Workplace Stress: Resources and Coping Strategies
Because of the prevalence of workplace stress in present organisations (Kalia, 2002), and because of the costs it incurs for individuals, organisations and society at large, workplace stress has been studied extensively in the last six decades. First regarded as a response to a stimulus, stress is now viewed as the result of the transaction between individuals and their environment (Lazarus, 1999). This transaction results from people’s perception of the demands they face and their effects on their own goals and values (primary appraisal), and from their perception of the environmental and personal resources they have access to when responding to demands (secondary appraisal). Stress then arises if there is a perceived imbalance between demands and resources. The dynamic nature of the stress process is embodied in people’s coping strategies, in which they use their resources to confront stressful situations. Given the importance attributed to personal and environmental resources in Lazarus’ model, research has sought to identify and evidence the effects of these resources on people’s stress experience. It has been claimed that the relationship between each resource and stress depends largely on the fit of the resource with, and its relevance to, the stressful situation (resource-matching principle). This has led some researchers to call for the development of new constructs, more specifically designed to address the role of specific resources in workplace stress (Cohen & Wills, 1985; Pierce, Gardner, Cummings, & Dunham, 1989). As a consequence, the concepts of self-esteem and social support have been refined through the development of organisation-based self-esteem (OBSE), and the growing distinction of social support functions and providers. However, the need for a greater specificity of constructs has not extended to stressors, and the fit between the considered resource and stressors has rarely been studied. The present study aims to identify what resources are relevant to specific stressors. Based on interviews with thirty-four voluntary participants, the nature of the coping strategies was studied with regard to the set of stressors people faced in the workplace. In addition, this study has attempted to determine whether OBSE and social support are relevant across all stressors or are stressor-specific. This analysis focused on the relationships between participants’ OBSE and social support, and their support-seeking behaviours and sensitivity to stressors, across situations. The results from this study into the role of organisation-based self-esteem and social support are mostly inconclusive. However, interviews evidenced that each stressor gives rise to specific coping strategies, and that some resources are indeed stressor-specific. Other resources are relevant across all stressors: emotional support, leisure activities, and particularly support from one’s supervisor. This highlights the importance given by employees to supervisor support. In addition, it appears that conflicts at work are among the stressors reported as leading to the highest strain. Finally, interviews have shown that not all resources are operational or mobilised in problem-focused strategies. Reappraising processes have been reported as successful strategies, and these coping strategies are based on specific resources, such as work experience or access to emotional support from experienced workers.
Advisor: Geare, Alan
Degree Name: Master of Commerce
Degree Discipline: Management
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: work stress; coping strategies; social support; self-esteem
Research Type: Thesis