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Occupational Stress

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Occupational Stress By: David J. Derro (dderro1@netcarrier.com) Opening Statement: This paper will examine some causes and some of the effects of stress on individuals in the work environment. Role overload will be discussed as a major agent of stress at both work and home. Role Underload, Role Conflict, Role Ambiguity will be discussed briefly for comparison. Examples of stress in the work place will be used to illustrate the broad ramifications of stress in the occupational setting. Examples of Electromyography (EMG) will be given as a means of biologically diagnosing occupational and personnal stress cases as opposed to occupational soft muscle tissue diseases. Finally, interventions such as stress management programs will also be explored, as well as the benefits such programs can deliver to an organization. What is Stress?: "Stress - The confusion created when one's mind overrides the body's basic desire to choke the hell out of someone who so desperately deserves it" (Author unknown). There are many biological, engineering and physiological definitions of stress but, the definition above is the most simplified and applicable in today's fast moving business world. More classical "engineering" definition cited by R. Kahn (1992) use during the 18th and 19th centuries described stress as "A force or pressure exerted upon a material object, or person". Stress as defined by Quick, Horn and Quick (1987) "is a naturally occurring experience essential to our growth, change development both at work and at home. Depending on the way stress is handled it may have a detrimental effect on our health and well-being or it may have a beneficial effect". In order to have stress there must be a stressor, or a physical or physiological stimulus to encourage the onset of stress response. A physical stressor in a manufacturing setting may be noise, heat, dust, mist, fumes, poor lighting etc (Evans, Cohen 1987). Psychological stressors could be items such as conflicting views with your manager or, seemingly unattainable deadlines. Problems at home may compound these issues when they are presented in an occupational situation. Stress may be caused by many different situations in the various environments that we are a part of each day. Some social stress factors may be measured by Life Crisis Units (LCU) (Holmes and Rahe, 1967). This scale is used to aid in evaluation of, but not predict, an individuals susceptibility to stress based on naturally occurring stressors taking place in their life. The following stressors are ranked based on this scale: Death 100 Life Crisis Units Separations or divorce 50 Life Crisis Units Arguments with important people 25 LCU. Life Crisis Units Sound familiar? A lot of the above circumstances are as unavoidable death and taxes (Unless you are Leona Helmsly and even then the IRS will catch up to you). At work, some stress factors may be; the possibility or reality of losing your job, poor supervision, lack of goals, rotating shifts and the inability to keep up with technology. Let's look at the technology and the rate of change in computers in just the last 10 years. To a ten year old this may be no big deal, the stressor may not exist because the child is a product of a computer driven society. But to a fifty year old person, the rate of technology advancement over this period of time may be to much change compared to their experience. In some cases, failure to understand such technology in the work environment, may mean the loss of possible advancement opportunities. One stressor may cause another to create a domino effect of stressors. According to W. Hendrix (1987) these stressors may build up and cause job as well as social stress. Are some individuals more prone to stress than others?: By use of the Person/Environment Fit Model (Kahn 1964-1979-1992) it can be hypothesized that certain individuals may be at a higher risk for work related stress then others. For example, a person who has "Role Overload" (Kahn 1979-1992) may feel unable to complete the amount of work given in an ordinary day; the amount of work interferes with the quality of work. This person is more likely to suffer from work stress then one who has an even predictable workload. Role Overload, as stated by Jackson and Maskach (1982) may, in theory, produce another stressor called "Role Conflict". Role Conflict as Samuel Bachrach (1991) cites Kahns (1964) is definite as "The simultaneous occurrence of two or more sets of pressures in the workplace such that compliance with one, would make compliance more difficult with the other." Role Conflict may develop if a person receives conflicting directions from two individuals or if the instructions are different then acceptable practice, or the individual must utilize more time to complete both projects. This may be seen in organizations where there is a struggle for power, neither and individual will relinquish control of a project thus, subordinates suffer by trying to satisfy both individuals. This type of situation may be seen in organizations that use a matrix reporting structure. "Role Underload" is defined by Kahn (1979-1992) as "a chronic under-use of intelligence, knowledge or manual skills". In the work force, this may mean that an individual is not suited for the task because the job does not challenge their intellectual or physical capabilities. This lack of challenge may leave too much time for individuals to ponder other personal problems that they may be experiencing. This may also contribute to an individual developing poor self esteem, which in turn, may precipitate a poor mental outlook. It seems like a strange point, if a person is over challenged they may feel stress and as in this case if they are under challenged they may feel stress. Balance of stressors seems to be the key! "Role Ambiguity" as seen in Kahn (1979) is "The changing status of time or information that a person has and the amount that is required to perform the role adequately". Role Ambiguity may involve a mismatch of a persons intellectual skills and knowledge. For example, a technically gifted engineer for purposes of career development is assigned to work as a production supervisor for an assembly operation. Instead of dealing with designs enhancements and process improvements, he is dealing with production deadlines and Union Representatives. Not many engineering classes prepare you for these scenarios. In engineering, the individual is within their environment and capable of handling day to day happenings. In the ever changing world of production supervision, they would be at odds with their environment. This scenario could be defined as a conflicting Person-Environment interface. In List 1.0 are ten occupations where Role Conflict could result in stress. These jobs, as documented by The National Institute on Workers Compensation;

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