Stress and Organizational Management

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Abstract

Job-related stress is an emergent health issue and a direct threat to performance and productivity that is of the utmost importance for the contemporary workplace. The primary way of alleviating the effects of workplace stress or preventing them from occurring is stress management interventions. A review of the recent research allows establishing characteristic trends in organizational management as it pertains to the measures against job-related stress. Stress management becomes increasingly important, and the companies tend to implement it on organizational rather than group or individual level. Some of the findings, such as the organization-wide introduction of the interventions of the measures designed to increase the employees’ awareness of them, are potentially useful for companies in the UAE.

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Introduction

Workplace stress is one of the most notable negative factors influencing the performance of a given organization. Apart from its economic downsides, a stressful working environment has also been acknowledged “as an emergent health issue” (Jenny et al., 2015, p. 573). Therefore, alleviating the effects of job-related stress or preventing it altogether becomes a concern of the utmost importance for organizational management.

This paper is designed to provide a deeper insight into the issue by reviewing the recent scholarly literature on the subject. It will analyze a sample of ten recent peer-reviewed publications to answer which tendencies emerge in the field of stress and organizational management according to the scholarly literature and which, if any, findings are suitable for the implementation in the UAE context. The paper will include the literature review that conducts the analysis as well as the methodology section that clarifies the design of the study. After that, the paper will discuss the findings and establish which – if any – organizational decisions covered in scholarly literature deserve implementation in the UAE companies.

Literature Review

As a rule, contemporary authors tend to agree that countering workplace stress is an essential component of organizational management crucial for the effective functioning of a given organization. Authors perceive stress management as a vital facet of organizational efficiency in the 21st century, as demonstrated by Richardson (2017). They also reflect on the different variables used to evaluate stress management interventions, as in the works by Kompier and Aust (2016) and Havermans et al. (2016). These reflections and evaluations are based on the numerous empirical studies conducted across multiple economy sectors and organizations.

An example of such an empirical study is an article by Bhatti et al. (2016). The authors describe their empirical study of the interdependence between job stress and organizational commitment in the banking sector. They justify their choice of a specific field by the fact that the banking sector employees “face a great level of stress due to many antecedents of stress” (Bhatti et al., 2016, p. 30). It is also worth noting that they define stress as the “experienced discrepancy between demands of the environment and capabilities of [an] individual,” thus measuring it on an individual level (Bhatti et al., 2016, p. 29).

The authors find that higher levels of job stress lead to a decrease in organizational commitment (Bhatti et al., 2016). However, conclusions of the article do not go beyond rather uncontroversial platitudes about the necessity of building a rewarding relationship and effective cooperation within the organization (Bhatti et al., 2016). Additionally, the authors advise to maintain a stress management program for the employees but do not elaborate on its design and characteristics (Bhatti et al., 2016). Hence, the overreaching conclusions of the study are fairly limited.

Another similar study was conducted by George and Zakkariya (2015) and also focused on the stress experienced by bank employees. Using a sample of 337 employees from several Indian banks, the authors evaluated the interrelations between job stress and performance. Much like Bhatti et al. (2016), George and Zakkariya (2015) arrived at a similar conclusion: job stress leads to lower productivity, higher absenteeism, decreased motivation, and, ultimately, worse performance. It is also important to note that the authors recognize that there are multiple factors influencing job stress – namely, individual, job-related, and organizational (George & Zakkariya, 2015).

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However, the authors do not attempt to follow this distinction in the course of their study. It leaves the reader to guess whether the job stress levels reported by the participants were related to their individual circumstances, the nature of a particular job, or organizational policies. As a result, the authors implicitly recognize the organizational component in job stress but make no attempt to discern the influence of the organizational culture or the organizational efforts at alleviating it.

One more notable empirical study is an article by Jenny et al. (2015) titled “Process and outcome evaluation of an organizational-level stress management intervention in Switzerland.” The authors evaluate the implementation of organizational level stress management interventions across eight Swiss companies from different field and language regions. The central premise of the article is that contemporary interventions “are not limited to employees with a high risk of disease and long-term sickness” but cover the entire workforce (Jenny et al., 2015, p. 573).

