Evaluate the models of stress at work and outline implications for stress management interventions.
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Evaluate the models of stress at work and outline implications for stress management interventions Since the mid-1950s the topic of stress at work has received much attention, mainly because it has important consequences for both individuals and organisations. Before proceeding to discuss findings in this area it is important to define stress and relevant concepts. A stressor is an external source or cause of a process that may give rise to stress. Stress is the consequences of the stressor, which manifest in the impairment of either psychological or physiological wellbeing. Coping is the attempt to manage demands presented by the stressor so as to minimise the detrimental outcome in terms of stress. Discussion will focus on what is stress and how it has been conceptualised, costs of stress to individuals and organisations, models of stress at work and stress interventions. Early definitions of stress were somewhat vague. Cannon (1935, in Warr, 1996) studied the effects of stress on animals and people and spoke of individuals being 'under stress' when they experienced extreme physical conditions (such as heat and cold). However, early definitions did not clearly distinguish between subjective experiences of individuals and the environmental conditions producing those experiences.
They believe stress 'can result from the mismatch between the person and the environment on dimensions important to the well-being of the individual'. According to this model there are optimal levels of environmental demand for each individual. When these optimal levels are reached, stress is minimal, if there is either too little or too much demand stress increases. For example, if a task is too complex for the individual, i.e. there is too much demand, stress increases. Implications of this model for stress management are individually based, the aim to match an individual to an appropriate working environment. However, although there is widespread acceptance of the idea that both environmental factors and individual characteristics determine stress, the P-E fit model has not provided much research. A more influential model of stress at work is the job demand-decision latitude model (Karasek, 1979). This suggests that stress results from the interaction of the demands of a work situation and the range of decision-making freedom available to the worker facing those demands. The model consists of a grid showing different combinations of job demands and job decision latitude, the amount of control a worker has over his tasks and conduct.
Also, the lack of fit between an environment and an individual may produce significant stress (corresponding to the P-E fit model mentioned earlier). Many of these approaches are directed at increasing employee autonomy, participation and control, which Karasek's job demand-decision latitude model of stress at work found to be important moderators of the stressor-strain relationship. Burke (1993 in Warr 1996) summarised research on several organisational strategies, including goal setting and increasing communication between management and employees, and found that they had positive benefits for employees. However, only a small number of studies have been published that have assessed changes at the organisational level, and little long term follow up studies have been carried out for both individual and organisational focused stress management interventions, so it is therefore difficult to know what exactly does work. Cooper's (1986) framework of stress, the P-E fit model and Karasek's (1979) job-demand decision latitude model have all contributed to the understanding of stress at work, and have generated research into stress management interventions. Stress interventions have most commonly focused on the individual, although organisational focused interventions, despite being more costly and difficult to implement, may prove to produce the best long-term results. More research is needed.
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