Stress has been endemic for centuries, with the term conjuring images of frantic, hyper-aroused or solemn, withdrawn individuals. While the study of stress and its effects date back to the 1900s, its popularity in both academic and pop culture settings has been rapidly flourishing.
Over the years, stress has been emerging as a grave concern for organizations, bearing a severe economic burden as employees respond to demands or pressures placed on them. Workplace stress has significant effects. For the individual, it leads to an increase in depression, anxiety and sleep disorders or lowered self-esteem and self-efficacy. For the organization, it often means increased attrition rates, absenteeism, reduced productivity and general organizational dysfunction.
Additionally, job stress often is noted as an antecedent factor in the development of burnout, a more extreme stress reaction marked by physical and emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, cynicism and detachment from the workplace (Colligan & Higgins, 2005).
The sources of workplace stress are diverse. At an interpersonal and intrapersonal level, these sources can include life events or daily hassles, conflict management or communication styles, time management, personality traits and perception factors. At an organizational level, common factors that contribute to workplace stress include role ambiguity, role conflict or role overload, decreased autonomy and lack of support from coworkers, supervisors and others.
Stressful life events, whether positive (such as marriage) or negative (such as divorce), and daily hassles can lead to the activation of the flight-or-fight response. The degree of the perceived stress as well as the frequency with which it occurs has been associated with occupational disability and increased mortality risk. The association between life events and stress-related disorders is so strong that Holmes and Rahe (1967) developed the Social Readjustment Rating Scale (SRRS) to help individuals identify major life events that increase susceptibility to illness.
Conflict management and communication styles also can have a major impact on workplace stress. Conflict management refers to the ways that employees manage the stresses of parties seeking to accomplish incompatible goals. Mehrad, Zangeneh, Dokoushkani and Razali (2014) demonstrated that there is a positive correlation between conflict styles and burnout and that conflict management styles can predict later burnout in managers.
Time management also has been found to play an integral role in workplace stress. With the increasing use of technology in organizations, there is now little distinction between the home and the workplace. Organizations expect information and results more quickly than ever. As a result, many employees find themselves constantly crunched for time, rushing to meeting deadlines or constantly working, even on vacation and days off.
Each employee’s attitudes, values and personality traits also have an effect on workplace stress. Researchers Friedman and Rosenman (1974) purported that individuals belonged to either two categories of behavior or personality, Type A or Type B. They purported that Type A personality types were ambitious, competitive, impatient and often aggressive. Type B usually manifested a relaxed and calm attitude, choosing to focus on relationship-building rather than ambitious pursuits. Type As often are seen as workaholics.