Accordingly, the main conclusion of the article is that understanding the dynamics and rates of success of such interventions fully requires studying them on the scale of entire organizations (Jenny et al., 2015). The authors also note that the practical implementation of the organization-wide interventions requires significant perseverance in developing awareness and promoting change in the broader workforce (Jenny et al., 2015). Thus, the article uses the findings of an empirical study to emphasize that stress management interventions have to be implemented on organizational rather than group or individual level and, thus, have to be evaluated accordingly.

An article by Pignata et al. (2016) also reflects the results of an empirical study but adopts a more focused approach and concentrates on the efficiency of a specific aspect of stress management interventions. The authors’ research question is how the employees’ awareness of stress management interventions in their organizations reflects on job satisfaction and perceived reliability of the management. Their findings demonstrate that the employees aware of stress management interventions present in their respective organizations tend to have higher levels of job satisfaction and also find the management more trustworthy (Pignata et al., 2016).

The weakness of the study is that it offers no clarity regarding whether it is awareness alone or the actual implementation of an intervention that has such positive effects. Still, the authors point out that the awareness of an intervention may improve outcomes even in those employees that do not need it right away. By doing so, they offer one more reason why the implementation of a stress management intervention has to be organization-wide rather than targeted at the specific groups perceived to be at risk.

Apart from the empirical studies, there are also scholars who reflect on methodological aspects of studying, analyzing, and evaluating stress management interventions in organizations. One such study is the article by Kompier and Aust (2016) call the audience’s attention to the fact that measuring employee outcomes is insufficient for evaluating organizational stress management interventions.

As the authors put it, the studies that seek to distinguish the most effective interventions have to evaluate not only the effects but also the process itself (Kompier & Aust, 2016). They substantiate this premise by pointing to a contradiction: while the interventions are already implemented on an organizational level, the results are measured on an individual basis (Kompier & Aust, 2016).

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Consequently, one may establish which intervention had better results overall but is still unaware of how these results were achieved because the process of the organization-wide implementation of the interventions remains mostly unstudied. Thus, Kompier and Aust (2016) insist that the implementation of stress management interventions on an organizational rather than on the individual or group level has to be accompanied by its study on the organizational level as well.

Another work with a similar focus is that of Havermans et al. (2016). Not unlike Kompier and Aust (2016), the authors also stress the importance of assessing the process of implementing the stress management interventions on the organizational level rather than limiting the research scope to results. The authors point out that most studies in the field follow the “experimental research design that focuses on outcomes at the level of the worker” (Havermans et al., 2016, p. 371).

Hence, Havermans et al. (2016) also call attention to the discrepancy between the organization-wide mode of implementing stress management interventions and the individual mode of evaluating their results. As a result, many empirical studies demonstrate the positive effects of the interventions or lack thereof, but few of them focus on how effective the organizations are in actually implementing them. This discrepancy makes it nigh impossible to actually evaluate the practical aspects of introducing a stress management intervention in a given organization, even though these practical values should be of the utmost value to the managers.

Finally, apart from the down-to-earth empirical studies and methodological reflections, there are also works that cover job-related stress from a broader theoretical perspective. One example is the article by Florea and Florea (2016) that offers concise and mostly superficial coverage of stress as a health issue and a threat to organizational performance. The authors begin with the premise that job-related stress is an emerging issue of considerable magnitude in terms of both economic efficiency and healthcare (Florea & Florea, 2016).

They then proceed to list the factors influencing stress on the workplace and emphasize the importance of stress management interventions in organizations. However, their advice regarding the implementation of stress management interventions on organizational level amounts to “identifying stress factors within the organization, changes imposed, installation of new work equipment, introduction of new technologies” (Florea & Florea, 2016, p. 32). As a result, the article may serve as a suitable introduction to the topic of workplace stress management, but its usefulness does not go beyond that.

Another article that adopts a broader theoretical approach to the topic of stress management interventions as a component of organizational management is written by Grawitch et al. (2015). In it, the authors attempt to devise a comprehensive framework for stress management interventions that should, at the same time, be flexible enough to fit the interests of different organizations. Grawitch et al. (2015) identify several aspects of a psychologically healthy workplace that should prevent or reduce job-related stress. These areas include health and safety, work-life balance, recognition, growth and development, and involvement (Grawitch et al., 2015).

