions occupied within a company; indeed, the trend is always the same. The persistence of this connection may also be connected to the nature of men and women, as men are generally more resistant to stress than women, who are weaker in work-related areas and more exposed to occupational stress (Sharma & Magotra, 2013). However, there is no direct connection between marital status and absenteeism intentions, as single employees i.e., (those without a significant other and children) tend to skip work more often for various reasons, including the desire to actualize themselves in their personal lives and the deep responsibility they feel to take care of and support their parents, families, and elderly relatives.
The next determiner of absenteeism intention is the tenure of an employee. This correlation can be easily explained by human nature, as a longer tenure implies a higher level of confidence in the future, thus leading to more frequent instances of absenteeism. It is worth mentioning that this correlation is contemporary, as it is affected by the volume of tenure (Sharma & Magotra, 2013). Once an individual begins to lack confidence in his or her future wellbeing and feels the need to increase income, he or she will skip work less frequently and focus on improving performance, as it is directly connected to financial wellbeing.
Moreover, absenteeism is significantly affected by work experience. To put it simply, those who have worked with a company for many years are more likely to ignore it, unlike the newly employed (Sharma & Magotra, 2013). The rationale behind this trend is similar to the case of the length of tenure, as lengthy experience brings a sort of confidence in future career progress that a lack of experience and perceived knowledge does not. Moreover, it is closely related to the opportunity of switching jobs because employees with more experience have greater chances for filling well-paid positions. However, the correlation between age and work attendance is just the opposite, as older employees are more likely to be responsible when it comes to attending work and fulfilling job duties than younger colleagues who do not yet have the sense of responsibility (Sharma & Magotra, 2013). This phenomenon can be explained by employees becoming devoted to the workplace and developing a habit of attending regularly over long years of life and work.
In addition to the determiners mentioned above, Sharma and Magotra (2013) underscore the role of remuneration in estimating the rate of absenteeism. The revealed trend is relatively simple: those who are paid more attend work more regularly than people who earn less money. This phenomenon can be explained either by the relative importance of the positions, as those receiving higher wages usually have more responsibility and authority, or by the sense of power and the fear of losing it.
Regardless of the causes of this trend, it exists, and it is strong. Indeed, wages are closely connected with levels of job satisfaction and absenteeism intentions. According to the findings of Sharma and Magotra (2013), those who are paid more tend to be more satisfied with the positions they occupy within a company, which is why they give preference to attending work. In this way, higher job satisfaction directly affects presenteeism in its positive representation.
As identified by Sharma and Magotra (2013), there is also a connection between absenteeism and an effective and comprehensive system of rewards and benefits. More specifically, promotion and confidence in career progress are directly connected to lower instances of absenteeism. The same can be said about being rewarded for a high level of employee performance. On the other hand, those who do not feel the positive impact of the system of promotion and rewards are more likely to be absent from work because they feel demotivated and do not see the point in attending work (Sharma & Magotra, 2013).
Finally, Sharma and Magotra (2013) underscore the significance of personal perceptions of the workplace environment and the influence they have on job dedication and work attendance. These perceptions depend on every aspect of workplace organization, from the choice of management strategy and communication model to the implementation of professional policies aimed at reducing work-place stress and mitigating its consequences. The primary idea is the following: if an employee’s worldview is negative and he or she believes that organizational strategies promote inequality, then that employee will prefer to be absent from work. On the other hand, a positive perception of the working environment and the managerial techniques in place invokes a desire to be present at work and fosters an increase in job performance (Sharma & Magotra, 2013).
The perception of the workplace can be supplemented by interpersonal skills, as the two are closely related. When it comes to estimating absenteeism intentions and giving preference to attending work, the role of communication is critical. The instances of open and trust-based communication are accompanied by higher rates of work attendance, while ineffective communication skills add to the establishment of a strenuous atmosphere in the workplace and more frequent cases of absenteeism (Sharma & Magotra, 2013).
The only drawback of the studies mentioned above is the fact that they do not estimate the significance of leadership style, focusing only on personal and organizational factors contributing to employee absenteeism (Chakraborty & Subramanya, 2013; RAND, 2015; Sharma & Magotra, 2013; Tadesse et al., 2015). This gap can be filled by taking a closer look at the study conducted by Milton, J., & Milton, M. (2009). The authors investigate the complex phenomenon of absenteeism from the perspective of leadership style and the use of motivational language. They conclude that frequent instances of motivational language are more often connected with lower absenteeism intentions, as this communication strategy directly addresses the individual need for gratitude and public appraisal (Milton, J., & Milton, M., 2009). Moreover, the friendly and inspiring behavior of a leader stimulates desirable changes in the work environment, including dedication and perseverance, that have a positive influence on the organization’s performance and employee productivity (Milton, J., & Milton, M., 2009).
According to the findings of Milton, J., & Milton, M. (2009), absenteeism intentions are further connected to the organization’s reaction to employees missing work. The emphasis is placed on the response of the employee’s team leader or senior management. Using strict control measures or deploying sanctions without making an attempt to find out the cause for being absent, i.e., (reacting negatively to employee absenteeism), entails further instances of absenteeism in the future. On the other hand, addressing the experience of absenteeism positively by implementing steps to avoid it in the future without using sanctions contributes to positive changes in the working environment. Indeed, the employees and other team members will grow more dedicated and attend work more regularly, making the maximum effort to benefit the company (Milton, J., & Milton, M., 2009).
In conclusion, the opinions on absenteeism in recent research highlight the fact that, in most cases, this phenomenon is closely related to high levels of occupational stress (Hakanen & Schaufeli, 2012; Martin et al., 2013). Moreover, it is worth noting that the antecedents of absenteeism are synonymous with the causes of work-related stress and that addressing them may be a valuable step for coping with the challenge of distress at work. Even though there are other determiners of absenteeism such as organizational, personal, sociocultural, and health-related factors (Chakraborty & Subramanya, 2013; RAND, 2015; Tadesse et al., 2015), they are all contributors to work-related stress, thus fostering absenteeism. Still, there is some conflict of opinion, as Meško et al. (2013) justify absenteeism in cases related to wellbeing or safety, while most findings highlight its negativity (Daniel, 2015; Hakanen & Schaufeli, 2012; Martin et al., 2013).
Another concept closely related to the challenge of workplace stress and job satisfaction is employee productivity, which is defined as the ability of an employee to complete assigned tasks by meeting the set deadlines and using available procedures and technologies (Campbell, 2015). Roelofsen (2012) defines productivity as “the increased functional and organizational performance, including quality” (p. 248). In other words, productivity means that employees have enough competence and knowledge to meet quality expectations and defined timeframes. Sometimes, the term also refers to the possibility of exceeding the determined tasks without impairing the quality of the finished product or service. Because employees form the foundation of the organizational and financial success of a company, employee productivity is seen as the natural determiner for organizational success. For the same reason, reaching a higher level of employee productivity is the primary strategic objective of most organizations across all industries (Hanaysha, 2016).
According to the findings of Hanaysha (2016) and Sharma, M. S., and Sharma, M. V. (2014), employee productivity has a positive impact on organizational development for several reasons. First and foremost, it is the foundation of a company’s economic growth, as higher outputs lead to more active economic development and growth rates. For the same reason, it entails higher profitability and improves organizational image because a company turns into a synonym for economic success (Hanaysha, 2016; Sharma, M. S., & Sharma, M. V., 2014).
In addition to fostering economic development and supporting higher profitability rates, increased employee productivity is the foundation of social progress. The rationale behind this statement is the fact that with greater productivity, an organization gains more social influence and control, obtaining the opportunity to drive changes in society that benefit both the company itself and the population of a particular country.
Along with the organizational changes and developments mentioned above, higher rates of employee productivity are a great source of motivation for employees and inspire them to be more creative. Indeed, employees grow interested in the future success of their organization because it will benefit them through higher wages, better career prospects, and greater chances for success in life (Hanaysha, 2016; Sharma, M. S., & Sharma, M. V., 2014). Employees are motivated to develop professionally because they recognize the significance of increased effectiveness for both organizational and individual prosperity.
Higher employee productivity goes hand in hand with lower rates of absenteeism and occupational stress and higher rates of job satisfaction. The justification behind the existence of this trend is the fact that productivity suffers when employees decrease the number of hours spent on fulfilling job duties or miss work. Instead, employees’ dedication to the organization and their maximum efforts to meet quality and recruitment requirements are the foundation of high productivity. In most cases, productivity is harmed by burnout and depression (Hakanen & Schaufeli, 2012).
Because burnout and depression are signaled by excessive aggression, outbursts of anger, cynicism, frustration, and other negative emotions, they affect interactions between all team members. Indeed, Hakanen and Schaufeli (2012) believe that the negative perception of work conditions caused by occupational stress is among the primary threats to employee productivity. The problem is especially acute for companies working in the service industry, as aggression and negativity often lead to poor quality of service. Low employee productivity affects not only the prospects of an individual working with a company but also the whole organization due to the fact that the poorer quality of manufactured goods or provided services causes a drop in customer satisfaction (Hakanen & Schaufeli, 2012).
