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Outline and Evaluate the Relationship Between the Workplace and Stress

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Submitted By alfielaurence1
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Outline and Evaluate the relationship between the workplace and stress
Many people believe work affects their health. Defining what is stressful in the workplace is not easy, because individuals react quite differently to the same situation. However, some common factors have been found in many workers that cause them stress and in some cases lead to illness. These include the level of control they have (low control = stress), the amount of workload they have (high workload = stress) and role conflict (getting the work life balance right).
The job-strain model of workplace stress suggests that the workplace creates stress and illness in two ways, through high workload (putting pressure on people to work harder) and low job control (e.g. over deadlines and procedures). Marmot tested this model by studying 7372 civil servants. They were asked to fill in a questionnaire on workload, job control and how much social support they received. They were also checked for signs of cardiovascular disease (e.g. chest pains). Five years later they were then re-assessed to see if those who reported difficulties also had more severe heart disease. They found that for workload and stress there was no link. However, for job control and social support there was a link. The lowest grade civil servants had both low job control and poor social support and had the highest level of cardiovascular problems. In contrast the higher-grade civil servants expressed a high level of job control and good levels of social support, and had lower levels of cardiovascular disease.
Johansson also studied the effect of workload on stress levels - he found that sawyers in a Swedish sawmill, who had repetitive tasks with an unrelenting pace (so that the production line kept going) were suffering stress – had higher levels of adrenalin than other workers doing less monotonous tasks with more flexibility. This demonstrates that it is the type of workload that influences whether or not it will stress a worker not just the quantity.

Schaubroeck has shown that some workers are less stressed when they have little control, because they enjoy not having responsibility. This was measured directly by taking saliva samples and testing for immune system functioning (some people had higher immune system functioning even though they had low job control).
The validity of research into workplace stress might have been compromised by the use of questionnaires that may not refer to the stressors the individual employee experiences or is concerned about. Interviews would be better, because they would enable each interviewee to discuss those aspects of the job that stress them, and may usefully identify stressors the researchers had not considered. For example, the Marmot study relied on the job strain model which indicated that high workload is stressful – however, Shultz took a different view by observing work under-load ie. a lack of creativity. He studied 1600 workers in Europe and found that those who had too little work to do suffered low job satisfaction and therefore stress.

Kivimaki looked at the consequences of CHD in association to work stress in cross- cultural research carried out in Europe, US and Japan. He carried out a meta-analysis of 14 studies and 83,000 people and found that employees with high job strain were 50% more likely to get CHD. Cross cultural research is useful because it gives us a better understanding of how stress affects people in different settings and a meta-analysis allows us to draw general conclusions about the relationship between stress and CHD.
The Schaubroek and Marmot studies have contradictory findings about whether control is more or less stressful. For some people having control increases their feeling of responsibility in case something goes wrong, so having control makes them feel stressed. This shows that individual differences need to be considered when trying to identify aspects of the workplace that cause people stress, it is clearly not the same for everyone. Lazarus suggests that a transactional model should be used. This would take into account not only the demands of the workplace, but also how well the individual employee feels they can cope with it. Some people have what Kobasa called a “hardy personality” and deal with stress without too much difficulty.
Understanding that workplace stress can affect health has usefully led to interventions being designed to reduce the influence of stress. Ritaven et al showed that teachers who had high levels of aerobic fitness had lower heart rate levels and perceived levels of stress. This suggests that being fit may reduce the negative effects of work stress in teachers.

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