As one can see, these are the requirements and aspirations of the vast majority of employees, and they are by no means limited to those doing a particularly challenging job or working in a difficult organizational context. Thus, Grawitch et al. (2015) recognize that stress management interventions in organizations should target all employees without exclusion rather than focus on groups or individuals perceived to be at risk.

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Yet another study that analyzes workplace stress management interventions theoretically is the article by Tetrick and Winslow (2015). The authors aim to evaluate the present situation with stress management interventions as well as offer a brief overview of tendencies in the field. Their first finding is that there appears to be a trend for the incorporation of such interventions into organizational management (Tetrick & Winslow, 2015). However, the authors also note that the magnitude of this trend should not be overestimated, as, in the grand scheme of things, there are still relatively few organizations that introduce them (Tetrick & Winslow, 2015).

They also support the notion that, in many cases, allowing every employee to participate may be the only reasonable way to introduce a given stress management intervention (Tetrick & Winslow, 2015). To summarize, the authors discern several trends in the contemporary development of stress management interventions and their implementation. These trends include the slowly growing rate of implementation of such interventions and the gradual recognition of the necessity to include all employees and not just the perceived at-risk groups.

Finally, one more theoretical article on the topic belongs to Richardson (2017). It is based on the preceding meta-analysis of occupational stress management interventions conducted by Richardson and Rothstein (2008). The author analyzes the scholarly works on the subject accumulated during the nine years from 2008 to 2017 to discern the emerging tendencies in the field. The major finding is that, despite their relative rarity in the grand scheme of things, stress management interventions gradually become an integrated component of workplace wellness programs (Richardson, 2017). Thus, the authors’ analysis of the existing research confirms the growing importance and the increasing prevalence of stress management interventions in the organizational context.

Methodology

This research paper composed a sample of ten articles for a literature review based on several criteria. First of all, the papers had to address different facets of stress management in the organizational context. As a result, the final sample includes four empirical studies by Bhatti et al. (2016), George and Zakkariya (2015), Jenny et al. (2015), and Pignata et al. (2016), two methodological studies by Kompier and Aust (2016) and Havermans et al. (2016), and four theoretical articles by Florea and Florea (2016), Grawitch et al. (2015), Tetrick and Winslow (2015), and Richardson (2017).

Apart from that, the research design only included the articles published in the last five years to ensure that the results presented in them will be up-to-date. This is why the meta-analysis by Richardson and Rothstein (2008), which several scholars refer to as a seminal work, was not included in the final sample. This circumstance should not make the sample less representative, as it contains a more recent article written on the same subject by the same author (Richardson, 2017).

Articles for the sample were gathered with the use of two online databases, Google Scholar and Jstor. The final sample consists of ten articles, eight of them found through Google Scholar and two – via Jstor. Numerous articles have been excluded due to the unavailability of full-text versions or being older than five years.

Research design corresponds to the sample composed and includes three research objectives. The first objective is to analyze the general trends in the study of stress management interventions in the organizational context. The second objective is to establish which, if any, methodological and theoretical insights may be useful for the UAE companies. The third objective is to analyze the empirical studies on the subject to establish whether there are findings that would merit implementation in the UAE.

Discussion and Recommendations

As mentioned above, the first research objective of this review is to analyze the general trends in the study of stress management interventions in the organizational context. There are several trends clearly evident across the sample and characterizing the current state of stress management in the organizational context as well as the state of research on the subject. To begin with, all studies reviewed agree that organizations implement stress management interventions on a progressively greater scale, thus reflecting their importance. Apart from that, numerous studies tend to analyze stress management in the service sector and, in particular, the banking sector (Bhatti et al., 2016; George & Zakkariya, 2015).

It also seems that the methodology of evaluating the interventions lags behind their progress: while the interventions tend to be implemented on an organizational scale, results are still measured as individual employee outcomes. There are at least several authors who call attention to this discrepancy (Kompier & Aust, 2016; Havermans et al., 2016). Thus, stress management is already recognized as an issue of keen interest, but the methodological approaches to it study as well as the scope of most studies have yet to be improved.