As mentioned above, emotional burnout and depression caused by occupational stress are among the most common reasons for absenteeism (Daniel, 2015; Meško et al.; Prater & Smith, 2011). However, there is another negative phenomenon closely related to absenteeism that is called presenteeism. This term refers to the situation of employees always being present at work, even while ignoring the health concerns, signs of depression or burnout, and potentially negative consequences for productivity that presenteeism might lead to (Martin et al., 2013). Working under such conditions, in most cases, becomes a source of further threats to the individual’s health, which only aggravates the effects of occupational stress and emotional burnout.
There are many different approaches to defining employee productivity. For example, RAND (2015) designed the environmental approach to discussing the phenomenon. According to the conclusions of RAND (2015), employee productivity should be estimated from the perspective of three constituents: work-environment factors, health and physical factors, and personal factors. The work-environment aspects of employee productivity include organizational issues such as workplace atmosphere, instances of conflicts between coworkers, and corporate policies.
They are also related to timeframes for completing appointed tasks, managerial strategies, and different interventions designed to improve the working atmosphere, employee productivity, and communication within teams and departments. The second constituent, health and physical factors, covers any health concerns and conditions that might have a short-term or long-term influence on the physical and mental wellbeing of an employee. It is important to note that these factors are predetermined by the external environment and are not connected to personal development. Finally, personal factors are those related to personal attitudes, perceptions, and lifestyle that affect employee performance and organizational outcomes (RAND, 2015).
Furthermore, Chen et al. (2014) claim that employee productivity can be estimated by analyzing the determinants that have a direct influence on it. For example, the authors emphasize the importance of absenteeism rates, stress levels, and job satisfaction. The primary idea is the following: lower rates of absenteeism and lower levels of occupational stress accompanied by high levels of job satisfaction are the major determinant of a high employee productivity rate. The specificity of this approach is the use of interviews, questionnaires, and employee feedback as the tool for collecting necessary information (Chen et al., 2014).
Another unique approach to determining the level of employee productivity is the one designed by Cevenini et al. (2012), who believe that there are six important dimensions of employee productivity that should be addressed and measured. These dimensions are the ability to find the right balance between work and private life, interpersonal relationships including communication and the frequency of conflicts in the workplace, the fulfillment of job duties and relevance of job responsibilities, the desire to enhance personal growth and sensitivity to changes in the work environment, the correspondence of roles in the workplace, and the organizational structure of a team or a department (Cevenini et al., 2012). This approach is one of the most comprehensive ones, as it addresses many aspects of the work environment including the challenges related to working with other team members.
The approaches to estimating employee productivity offered by Chen et al. (2014) and Cevenini et al. (2012) are comprehensive ones involving numerous details for analysis. For this reason, they can be quite difficult to use, and some researchers may prefer methods for estimating employee productivity that have less detail and fewer requirements. For example, Hanaysha (2016) proposes measuring employee productivity as output during a determined timeframe. This output can be measured using both qualitative and quantitative approaches. The first one stands for meeting quality requirements or standards determined by the employer.
The quantitative perspective for estimating performance comes down to the number of completed tasks or the amount of provided services. The issue is also connected to meeting company requirements but in terms of quantity only. The foundation of another approach mentioned by Hanaysha (2016) and Sharma, M. S., and Sharma, M. V. (2014) is measuring the number of hours spent at the workplace. Because this measurement lacks reliability on its own, however, it is supplemented by pointing to the significance of being mentally present at work, i.e., (completing tasks in time and satisfying quality requirements) (Hanaysha, 2016; Sharma M. S., & Sharma, M. V., 2014).
It is also worth mentioning that the workplace environment is the major stressor that contributes to decreased employee productivity and increased occupational stress (Daniel, 2015). The workplace environment can be analyzed by incorporating the elements of approaches proposed by Cevenini et al. (2012), Chen et al. (2014), and RAND (2015). Indeed, each of the constituents mentioned above is helpful in its own way for estimating the current state of a work environment and for understanding the roots of occupational stress, backing up the assumption that a negative working environment leads to lower employee productivity (Roelofsen, 2012).
The level of employee productivity is significantly impacted by the organization of a work environment, the effectiveness of its management, and the overall image of the company. Campbell (2015) points to the existence of the following trend: high employee productivity is closely related to the positive perception of the organization’s brand and image in the eyes of society, as well as to the selection of effective management and communication strategies, especially those that encourage openness in sharing opinions and participation in making vital decisions. Moreover, this phenomenon is closely related to senior management’s perception of the significance of work-life balance.
When a company recognizes and guarantees the right employees have to live their own personal lives and helps them reach a healthy balance, they will grow more dedicated and make greater efforts toward reaching organizational objectives and working to guaranteeing the successful future of their company (Campbell, 2015). On the other hand, if managers do not recognize the importance of a healthy work-life balance, employees will grow dissatisfied with organizational policies and strategies, thus becoming less productive and experiencing a higher rate of occupational stress (Campbell, 2015).
The recognition of the critical significance of work-life balance can be supplemented by pointing to the importance of a comfortable workplace and enhancing the establishment of a friendly working environment. Both Campbell (2015) and Roelofsen (2012) argue for the crucial influence of a comfortable workplace atmosphere on the level of employee productivity. In this way, comfort in the workplace is the primary tool for reducing the risks and negative consequences of occupational stress. However, it is worth mentioning the fact that Roelofsen (2012) goes beyond and investigates physical comfort instead of focusing on communication and interactions like Campbell (2015). The author finds that job productivity is enhanced by particular brightness of lightning, thermal conditions, office or building design, and noise levels (Roelofsen, 2012).
Another critical feature of a comfortable working environment is the strictness of control measures; it was identified that severe control has a negative influence on job productivity and increases occupational stress caused by role stress, while fulfilling job duties in a democratic environment with independence and freedom of choice has a positive impact on employees, decreasing the level of occupational stress and increasing productivity (Roelofsen, 2012; Kelly & Barrett, 2011).
Today, with the introduction of the newest technologies to everyday life, the limitations of the workplace have been lifted, and the working environment has been shifted to the virtual dimension. Such recent developments in the working environment have become a source of additional challenges related to workplace organization and management. Blount (2015) focuses attention on the specificities of the productivity of so-called invisible workers. The investigator underscores the positive influence that the transition to the virtual environment has on employee productivity. Indeed, increased opportunity for virtual work decreases the risks of absenteeism and presenteeism as well as eradicates the challenge of heavy workloads and interpersonal conflicts, as there is no physical working environment. Moreover, the opportunity to design the best-fitting and most appropriate schedules is another contributor to enhanced employee productivity (Blount, 2015).
Nevertheless, as Blount (2015) points out, enhanced employee productivity does not eliminate the risks of occupational stress. In fact, stress can be stimulated by the challenge of controlling the availability of employees and managers. Even though social networks such as Skype are commonly used for communication and represent the network status, the problem of controlling employee performance and getting in touch with them is still challenging. Moreover, individually designed schedules that benefit an employee are not always the most appropriate for an employer. The same can be said about the timeframes and deadlines proposed by senior management, which might be stressful for a distant employee (Blount, 2015). Altogether, the specificities of the digital working environment still expose employees to the risks of work-related stress and emotional burnout, especially given the probability of overtime shifts and heavy workloads accompanied by impaired communication.
To conclude, employee productivity is among the major features to be negatively influenced by the existence of occupational stress. Even though there are a variety of opinions on the concept of employee productivity and its connection with work-related stress, all of them point to the existence of a negative correlation between the two, as higher levels of stress at work inevitably entail lower levels of employee productivity (Chen et al., 2014; Roelofsen, 2012; Kelly & Barrett, 2011). Still, the primary emphasis is given to the atmosphere of the working environment, whether it is related to the emotional or physical aspects of working conditions (Campbell, 2015; Roelofsen, 2012), and to the importance of allowing employees to reach a work-life balance because it is a tool for fostering dedication and increasing employee productivity (Roelofsen, 2012; Kelly & Barrett, 2011).
Strategies for Minimizing the Risks of Occupational Stress
Because occupational stress is a complex organizational and societal phenomenon, it requires the development and implementation of comprehensive techniques to minimize the risks of its emergence and mitigate its negative personal and organizational consequences. These strategies should be based on the specific needs of people and organizations—meaning that they should be highly customized due to the impossibility of inventing a one-size-fits-all formula for effective stress coping techniques (Meško et al., 2013). Meško et al. (2013) argue for the division of strategies aimed at coping with stress into two groups: those focused on problems and those focused on emotions. This categorized approach is generally accepted among scholars and is applicable to coping techniques for both individuals and organizations.
According to the findings of Meško et al. (2013), strategies focusing on problems are designed to solve problems emerging in the workplace. For example, a possible problem-focused strategy would address low job satisfaction or seek ways to enhance employee’s motivation and desire to fulfill job duties effectively. The primary idea behind this type of strategy is its contemporary effect; once the existing matter of concern is addressed and its influence is mitigated, there is no sense in preserving the strategy, so the related activities cease while management waits for the emergence of similar challenges in the future.
As for the emotion-focused strategies, their significance for combating occupational stress cannot be underestimated, and studies prove they are effective (Meško et al., 2013). The primary specificity of these coping techniques is their comprehensive and permanent character. In this case, the focus of the strategy is on preventative measures, instead of on addressing a problem that has already emerged. This type of strategy is based on long-term tools for preventing stress and focuses on the emotional wellbeing of employees as the foundation of their performance and job satisfaction, as well as their natural barrier against occupational stress.
More specifically, Meško et al. (2013) point to the necessity of investing in establishing a friendly atmosphere in the workplace by enhancing trust and openness in communication and building a democratic management and leadership style in order to minimize the risks of work-related stress. It is assumed that feeling supported by other team members and eradicating the possibility of prejudice on the basis of racial, religious, educational, gender, or any other background is the best option for organizing friendly workplace relations and diminishing the threats of occupational stress.
Teo et al. (2013) go further in the investigation of the effectiveness of problem-focused and emotion-focused strategies for reducing occupational stress. The authors recognize the significance of designing a strategy that incorporates elements of both techniques mentioned above, as the proposed strategy will aim at both creating a friendly environment in the workplace and addressing any problems that emerge in the course of work activities (Teo et al., 2013). However, the primary emphasis of this strategy remains on the necessity and significance of cooperation and involvement. It is assumed that no strategy will be effective if employees do not actively participate in its design and implementation. Teo et al. (2013) underscore the importance of free and open communication and encourage employees to share insights on ways to improve organizational stress coping strategies by adding any aspects they find valuable and eliminating any elements they believe are unimportant.
The idea behind this strategy is quite simple: employee participation enhances the feeling of importance in a team; every time an employee is given the opportunity to discuss and propose changes, his or her confidence in career opportunities and feeling of job control increase, thus leading to a higher level of job satisfaction and a lower level of occupational stress. In addition, choosing communication and employee involvement as the foundation of the stress-coping strategy will allow the organization to craft a completely unique technique for coping with stress at work because every individual who shares his or her particular needs makes the strategy more comprehensive and human-centered (Teo et al., 2013).
In order to effectively address stress at work, it is also imperative to keep in mind the roots of this complex phenomenon and incorporate the primary aspects of the determinants into stress coping techniques. For example, according to Mosadeghrad (2014), women are more predisposed to occupational stress because of the specificities of their emotional nature and their double loads, as they work both at home and at work. Managers should keep this specific feature of female employees in mind by creating a more comfortable environment in the workplace, guaranteeing that overloads are rewarded, and providing adequate social support. Moreover, the researcher points to the existence of a correlation between the level of education (perceived knowledge) and the risk of occupational stress, as characterized by the following trend: lower academic performance entails lower chances for high-paid work, thus leading to higher risks of workplace stress (Mosadeghrad, 2014).
The existence and strength of this trend points to the necessity of investing in the development of human resources. Of course, it is impossible to invest in all employees obtaining a college education, but most companies can afford to conduct training and provide enough educational materials so that each employee has enough competence to fulfill predetermined job duties appropriately and address workplace issues effectively. Furthermore, Mosadeghrad (2014) points to the role of belonging to a racial or religious minority in invoking occupational stress. The problem is severely aggravated in the case of having only one representative of a minority in a team.
This situation requires the development and implementation of a special minority-neutral strategy of communication and interaction between team members that enhances equity and respect for human dignity without regard to religious or ethnic background. The primary idea is to develop techniques to promote long-term occupational health in the workplace, as it is the foundation of not only employee wellbeing but also of the successful future of the organization as a whole.
Furthermore, it is believed that there are three crucial job characteristics: job demands, job control, and social support (Adriaenssens et al., 2015). These aspects of the workplace, which are often interpreted as the causes of occupational stress, can become the foundation of another strategy for coping with the challenges of workplace stress. For instance, a lack of job control and opportunities for career progress can be addressed by implementing a communication and leadership strategy that fosters unbiased interactions between team members by estimating work progress on the basis of accomplishments and competence instead of subjective opinion.
Moreover, a lack of social support can be overcome using a strategy that enhances communication and equality, as the mutual understanding of team members and shared feelings of trust are the best options for building the necessary support system, especially in cases related to feelings of helplessness, emotional burnout, or depression. Finally, the problem of job demands related to occupational stress can be easily mitigated by estimating the competence and knowledge of each individual and assigning tasks strictly within these levels of expertise and according to the list of job duties and responsibilities (Adriaenssens et al., 2015).
This strategy can be complemented by guaranteeing particular workloads, as overtime shifts are also a stressor pertaining to higher job demands. The primary idea is to accompany any changes in job characteristics with corresponding alterations in the organizational strategy used to minimize the risks of stress and cope with its negative consequences; in this way, employees will not be stressed out by innovations and can adapt to them with the necessary support that guarantees their emotional wellbeing.
The most significant breakthrough of the current research on stress coping strategies is the fact that implementing organizational strategies for mitigating the consequences of stress is not a comprehensive step for addressing the problem. Indeed, even the most effective and well-thought-out strategy that focuses on the needs of individuals and the objectives of organizational development cannot fully address the challenge of occupational stress if it is not supplemented by an individual stress coping strategy for a particular employee (Mosadeghrad, 2014).
In other words, each individual working with the company should design his or her own technique for overcoming workplace stress because, first of all, it is impossible for management to address the needs of all employees, especially in multinational corporations. Second, organizational strategies really serve as a framework of actions that establish the scope of the organization’s responsibilities and determine potential steps it could take to promote the psychological wellbeing of its staff (Mosadeghrad, 2014). For example, the company can conduct training aimed at teaching employees how to mitigate the influence of stress at work and can take steps to prevent stress by creating a friendly atmosphere in the workplace or enhancing equality, but no company can implement comprehensive techniques that address the needs of all employees; ultimately, individual wellbeing falls within the scope of responsibility of an individual (Mosadeghrad, 2014).
Some of individual strategies for minimizing the risks of occupational stress and mitigating its negative consequences recommended by Mosadeghrad (2014) include leading a healthy lifestyle by giving preference to healthy food and being active in sports, developing time management and interpersonal communication skills in order to avoid overloads and conflicts in the workplace, and meditating. The following illustration serves as one good example of the required level of cooperation between an organization and an individual: a company can afford to design the space for meditation, but it cannot force employees to meditate when they are experiencing particular difficulties in the workplace. The same can be said about the introduction of a social support system in a team: even though an organization might choose to invest in the establishment of the social support department, senior management cannot force employees to share their troubles with professionals and seek ways to overcome them.
Another comprehensive opinion on addressing occupational stress is offered by Maran et al. (2015), pointing to the significance of preventative measures as the foundation for any effective stress coping strategy. The authors believe that the best technique should incorporate both educational measures and social support (Maran et al., 2015). The authors emphasize the centrality of gender and race differences in the work environment. Based on the specificities of a team and employees, strategies for coping with occupational stress and systems of social support are proposed. The challenge is again in the fact that this strategy requires individual involvement in order to foster positive changes in the working environment and mitigate the consequences of work-related stress (Maran et al., 2015).
The focus is made not only on the racial and gender composition of a team or an environment but also on the unique features of the work. For example, those who are functioning within a hazardous environment should be supplied with more detailed educational and preventative measures due to its a priori higher level of work-related stress.
One more beneficial strategy for reducing the risks of occupational stress within an organization relies on the development of an internal system for the exchange of information and feedback (Teo et al., 2013). This strategy can be viewed from the perspectives of the roots and consequences of work-related stress. When estimating the causes of occupational stress, a lack of access to necessary or helpful information is one of the primary stressors (Cevenini et al., 2012; Trivellas et al., 2013).
The issue is closely related to ineffective communication between team members and senior management when it comes to introducing changes and implementing strategies for increasing productivity or reducing stress. The consequences of inadequate access to information are the further aggravation of occupational stress and mistrust of management’s ability to address any significant organizational or developmental challenges. The development of channels for distributing information and gathering feedback is supplemented by the introduction of a participative management style that increases employee involvement as the foundation for combating work-related stress (Maran et al., 2015). This strategy mitigates the negative consequences of occupational stress because it enhances job satisfaction and focuses on communication, which is the key to effective interactions and feelings of job control.
There are also several stress coping strategies offered by Chan, Jeung, and Yu (2012). The foundation of their approach is the provision of social support to employees who feel distressed and helpless as the tool for minimizing the risks of occupational stress and moderating its negative consequences. The authors propose the division of this approach into different groups of strategies based on the nature of support provided to employees: individual coping strategies, planful problem-solving, cognitive reappraisal, instrumental support seeking, emotional discharge, social support seeking, escapism-avoidance, adjustment support, career support, and financial support (Chan et al., 2012). The first approach of individual coping strategies includes the emotion-focused and problem-focused strategies mentioned above and described by Meško et al. (2013) and Teo et al. (2013). There are no new contributions to this strategy made by the authors.