The second research objective for this review is to establish which, if any, methodological and theoretical insights may be useful for the UAE companies. The results of this review suggest that the UAE companies should make stress management interventions and integrated part of workplace wellness programs and expand them to include the entire workforce. Richardson (2017) advocates this approach based on the extensive meta-analysis of the existing literature. Jenny at al. (2015) also maintain that the interventions should not be “limited to employees with a high risk of disease and long-term sickness” (p. 573).

Grawitch et al. (2015) point out that the components of a psychologically healthy workplace are essentially the same for all employees, thus also suggesting that stress management measures should target everyone rather than preselected groups of individuals, Finally, Tetrick and Winslow (2015) note that including all employees in a given intervention may often be the only feasible way to implement it in practice. With these considerations in mind, one may safely recommend the UAE companies to expand their stress management interventions to the entire workforce.

The third objective of this review is to analyze the empirical studies on the subject to establish whether there are findings that would merit implementation in the UAE. In this respect, the moct valuable practical finding is the importance of the employees’ awareness of the existing stress management interventions. Pignata et al. (2016) demonstrate that this awareness is usually conducive to greater job satisfaction and increases the perceived trustworthiness of the management.

As mentioned above, there is no utmost clarity whether this correlation is due to the awareness alone or the combination of awareness and practical implementation. Still, it is no reason to discard the results of the study and their implications for organizational management. Companies, either based in the UAE or abroad, should remember that informing the employees about the stress management interventions in the organization is as important as implementing the interventions in the first place.

Conclusion

The purpose of this research review was to establish which tendencies emerge in the stress and organizational management according to the scholarly literature and which of the findings are suitable for the implementation in the UAE context. For this purpose, the author assembled a sample of ten recent peer-reviewed scholarly publications from two different databases covering empirical, methodological, and theoretical aspects of the subject.

The literature review revealed several consistent tendencies in the field. These include the growing prevalence of stress management interventions, a trend toward covering the entire workforce, and the discrepancy between implementing the measures on the organizational level and evaluating them on the individual level. Some of the findings suggest practical recommendations for the UAE companies, such as expanding stress management interventions to the entire workforce and increasing the employees’ awareness of the measures taken.

References

Bhatti, M. H., Bhatti, M. H., Akram, M. U., and Akram. M. H. Z. (2016). Relationship between job stress and organizational commitment: An empirical study of banking sector. Journal of Business Management and Economics, 7(1), 29-37.

Florea, R., & Florea, R. (2016). Individual and organizational implications of work-related stress. Economy Transdisciplinarity Cognition, 19(1), 28-33.

George, E., & Zakkariya, K. A. (2015). Job-related stress and job satisfaction: a comparative study among bank employees. Journal of Management Development, 34(3), 316-329.

Grawitch, M. J., Ballard, T. W., & Erb, K. R. (2015). To be or not to be (stressed): The critical role of a psychologically healthy workplace in effective stress management. Stress and Health, 31, 264–273.

Havermans, B. M., Roosmarijn, M. C. S., Boot, C. R. L., Brouwers, E. P. M., Anerma, J. R., & Beek, A. J. (2016). Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health, 42(5), 371-381.

Janny, G. J., Brauchli, R., Inauen, A., Füllemann, D., Frdrich, A., & Bauer, G. F. (2015). Process and outcome evaluation of an organizational level stress management intervention in Switzerland. Health Promotion International, 30(3), 573-585.

Kompier, M., & Aust, B. (2016). Organizational stress management interventions: Is it the singer not the song? Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health, 42(5), 352-358.

Pignata, S., Boyd, C., Gillespie, N., Provis, C., & Winefield, A. H. (2016). Awareness of stress-reduction interventions: The impact on employees’ well-being and organizational attitudes. Stress and Health, 32(3), 231-43.

Richardson, K. M. (2017). Managing employee stress and wellness in the new millennium. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 22(3), 423–428.

Richardson, K. M., & Rothstein, H. R. (2008). Effects of occupational stress management intervention programs: a meta-analysis. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 13(1), 69-93.

Tetrick, L. E., & Winslow, C. J. (2015). Workplace stress management interventions and health promotion. Annual review of organizational psychology and organizational behaviour, 2, 583-603.

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