Furthermore, attention is drawn to the existence of planful problem-solving, a method that involves group strategies for coping with occupational stress and eradicating its influence on a team operating within one working environment. The cognitive reappraisal strategy is a combination of both individual and collective approaches to combating work-related stress that addresses each problem from different perspectives and analyzes all aspects of the situation in order to fully and comprehensively address it (Chan et al., 2012). Instrumental support seeking is a strategy based on the individual search for external sources of information containing details about helpful instruments for addressing similar challenges and problems. This strategy is beneficial for seeking help from senior management or from those who have had lengthy work experiences in a similar working environment and have faced numerous stressful situations. Moreover, Chan et al. (2012) point to the effectiveness of emotional discharge as a means of revealing negative emotions and focusing instead on the positive aspects of work. This might include meditation, playing sports, or pursuing hobbies (Mosadeghrad, 2014).
As for social support seeking, this strategy includes asking for help from people who are not operating within the same working environment. These might be friends or family members. This strategy relies on the trust and openness in communication that may be hard to achieve with colleagues. However, in some cases, employees find it more comfortable to share problems and matters of concern with colleagues, team leaders, or managers. This strategy is referred to as seeking organizational support, and it has a high level of effectiveness because it draws on similar challenges in the same workplace and offers the opportunity for positive changes in terms of cooperation, communication, and involvement of coworkers (Chan et al., 2012).
Organizational support can be further divided into financial, career, and adjustment support. Financial support is as simple as it sounds: those experiencing financial problems are supported by a company through several different means such as the implementation of a system of benefit and rewards, compensation plans, living allowances, and bonuses (Chan et al., 2012).
Another form of organizational support, adjustment support refers to changes in organizational policies needed to minimize the risks of work-related stress and improve work conditions. Finally, companies might choose to deploy career support for reducing stress; in this approach, management focuses on satisfying the career needs of employees and being objective when deciding on career progress (Chan et al., 2012). Chan et al. (2012) support the belief that a combination of individual and organizational practices is the most effective and beneficial strategy because it is comprehensive and focuses on the needs of both the employees and the organization. A similar opinion was expressed by Teo et al. (2013) and Maran et al. (2015), who draw specific attention to the significance of the involvement and participation of individuals when it comes to developing and implementing a stress coping strategy within an organization.
The idea of organizational support expressed by Chan et al. (2012), Mosadeghrad, (2014), and Teo et al. (2013) is further supported by the findings of RAND (2015). However, there is a significant difference in the findings of the studies mentioned above, as, according to RAND (2015), the foundation of organizational support is the variety of interventions such as different educational programs, counseling sessions, lifestyle-guidance programs, assessments of cognitive and mental atmosphere in the workplace, and more. Even though Chan et al. (2012), Mosadeghrad, (2014), and Teo et al. (2013) pointed to the significance of developing and implementing supportive strategies and policies, they never mentioned an in-depth investigation into the potential causes of occupational stress or the psychological state of employees, determining no real basis for implementing the changes.
Workplace Stress in the Ship-Repair Industry
The ship-repair industry is characterized by the existence of a variety of specificities. For example, the primary focus of employees is always on safety issues, as it is one of the central determinants of employee productivity (Al-Raqadi et al., 2015). Even though the maritime industry is closely related to other sectors of economy when it comes to determining the roots of occupational stress, working in a hazardous environment is the major stressor that makes the ship-repair industry one of the most stressful ones (Cardoso et al., 2014).
According to the findings of Cardoso et al. (2014) working in a ship-repair company carries higher risks of work-related accidents, allocation of workloads, overtime shifts, and problems with work-life balance compared to other industries. This statement is supported by Bakotić and Babić (2013), who highlight the significance of safe and comfortable working conditions for both the emotional and physical wellbeing of employees. Constantly working under the realization of the high risk of work-related accidents is another critical stressor affecting dock workers and those employed by ship-repair companies (Cezar-Vaz et al., 2014).
In order to guarantee the personal safety of workers and reduce the risks of workplace stress in the ship-repair industry, quality management is the most frequently used strategy (Al-Raqadi et al., 2015). The foundation of this popular strategy is the implementation of the newest technologies with the aim of increasing productivity, modernizing operations, and meeting the extremely high quality expectations imposed by the trend toward introducing innovations in all sectors of the economy (Al-Raqadi et al., 2015).
Due to the high rates of development and implementation of the newest technologies in docks and within ship-repair companies, fostering modernization and comprehensive reorganization are required (Cardoso et al., 2014). However, being a traditional industry, the maritime sector is highly sensitive to even the slightest changes in organization and operation, and modifications to common procedures and quality requirements can be seen as an additional source of occupational stress due to the fact that doing so requires employees to develop new skills and gain new knowledge. Moreover, workers face an increased risk of work-related accidents when obtaining these skills and learning to deploy the newest technologies (Cardoso et al., 2014).
Nevertheless, quality management and higher quality requirements are beneficial for improving employee performance. Even though the transition towards the use of innovations and the newest technologies is both time- and cost-consuming and demands the development and implementation of well-thought-out and well-organized plans of actions for fostering progress, it also increases the rate of employee safety and security in the workplace (Cardoso et al., 2014). Therefore, the modernization of the workplace is a source of emotional comfort due to the creation of better and safer physical conditions that reduce the risks of stress at work and mitigate its negative consequences by enhancing the safety and security of those employed.
The process of introducing the newest technologies into the operations of companies within the ship-repair industry is a troublesome road, including a variety of ups and downs that are in turn closely related to changes in occupational stress levels. Initially, employees are exposed to increased risks of work-related stress, as they are forced to gain new knowledge and develop new skills necessary to deploy the modernized technologies. This step is commonly accompanied by low job satisfaction, high turnover rates, and increased absenteeism as well as the loss of human resources. Moreover, this learning process is complemented by a constant fear of work-related accidents caused by mistakes in operating the new technologies (Al-Raqadi et al., 2015; Cardoso et al., 2014).
The existence of this trend points to the paradoxical nature of the ship-repair industry, as changes introduced to foster positive changes in the workplace lead to progress only after a wave of dissatisfaction and negative consequences related to the efforts at modernization.
To obtain an in-depth understanding of occupational stress in the ship-repair industry, it is imperative to understand the industry’s concept of a hazard and the determinants of a hazardous environment. Comprehensive information is provided by the WSH Council (2014). Hazard refers to the way of organizing work and procedures for carrying out operations, managing and organizing the workplace, and testing and using equipment. Any change in the normal state or workplace organization is assumed to be hazardous because it entails further changes that are impossible to predict and control (WSH Council, 2014).
The WSH Council underscores the significance of preventative measures for enhancing the safety and security of employees, thus decreasing the level of occupational stress. However, the identification of preventative measures in the ship-repair industry goes beyond establishing a friendly and open environment like in the cases of other industries; indeed, the primary emphasis in this industry remains on eliminating or at least controlling the risks of the hazards mentioned above, designing safe environments on the basis of both quality and security requirements, and controlling the emergence of hazards by ensuring the proper maintenance of all equipment (WSH Council, 2014). Bearing in mind the definition of hazard in the maritime industry, the justification for calling the implementation of the newest technologies or any modernization efforts hazardous becomes evident, as it minimizes the ability to control and maintain the newly introduced technologies due to the lack of knowledge and skills necessary to use them.
As noted in the conclusion drawn by Sherridan and Ashcroft (2015), most industries recognize the significance of preventative measures, such as establishing an atmosphere of trust and openness in the workplace, as the best option for addressing the challenge of occupational stress and mitigating its negative influence, thus enhancing the emotional wellbeing of employees and improving performance (Aftab & Javeed, 2014).
However, another significant specificity of the ship-repair industry is the fact that preventative measures commonly deployed by other industries are often ignored (Aftab & Javeed, 2014; Sherridan & Ashcroft, 2015). This phenomenon is closely related to the stress caused by any slight change to the traditional state of things and the designated frameworks for completing operations within the industry. Just as modernization is seen as a threat to stability and security, so is the introduction of stress coping strategies and techniques for mitigating the negative influences of occupational stress.
In the shipbuilding and ship-repair industries, the level of occupational stress is higher in comparison to other sectors of the economy, and the effectiveness of managing the problem is lower. The low efficiency of strategies designed to minimize the risks of work-related stress can be explained by the lack of necessary skills to address the challenges resulting from work-related stress, as well as the significant pressure employees face with regard to overtime shifts, work-related accidents, and poor quality management (Al-Raqadi et al., 2015; Cardoso, Padovani, & Tucci, 2014; Cezar-Vaz et al., 2014).
In conclusion, a thorough examination of the existing literature relating to the investigation of the influence of work-related stress on employee productivity and job satisfaction in the ship-repair industry has identified the existence of significant gaps in this area of knowledge. Among the primary discoveries covered by the research on the impact of occupational stress in the maritime industry is the emergence of work-related stress as a response to the introduction of changes to the working environment or to communication strategies—as well as the connection between such changes and the industry’s shared understanding of hazards in the workplace (Al-Raqadi et al., 2015; Cardoso et al., 2014; WSH Council, 2014).
According to the primary findings of the studies, the causes of occupational stress among workers employed in the ship-repair industry are fulfilling job duties in a hazardous environment, handling a heavy workload with many overtime shifts, and constantly running high risks of work-related accidents having a negative influence on their physical and emotional wellbeing and threatening their future professional activities (Aftab & Javeed, 2012; Bakotić & Babić, 2013; Cardoso et al., 2014; Cezar-Vaz et al., 2014; Sherridan & Ashcroft, 2015). Moreover, the issue of strategies deployed for reducing the risks of occupational stress is also under-investigated; the only reference made to this issue is the fact that preventive measures aimed at enhancing the psychological atmosphere of the workplace are ignored and their value is called into question (Aftab & Javeed, 2014; Sherridan & Ashcroft, 2015). Indeed, this review of the literature underscores the significance of the proposed qualitative exploratory case study as there are significant knowledge gaps to address and fill.
The workplace environment is the most significant stressor, imposing a negative influence on the effectiveness of organizational management and employee productivity. Occupational stress is a common work-related mental concern caused by heavy workloads, overtime shifts, operating within a hazardous environment, frequent instances of conflicts in the workplace, ineffective communication, and other similar factors (Adriaenssens et al., 2015; Aftab & Javeed, 2012; Al-Raqadi et al., 2015; Cevenini et al., 2012; Chen et al., 2014; Dwamena, 2012; Griffiths et al., 2011; Hakanen & Schaufeli, 2012; Kula & Sahin, 2015; Obiora & Iwuoha, 2013; O’Keefe et al., 2014; Patel, 2013; Trivellas et al., 2013; The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, 2014).
The consequences of work-related stress vary and include mental issues such as substance addiction, emotional burnout, depression, and mood swings; a multitude of physical issues including the risk of cardiovascular diseases, eating disorders, and constant fatigue; and organizational consequences such as job dissatisfaction, impaired employee productivity, turnover intentions, absenteeism, and presenteeism as well as higher risks of work-related accidents (Sunal, A., Sunal, O., & Yasin, 2011). In general terms, the causes of occupational stress can be divided into three groups of factors: personal, organizational, and health-related (RAND, 2015).
In each case, an organization facing the challenge of workplace stress is forced to examine the specificities of working conditions and design a comprehensive strategy for reducing the risks of stress at work, satisfying the needs of employees, and addressing organizational objectives by focusing either on addressing problems or emotions (Meško et al., 2013). For dock workers and those employed by ship-repair companies, the challenge of occupational stress is especially severe due to constant exposure to the risk of accidents, serious safety and security concerns, an industry sensitivity to modernization, and an increase in work-related stress in response to any slight change in the organization of the workplace or its procedures (Al-Raqadi et al., 2015; Cardoso et al., 2014).
Today, managers of companies operating within many different industries face the same challenge of occupational stress having a significantly negative impact on job satisfaction, employee performance, absenteeism, and turnover rates (Campbell, 2015; Leon & Halbesleben, 2013; Meško et al., 2013; Prater & Smith, 2011). That is why managers must design and implement strategies to reduce work-related stress in order to avoid its undesirable effects on organizational outcomes and the future of the company. In particular, the ship-repair industry is characterized by higher levels of professional stress compared to other industries; this extreme stress is caused by high risks of work-related accidents, overtime shifts, and heavy overloads supplemented with a managerial lack of knowledge and skills for reducing workplace stress (Aftab & Javeed, 2012; Bakotić & Babić, 2013; Cardoso et al., 2014; Cezar-Vaz et al., 2014; Sherridan & Ashcroft, 2015).
For this reason, the purpose of this qualitative exploratory case study is to determine techniques commonly deployed by managers working in the ship-repair industry to minimize the risks of work-related stress, reduce turnover rates, and improve the productivity of employees. The focus will be placed on identifying the most productive stategies by examining them in light of previous research findings.
In this qualitative exploratory case study, the personal experiences and perceptions regarding occupational stress of employees and managers working with a company in the Hampton Roads area in Virginia will be collected and analyzed in order to achieve the research objectives. To gain a comprehensive understanding of the research problem, as well as fill the existing gaps in the knowledge of occupational stress in the ship-repair industry, it is imperative to focus on finding the answers to the following research questions:
- RQ1. What are the primary aspects of the work that may lead to the occupational stress in the ship-repair industry?
- RQ2. What are the occupational consequences of work-related stress in the ship-repair industry?
- RQ3. How does work-related stress affect employees, employee performance, turnover, and absenteeism?
- RQ4. What strategies are most effective in reducing work-related stress and improving overall performance in the ship-repair industry?
Research Method and Design
Finding accurate and relevant answers to the questions of this research project requires the selection of an appropriate research method. Because it centers on analyzing personal experiences, behaviors, and social contexts, a qualitative research method is the best option for the proposed research (O’Sullivan et al., 2008). There are several motivations for choosing this method instead of others. Unlike a quantitative research design based on cause-and-effect relationships, it does not require testing hypotheses or making generalizations (Caruth, 2013; Frels & Onwuegbuzie, 2013). Unlike a mixed research method that combines aspects of both qualitative and quantitative research methods and provides both exploratory and explanatory perspectives on the subject under investigation, it focuses on feelings and perceptions (Caruth, 2013). Moreover, it is the only research method that allows for an in-depth understanding of a chosen phenomenon and focuses on different aspects of a research subject (Lund, 2012).
For the same reason, qualitative research is the only method justifying the use of small samples because they are valuable for obtaining an in-depth understanding of the matter of research interest (Dworkin, 2012). Because the focus of the proposed research is on the perceptions of occupational stress and personal experiences related to it, the qualitative research design is the best choice. The selection is further supported by the design of four research questions pointing to the appropriateness of the qualitative research for the purposes of this study because they underline the magnitude of interviewees’ personal histories while also hinting at the research objectives (Agee, 2009).
A case study format was selected to supplement the qualitative research method. Its usefulness for drawing accurate conclusions and making recommendations based on personal experiences and comprehension of the research subject, together with its appropriateness for analyzing situations and behaviors affected by the external environment instead of a researcher, are the reasons for choosing the case study from among other research designs (Yin, 2013). In addition, it is the best choice for this research that entails an analysis of the respondents’ natural environment and of the issues dynamically changing over time under the influence of external factors such as alterations in strategies for reducing occupational stress or any changes in working conditions or schedules (Crowe et al., 2011).
This research design is appropriate for reaching the given research objectives because it is perfect for assessing the challenge of work-related stress in the ship-repair industry from several different perspectives, as the opinions of employees and managers will provide the necessary background for drawing accurate conclusions.
The data will be collected in several steps. The first stage of the collection process includes developing interview questions and deciding on the number of open-ended questions to be included and on the topics to be covered. The interview questions will be constructed in a manner fully addressing and representing the research objectives and closely related to the research questions (Agee, 2009; King & Horrocks, 2010). Moreover, they will hint at the subjectivity of answers and focus on obtaining information about personal experiences relating to occupational stress and the perceptions of its consequences. As the gathered data should be qualitative in nature, the format of questions is open-ended, which is the best and most appropriate design for understanding the worldview of interviewees and exploring their perceptions of work-related stress (Grbich, 2013).
The next step of the data collection process entails the selection of appropriate people to include in the sample for the research. In choosing interviewees, focus will be given to their competence, the positions they occupy within the company, and the number of years working with the company. These factors serve to confirm that they have enough experience to become an interviewee (Johnson & Christensen, 2014; Palinkas et al., 2015). There will be several criteria for choosing appropriate respondents, and they will be described in the following subsection of this dissertation proposal. The motivation for following strict and distinct criteria during the interviewee selection is the small size of research sample; any errors in choosing interviewees may pose a threat to the accurateness of conclusions drawn and the successful completion of the research.
The final stage of the data collection process is conducting interviews with the selected respondents. The initial decision to work with people employed by one company within the chosen area will be built upon by conducting interviews in the respondents’ natural environment. By doing so, the researcher can increase the accuracy of the collection process by making some notes pertaining to working conditions and observing any team interactions that might be valuable for the research objectives, as they might add to the risks of occupational stress (Agee, 2009).
Once the interviews are designed and conducted and all the necessary data is collected, it will be analyzed using the method of conceptualization of the interviewees’ responses. This stage involves the fractionalizing of answers, a step that is completed by identifying the most frequently occurring concepts and topics in the course of an interview (Miles et al., 2014). This tool will become the foundation for drawing research conclusions and making recommendations to generalize the findings for the chosen company. By analyzing the data in this way, the researcher will be able to identify any trends in responses regarding strategies related to occupational stress and mitigating its consequences, as well as ideas about job productivity and other issues of concern pertaining to the research objective, all of which will be helpful for finding accurate answers to research questions.
The population for this study is made up of employees of companies operating in the ship-repair industry. For the purposes of this research, the Hampton Road area in Virginia was determined as the primary location. The rationale for choosing this area is the number of ship-repair companies operating within the territory, which increases the opportunity for choosing people with enough knowledge and expertise to achieve the research objectives, collect the appropriate data, and reach accurate conclusions. Today, there are more than 250 companies employing more than 60,000 people in this region (Virginia Ship Repair Association, n.d.). To fully answer the research questions, several stratifications will be employed in order to guide the selection of the most appropriate respondents, those who have enough professional competence and experience to give adequate and trustworthy information regarding occupational stress. The idea is to involve those employed by one company in order to generalize findings for one organization. These findings will serve as the foundation for further research involving larger samples and generalizing conclusions for the whole ship-repair industry.
To select appropriate people having enough knowledge and experience, senior management of ship-repair companies will be contacted, seeking their permission to conduct the research and find out whether there are enough people within one company who might be able to provide the required information. The final choice of employees and managers will be made once an organization employing those with the required backgrounds is identified and permission to conduct interviews with them is received from senior management.
The formation of the sample for the proposed research will be made up of several steps. First of all, a list of companies that employ appropriate people and are willing to allow and support the research will be determined. Then, the focus will be shifted to the employees themselves and whether they comply with the criteria for becoming an interviewee. There are several significant parameters that participants must fit. First and foremost, everyone included in the sample should be working at the same ship-repair company; as mentioned above, one company is preferred due to the small sample size and the fact that it would grant the opportunity to generalize the findings and draw accurate conclusions, as people functioning within one working environment can provide insight on different aspects and causes leading to occupational stress in this particular environment, making it possible to find the answers to research questions (Miles et al., 2014; Palinkas et al., 2015). The sample size will be seventeen people: five helpers, five tradespersons, and seven managers of a ship-repair service company located within the Hampton Roads area in Virginia.
A small sample is beneficial for obtaining in-depth understanding of the issue under consideration, and it is in fact the only way to conduct individual interviews with each respondent, which is necessary to collect enough information and address the research objective (Crouch & McKenzie, 2006; Hesse-Biber, 2016). Moreover, including different employment positions in the sample is necessary for obtaining different perspectives on the same problem of occupational stress in the workplace. This approach is the only way to draw comprehensive conclusions because it considers multiple perceptions and worldviews.
Keeping in mind everything mentioned above, it is imperative to identify the sampling techniques that will be used to achieve the objectives of the proposed research. Purposeful and stratified sampling techniques will be used to identify appropriate people and include them in the sample under investigation. Purposeful sampling is based on the assumption that only those having an adequate background and level of knowledge about the issue under consideration should become a respondent, as they are the only people able to provide the required information and level of detail (Miles et al., 2014). This sampling technique is one of the most frequently used in qualitative research due to the specific attention it pays to the personal experiences of the respondents and their roles in drawing conclusions (Palinkas et al., 2015). This sampling technique will be put into practice by emphasizing the professional background of each interviewee.
Purposeful sampling will be complemented by stratified sampling in order to gather more accurate data. This method is based on adding people belonging to a particular group or population or meeting particular selection criteria to a sample. These criteria are referred to as strata (Johnson & Christensen, 2014). For the purposes of this research, there will be several criteria for selecting respondents. First of all, they should occupy a particular position within a ship-repair company of choice: a helper, manager, or tradesperson. Second, they should have enough experience working with the company; newly employed workers are inappropriate interviewees because they cannot share adequate opinions on their work environment and management.
For that reason, preference will be given to people having more than five years of experience because they know their company, the specificities of working there, and the management practices. Moreover, because they have grown accustomed to work schedules and interactions with other team members, it is believed that they are more objective when it comes to estimating the causes and consequences of occupational stress in their work environment. Finally, the sample will include people working within one department of the company. This step will supplement the choice of conducting interviews in the natural environment because the inclusion of team members functioning within the same department will be helpful for gathering perspectives on the work of this company branch and estimating a variety of aspects of work-related stress.
This research will be conducted using several types of materials and instruments. First of all, interview guides will be used to guide the collection of data. Even though interview questions will be designed as open-ended, which allows them to be changed in the course of an interview, it is imperative to use interview guides in order to ensure that the same topics are discussed with all respondents and that they are all asked the same questions (Roller & Lavrakas, 2015).
Interview guides will be made up of the list of interview questions constructed in such a way as to cover all topics significant for analyzing the issue of occupational stress and strategies deployed for reducing it and mitigating its negative consequences on both organizational and human resource performance. For the purposes of qualitative research, interviews should be organized, and unplanned ones should be avoided because they pose a threat to data accuracy (Rubin & Babbie, 2010).
Once the interviews have been conducted, it is necessary to ensure that the data is valid using triangulation and member checking in order to guarantee accurate conclusions that might be generalized for the company under investigation and to deal with the threat of inadequate representation of reality (Flick, 2014; Grbich, 2013; Harper & Cole, 2012). Detailed information on the validity of the collected data will be provided in the following subsection. Finally, software will be used for data processing and analysis because it is helpful in terms of avoiding errors common to manual processing and increases the possibility of drawing accurate conclusions as well as reduces the time required for data processing and recommendations (Shaw & Holland, 2014).
Data Collection, Processing, and Analysis
Interviews including open-ended questions focusing on the personal experiences and perceptions of respondents are the data collection tool for the proposed research. The motivation for selecting interviews from among other data collection tools is their usefulness for estimating and analyzing different perspectives on the issue under consideration and the opportunity they give for the examination of numerous aspects of reality and the working conditions within one environment (King & Horrock, 2010). Moreover, interviews are the best option for obtaining an in-depth understanding of the selected phenomenon without missing any significant details or facts. The designed interviews will include only open-ended questions that do not limit the respondents’ reflections and do not hint at the correctness of an answer, which builds up the limitations of the response (Seidman, 2013).
Interviewees’ personal feelings and lived experiences relating to workplace stress are the focus of the open-ended questions. Because the interviews are designed to collect perceptions, they are phenomenological. The rationale for making this choice is the appropriateness of the selected method for the objectives of the proposed qualitative research, which will pay significant attention to intentions, behaviors, and sensations (Ericson & Melin, 2010; Seidman, 2013). At the heart of the planned interviews are issues related to satisfaction with work conditions, atmosphere in the workplace, occupational stress, and the impact these factors have on employee productivity and performance.
Interviews are the tool for collecting primary data that will make up the foundation for future recommendations. Still, it is paramount to point to the significance of other sources of data, as the focus on the lived experiences of people in the research sample is not sufficient to draw accurate conclusions. For this reason, some secondary sources of data will be included. Preference will be given to the findings of previous qualitative studies in the area of research interest and to the data collected by other authors (Roller & Lavrakas, 2015).
Secondary sources of interest for this research include company statistics and investigations of employee performance and turnover rates, if provided, and studies on work-related stress and its causes, as well as studies on strategies for reducing the risks of its emergence in the workplace and mitigating the negative consequences (Flick, 2014). These sources should be analyzed because of their value for drawing accurate conclusions and making comprehensive recommendations, together with their usefulness for generalizing the findings of the proposed qualitative case study, checking the findings’ reliability, and integrating them within the broader frame of research by juxtaposing these results with those of previous studies (Flick, 2014; Hesse-Biber, 2016).
Once the required data is collected from both primary and secondary sources, it will be processed. The purpose behind data processing is to make sense of the obtained facts and use them to find the answers to the research questions (Roller & Lavrakas, 2015). This stage of the research will also be broken down into several steps. First of all, data will be transcribed and respondents will be asked to check the accuracy of transcripts (Shaw & Holland, 2014). This is one way to ensure data validity and reliability as well as enhance ethical assurances. The next step includes coding responses to interview questions in order to organize them and simplify the analysis of trends and consistent patterns in responses (Rubin & Babbie, 2010).
Once coded, responses will be classified on the basis of similarities in perceptions and experiences so that it is possible to analyze the data and draw accurate conclusions (Shaw & Holland, 2014). Data analysis will be based on identifying similar words and themes in responses to interview questions using software, thus determining trends (Rubin & Babbie, 2010) and estimating the correlation between primary and secondary data to draw accurate conclusions.
The primary challenge in processing data is combating potential threats to data validity and reliability. It is crucial to ensure that the information provided in the research is accurate and does not distort reality because the truth of the data determines the comprehensiveness of the conclusions and recommendations. Flick (2014) points to the specific threats to data validity posed by small sample sizes. Although they are the best option for qualitative research, small samples require extra attention on behalf of the researcher in terms of checking the collected data for validity. To cope with this problem, member checking and triangulation will be implemented.
Member checking is the simplest tool for guaranteeing the reliability of the obtained information. In general, it includes restating the central ideas and concepts mentioned by an interviewee in the course of communication (Harper & Cole, 2012). Even though it is time-consuming, this technique is valuable for minimizing the risk of making errors when taking notes or missing any important details.
As for triangulation, it enhances the reliability and validity of collected data due its use of different methods for data analysis (Flick, 2014; Grbich, 2013). For example, methodological triangulation entails comparing the current findings with the results of research in the area of interest or using various tools for analyzing perceptions, e.g. both software and manual estimations (Hesse-Biber, 2016; Miles et al., 2014; Roller & Lavrakas, 2015). The central goal is to obtain identical results through different methods and tools for data processing because achieving this mark will highlight the reliability of the collected information and the credibility of the research (Johnson & Christensen, 2014). Another technique that this study incorporates to increase the accuracy of the collected data is conducting interviews within the respondents’ natural environment; by doing so, the answers to interview questions could be supplemented by observing work conditions and interactions between team members, both of which might reveal some crucial factors leading to the emergence of occupational stress in the chosen company (Grbich, 2013; Miles et al., 2014).
There are several assumptions that form the foundation of the research. First of all, it is assumed that people included in the sample of the research represent the perceptions of employees and managers working in the ship-repair industry, i.e., (reflect the whole population of interest) (Yin, 2013). Second, it is believed that respondents are open and honest during interviews so that all obtained data is relevant, accurate, and generalizable, reflecting the matters of concern currently existing in the maritime industry (Miles et al., 2014; Palinkas et al., 2015).
The third assumption is the belief in the competence and professionalism of the people chosen as the sample; in other words, the participants should not only reflect the whole ship-repair worker population but should also possess valuable knowledge and information relevant to answering the research questions and achieving the research objectives. Furthermore, it is assumed that enough data and facts will be collected during interviews so that all significant questions are addressed and accurate conclusions are drawn without the need to carry out more interviews and gather more data. In addition, it is presupposed that the interview questions are designed properly for the purposes of the research, prompting openness and trustworthiness as well as the desire to share personal experiences and perceptions about occupational stress and reducing it. The final assumption is that there will be enough time to obtain necessary information during the planned duration of an interview and the interviews will be conducted in person in order to record all significant details and facts so that valuable information is not missed or lost. Still, there are some limitations and delimitations of the proposed research design.
There are several significant limitations of the proposed research. First of all, the central research limitation is the small sample size of seventeen, which is critical because it might pose a threat to drawing accurate conclusions and recommendations and generalizing findings of the research (Flick, 2014). Another potential limitation of the proposed research design is the quantity and wording of questions. According to Yin (2013), interview questions should not be too wordy, should leave space for freedom of reflection, and should not hint at any direction of an answer. Moreover, there should not be too many questions included in the interview; if there is a sense of hurry and no time for collecting and recording necessary details and facts, it is a threat to collecting adequate and accurate information (Yin, 2013). Still, the most significant limitation of the study is the potential for choosing the wrong people to make up the sample for the research, such as those who lack competence or knowledge of the issue under investigation, those who do not have enough experience of working in the ship-repair industry to give a detailed and in-depth understanding of occupational stress, or those who are unwilling to participate in the research because of some personal obligations on the day of conducting interviews (Emmel, 2013).
At the same time, there are some significant delimitations that should be highlighted. Because the primary matters of concern are related to sample size and competence of people chosen for the interviews, selecting only people who are currently employed and working within one working environment is the central delimitation because it will be helpful for drawing conclusions for this particular environment. Acknowledging that the generalizations will be drawn only in regards to the chosen ship-repair company instead of the whole maritime industry is the central guarantee of appropriate findings of the research and recommendations. Furthermore, according to Dworkin (2012) and Crouch and McKenzie (2006), small samples are the most appropriate option for obtaining an in-depth understanding of the research subject. Because it is the central research objective, the small sample size is also a delimitation of the proposed research design.
Meaningful research is based on protecting ethical assurances. There are several steps of the research that require ethical assurances, starting with the development of the interview questions to the analysis of collected data. First of all, it is imperative to obtain the consent from the senior management of the company under investigation. This challenge will be overcome by guaranteeing the confidentiality of employees and managers as well as anonymity of the company (Hoonaard, 2002). Additionally, it is paramount to point to potential positive consequences of the research for the company, as the findings and drawn conclusions might be helpful for reducing occupational stress and improving job satisfaction and employee performance.
Once the consent of management is obtained, informed consent of interviewees must be obtained. The central idea is to guarantee the privacy and confidentiality of respondents determining the frames of the research project and the data that will be gathered, analyzed, and shared (Miller, Mauthner, Birch, & Jessop, 2012). Moreover, it is necessary to guarantee individuals’ right to self-determination, i.e., (the right to choose whether they want to become part of the project once all details are revealed or whether they are interested in staying away) (Hennick, Hutter, & Balley, 2011). According to Hennick et al. (2011), guaranteeing the right to self-determination together with confidentiality and anonymity is the only option for ensuring the safety of participants in studies like this because they are not put at any physical or psychological risks.
Furthermore, developing interview questions is an area of ethical concern, as it is imperative to design them in an unbiased manner that demonstrates respect for human dignity and avoids discrimination with regard to gender or race (Milton, 2013). In addition, it is paramount to conduct interviews in a gender-neutral and race-neutral manner in order to avoid bias and foster trust and openness of respondents, thereby maximizing the chances of collecting relevant and accurate data (Miller et al., 2012). Finally, ethical assurances are also present in data analysis because it also requires remaining unbiased and objective in order to draw accurate conclusions and recommendations (Miller et al., 2012).
A qualitative exploratory case study is the best choice for achieving the objectives of the proposed research due to the focus on perceptions and worldviews and the comprehensive analysis of one particular environment and different aspects of the chosen phenomenon (Dworkin, 2012; O’Sullivan et al., 2008). The data will be collected from two sources. Primary qualitative data will be obtained from conducting interviews with open-ended questions that focus on the respondents’ lived experiences and sensations about occupational stress and ways to reduce it. The interviews will also emphasize emotional and philosophical constructs, as well as those related to perceived knowledge. Secondary data will be gathered from previous research in the same area and company investigations of workplace stress and statistics of job performance and turnover rate.
The sample for this research is small, made up of seventeen people (five helpers, five tradespersons, and seven managers of a ship-repair service company located within the Hampton Roads area in Virginia). However, this small sample size is the most beneficial option for the proposed research due to the possibility of conducting individual interviews and gaining detailed information for achieving research objectives (Crouch & McKenzie, 2006; Hesse-Biber, 2016). The foundation of the data analysis is conceptualization that entails the identification of the most frequently mentioned concepts and trends in the responses to the interview questions (Miles et al., 2014). In order to guarantee the reliability and validity of the collected data and the credibility of the conducted research, member checking and methodological triangulation will be used.
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Appendix A: Sources for Conducting Literature Review
|#||Author||Title||Nature of the Source||Key Findings Related to the Topic of Investigation|
|1||Aftab & Javeed, 2014||The impact of job stress on the counter-productive work behavior (CWB): A case study from the financial sector of Pakistan.||Scholarly article published in a peer-reviewed journal||Occupational stress is one of the most severe challenges faced by leaders and managers.|
|2||Dwamena, 2012||Stress and its effects on employees’ productivity: A case study of Ghana ports and harbors authority, Takoradi||Scholarly article published in a peer-reviewed journal||Because working environments have grown highly competitive and intense, employees find themselves caught in strenuous atmospheres and constant mood swings caused by harsh work conditions and the necessity to foster personal development in order to remain employed.|
|3||The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, 2014||Calculating the cost of work-related stress and psychosocial risks.||Article published online||Exposure to stress at work goes beyond professional life and into personal affairs, as most employees find it nearly impossible to reach a balance between work and life. Work-related stress negatively impacts family relationships, physical and mental health, communication with colleagues, personal development, and job performance.|
|4||Cevenini et al. (2012)||A new quantitative approach to measure perceived work-related stress in Italian employees.||Scholarly article published in a peer-reviewed journal||The phenomenon of occupational stress is closely related to the concept of occupational health. It implies the influence of external factors specific to a particular working environment on both the physical and emotional wellbeing of employees.|
|5||Leon & Halbesleben, 2013||Building resilience to improve employee well-being||Chapter in an edited book||The issue of occupational stress should be addressed by monitoring and satisfying the needs of staff, eliminating potential risks, and recognizing the severity of consequences.|
|6||Meško et al., 2013||Relationship between stress coping strategies and absenteeism among middle-level managers||Scholarly article published in a peer-reviewed journal||Work-related stress is a common cause of serious health concerns affecting the performance and success of the whole organizations.|
|7||Hakanen & Schaufeli, 2012||Do burnout and work engagement predict depressive symptoms and life satisfaction? A three-wave seven-year prospective study.||Scholarly article published in a peer-reviewed journal||Workplace wellbeing is the primary determinant of the long-term wellbeing of an employee because when an individual remains in a constant state of helplessness and anxiety, it leads to serious health concerns such as burnout and depression.|
|8||Adriaenssens et al., 2015||Causes and consequences of occupational stress in emergency nurses, longitudinal study.||Scholarly article published in a peer-reviewed journal||If the atmosphere in the workplace is comfortable and employees feel supported by senior management and team leaders, they become more motivated to fulfill their job duties effectively. |
Work-related stress is the result of changes in job demands, lack of social support, or lack of job control.
|9||Patel, 2013||The complete guide to stress management.||Book||Work-related stress affects people emotionally, mentally, and physiologically, resulting in aggravated job performance, increased turnover, and absenteeism.|
|10||Griffiths et al., 2011||The wellbeing of financial counselors: A study of work stress and job satisfaction||Scholarly article published in a peer-reviewed journal||It is impossible to avoid workplace stress regardless of industry or profession.|
|11||RAND, 2015||Health, wellbeing, and productivity in the workplace||Article published online||Overtime shifts and low pay are among the primary causes of occupational stress. |
The lack of adequate social support is a stressor itself.
|12||Teo, Pick, Newton, Yeung, and Chang, 2013||Organizational change stressors and nursing job satisfaction: the mediating effect of coping strategies.||Scholarly article published in a peer-reviewed journal||Workplace stress is the byproduct of organizational changes such as the changes in budgeting, workloads, or recruitment requirements.|
|13||Kelly & Barrett, 2011||The leading causes and potential consequences of occupational stress: A study of Irish trainee accountants.||Scholarly article published in a peer-reviewed journal||A stressor is an irritant. Once the comfortable and acceptable level of a particular irritant is exceeded, it invokes a negative reaction known as stress.|
|14||Trivellas et al., 2013||The effect of job-related stress on employees’ satisfaction: A survey in health care||Scholarly article published in a peer-reviewed journal||A lack of career opportunities is related to a lack of company resources devoted to enhancing employee development instead of the influence of external factors (job insecurity) or subjectivity of influential and powerful colleagues.|
|15||Mosadeghrad, 2014||Occupational stress and its consequences: Implications for health policy and management||Scholarly article published in a peer-reviewed journal||The workplace environment is the primary organizational stressor and includes a variety of factors such as differences in workloads or pay, management styles, job duties, availability of resources and effectiveness of allocating and managing them, career prospects, atmosphere in the work environment, etc.|
|16||Daniel, 2015||Workplace spirituality and stress: Evidence from Mexico and US.||Scholarly article published in a peer-reviewed journal||There is a link between the meaningfulness of a task and occupational stress.|
|17||Chen et al., 2014||The correlations between work stress, job satisfaction and quality of life among nurse anesthetists working in medical centers in Southern Taiwan.||Scholarly article published in a peer-reviewed journal||Job satisfaction strongly correlates with occupational stress; the higher the level of work-related stress, the more dissatisfied employees grow with the current work conditions.|
|18||Kula & Sahin, 2015||The impacts of occupational stress on the work-related burnout levels of Turkish National Police members||Scholarly article published in a peer-reviewed journal||The risks of occupational stress entailing low job satisfaction are higher when working in hazardous conditions and under the constant threat to health and wellbeing.|
|19||Obiora & Iwuoha, 2013||Work related stress, job satisfaction and due process in Nigerian public service||Scholarly article published in a peer-reviewed journal||If an individual fulfills job functions in poor work conditions accompanied with low and unequal pay, overloads, hazardous working environment, difficulties in finding the right balance between professional and private lives, they are more likely to experience higher levels of occupational stress contributing to lower levels of job satisfaction.|
|20||Maran, Varetto, Zedda, & Ieraci, 2015||Occupational stress, anxiety, and coping strategies in police officers.||Scholarly article published in a peer-reviewed journal||The promotion of employee involvement and participation should form the foundation for reducing stress and increasing job satisfaction.|
|21||Martin et al., 2013||The experience of symptoms of depression in men vs women: Analysis of the national comorbidity survey replication.||Scholarly article published in a peer-reviewed journal||Around 30% of Americans experience severe health concerns but do not seek professional help, instead choosing to attend work due to the fear of being fired and losing an opportunity to make a living. This exacerbates work-related and personal stress, which affect their work and family relationships.|
|22||Preter and Smith, 2011||Underlying factors contributing to presenteeism and absenteeism.||Scholarly article published in a peer-reviewed journal||The impact of presenteeism on the performance of both an individual who has shown up at work ignoring health concerns and his or her colleagues is negative.|
|23||Tadesse, Ebrahim, & Gizaw, 2015||Sickness absenteeism and associated factors among horticulture employees in Iume district, Southern Ethiopia.||Scholarly article published in a peer-reviewed journal||A lack of public appreciation, low pay, and heavy workloads are not the only causes contributing to absenteeism. It is also fostered by different determinants of occupational stress such as job dissatisfaction, bullying in the workplace, a strenuous atmosphere at work, unrealistic job demands having nothing to do with job duties, a lack of positive interventions aimed at promoting the physical and mental wellbeing of employees and improving the working environment, ignoring the significance of health and employee wellbeing, etc.|
|24||Chakraborty and Subramanya, 2013||Socio-demographic and clinical predictors of absenteeism – A cross-sectional study of urban industrial employees.||Scholarly article published in a peer-reviewed journal||There is a strong correlation between absenteeism intentions and sociocultural factors such as age, sex, educational background, and marital status; personal cognitive matters such as substance abuse, constant emotional fatigue, depression; and organizational factors including heavy workloads, gross pay, overtime shifts, etc.|
|25||Sharma and Magotra||Employee absenteeism in manufacturing industry of Jammu: An analysis of precursors.||Scholarly article published in a peer-reviewed journal||Around 10% of employees do not attend work regularly, ignoring the fulfillment of job duties and the significant role they play in achieving organizational objectives.|
|26||Milton, J., and Milton, M., 2009||The role of leader motivating language in employee absenteeism.||Scholarly article published in a peer-reviewed journal||The friendly and inspiring behavior of a leader stimulates desirable changes in the work environment including dedication and perseverance that has a positive influence on organization’s performance and employee productivity.|
|27||Campbell, 2015||Flexible work schedules, virtual work programs, and employee productivity||Doctoral dissertation||Productivity is the ability of an employee to complete assigned tasks by meeting the set deadlines and using available procedures and technologies.|
|28||Roelofsen, 2012||The impact of office environments on employee performance: The design of the workplace as a strategy for productivity enhancement.||Scholarly article published in a peer-reviewed journal||Productivity is “the increased functional and organizational performance, including quality.”|
|29||Hanaysha, 2016||Improving employee productivity through work engagement: Empirical evidence from higher education sector.||Scholarly article published in a peer-reviewed journal||Reaching a higher level of employee productivity is seen as the primary strategic objective of most organizations without regard to the industry of operation.|
|30||Sharma, M. S., and Sharma, M. V.||Employee engagement to enhance productivity in current scenario.||Scholarly article published in a peer-reviewed journal||Employee productivity has a positive impact on the development of an organization and the people employed by it.|
|31||Blount (2015)||Managing the invisible employee: Productivity and availability.||Scholarly article published in a peer-reviewed journal||The influence of the transition to the virtual environment on employee productivity is positive due to the fact that these developments decrease the risks of absenteeism and presenteeism as well as eradicate the challenge of heavy workloads and conflicts with other team members, as there is no physical working environment.|
|32||Al-Raqadi et al., 2015||Learning quality management for ships’ upkeep and repair environment.||Scholarly article published in a peer-reviewed journal||The primary focus of employees working in the ship-repair industry is always on safety issues, as it is one of the central determinants of employee productivity.|
|33||Cardoso et al., 2014||Analysis of stressors agents and stress expression among temporary dock workers.||Scholarly article published in a peer-reviewed journal||Working in a ship-repair company always carries higher risks of work-related accidents, allocation of workloads, overtime shifts, and difficulties finding the right balance between work and personal life as compared to other industries.|
|34||Bakotić and Babić, 2013||Relationship between working conditions and job satisfaction: The case of Croatian Shipbuilding Company.||Scholarly article published in a peer-reviewed journal||Safe and comfortable working conditions are significant for both the emotional and physical wellbeing of employees.|
|35||Cezar-Vaz et al., 2014||Casual dock work: Profile of diseases and injuries and perception of influence on health.||Scholarly article published in a peer-reviewed journal||Constantly working with the high risks of work-related accidents is another critical stressor affecting dock workers and those employed by ship-repair companies.|
|36||WSH Council, 2014||Workplace safety and health manual for the marine industry||Article published online||A hazard in the ship-repair industry refers to the way of organizing work and the procedure for carrying out operations, managing and organizing workplace as well as testing and using equipment. Any change in the common state of things and in workplace organization is assumed to be hazardous because it entails further changes that are impossible to predict and control.|
|37||Sherridan and Ashcroft, 2015||Work-related stress – what is it, and what do employers need to do to address it.||Scholarly article published in a peer-reviewed journal||Most industries recognize the significance of preventative measures such as establishing an atmosphere of trust and openness in the workplace as the best option for addressing the challenge of occupational stress and mitigating its negative influence, thus enhancing the emotional wellbeing of employees and improving performance.|
|38||Aftab & Javeed, 2014||The impact of job stress on the counter-productive work behavior (CWB): A case study from the financial sector of Pakistan.||Scholarly article published in a peer-reviewed journal||A significant specificity of the ship-repair industry is the fact that preventative measures used by other industries—such as enhancing open communication or cooperation—are often ignored by managers operating in the ship-repair industry.|