Stress is an inevitable feature of work and personal life. As organizations and their employees have come to perceive the consequences of stress as serious, they have tried to manage it. Some of these efforts have sought to limit the amount of stress employees experience; most are directed at improving employees' coping ability. Both kinds of Stress efforts may be conducted at the individual level and at the organizational level.
1. Individual Level: An employee can take personal responsibility for reducing his or her stress level. At the individual level stress management usually focuses on becoming more able to cope with stress. Individual strategies that have proven effective include implementing time-management techniques, increasing physical exercise, relaxation training and expanding the social support network.
(A) Time Management: A practical way to manage stress is to better control your use of time. Many people manage their time poorly. The well-organized employee, can often accomplish twice as much as the person who is poorly organized. The basic principle beyond time management is to decide what tasks are most important, then do those things first. So an understanding and utilization of basic time-management principles can help individuals better cope up with tensions created by job demands. A few of the more well-known time-management principles are: -
- Make daily or weekly lists of activities to be accomplished both on formal and informal jobs.
- Prioritising activities by importance and urgency. Therefore you must rate them A (must be performed) B (should be performed) or C (optional).
- Scheduling activities according to the priorities set. You then structure your time to ensure you do the A-level items. If time remains, you devote it to the B-level items and then the C-level items.
- Knowing your daily cycle and handling the most demanding parts of your job during the high part of your cycle when you are most alert and productive.
To be truly effective, time management should include making sure you are clear about what is expected of you and saying no to activities that are not required or that you feel you cannot fit into your schedule. This requires being realistic about making promises. Improving time management skills can give people a greater sense of control. Furthermore, because time management emphasizes focusing on the most important task, it provides the satisfaction of accomplishing worthwhile goals.
(B) Non-Competitive Physical Exercise: Employees can seek to improve their physical health by exercising regularly. Non-competitive physical exercise such as aerobics, walking, jogging, swimming and riding a bicycle have long been recommended by physicians as a way to deal with excessive stress levels. When people exercise regularly, they improve their physical health. In addition, they tend to feel more confident, more optimistic and less stressed.
These forms of physical exercise increase heart capacity, lower at-rest, provide a mental diversion from work pressures, and offer a means to let off steam.
(C) Relaxation and Biofeedback: Individuals can teach themselves to reduce tension through relaxation techniques such as meditation, hypnosis, and biofeedback. People can also benefit from a variety of tactics that helps them slow down.
- Relaxation decreases muscle tension, lowers heart rate and blood pressure and slows breathing. The objective is to reach a state of deep relaxation, where one feels physically relaxed, somewhat detached from the immediate environment and detached from body sensations. 15 to 20 minutes a day of deep relaxation releases tension and provides a person with a pronounced sense of peacefulness.
Meditation provides the conditions for relaxation: a quiet environment, closed eyes, comfortable posture, and a word or phrase to repeat silently or aloud.
- Simply taking regular vacations is a basic but important part of relaxation.
- Biofeedback or monitoring physiological responses such as brain waves, heart rate, muscle tension, and blood pressure, then using the information to control those responses. In this way, biofeedback helps people relax.
It also helps with stress management by showing people they have some control over their bodies.
(D) Development of Social Support Systems: Having friends, family or work colleagues to talk to provide an outlet when stress levels become excessive.
Developing a social support system to help with the routine stress of organizational life requires committing time to family and friends. Regularly laughing, crying or discussing problems, help people blow off steam before problems become intolerable. Research also demonstrates that social support moderates the stress-burnout relationship. That is, high support reduces the likelihood that heavy work stress will result in job burnout.
(E) Adjustment of Perceptions: Effective stress management may require conscious adjustment of your thinking because perceptions of a stressor play a role in the way the stressor is experienced. A basic type of looking at the stressor is to view yourself as facing challenges rather than problems.
(F) Learned Optimism: Optimism and pessimism are two different thinking styles people use to explain the good and bad events in their lives to themselves.
Pessimism is an explanatory style leading to depression, physical health problems and low levels of achievement. Optimism is an alternative explanatory style that enhances physical health and achievement and averts susceptibility to depression. Optimistic people avoid distress by understanding the bad events and difficult times in their lives as temporary, limited and caused by something other than themselves. Learned optimism begins with identifying pessimistic thoughts and them distracting oneself from these thoughts or disputing them with evidence and alternative thoughts. These explanatory styles are habits of thinking learned over time, not inborn attributes. Learned optimism is nonnegative thinking.
(G) Leisure Time Activities: Leisure time activities provide employees an opportunity for rest and recovery from strenuous activities either at home or at work. Leisure is increasingly a luxury among working people. The key to the effective use of leisure time is enjoyment. Leisure time can be used for spontaneity, joy and connection with others in our lives.
(H) Diet: Diet may play an indirect role in stress and stress management. Good dietary practices contribute to a person's overall health, making the person less vulnerable to distress.
(I) Opening Up: Everyone experiences a traumatic stressful or painful event in life at one time or another. One of the most therapeutic, curative responses to such an event is to confide in another person. Confession need not be through personal relationship with friends. It may occur through a private diary. For example, a person might write each evening about all of his or her most troubling thoughts, feelings and emotions during the course of the day.
Confession and opening up may occur through professional helping relationships. The process of opening up and confessing appears to counter the detrimental effects of stress.
2. Organizational Level: Management controls several of the factors that cause Stress -particularly task and role demands, and organization structure. As such, they can be modified or changed. In some cases, organizations recognize that they can improve performance by reducing the amount of work-related stress employees' experience. Ways to do this include improving the work environment and clarifying roles. In addition, the organization can support employees' efforts to cope with stress by offering wellness programmes and it can foster a supportive organizational culture.
(A) Job Redesigning: Redesigning jobs to give employees more responsibility, more meaningful work, more autonomy, and increased feedback can reduce stress because these factors give the employee greater control over work activities and lessen dependence on others. Job redesign to increase worker control is one strategy of preventive stress management. It can be accomplished in a number of ways, the most common being to increase job decision latitude. Increased job decision latitude might include greater decision authority over the sequencing of work activities, the timing of work schedules, the selection and sequencing of work tools, or the selection of work teams. A second objective of job redesign should be to reduce uncertainty and increase predictability in the workplace. Uncertainty is a major stressor.
(B) Goal Setting: Organizational preventive stress management can also be achieved through goal-setting activities. These activities are designed to increase task motivation, while reducing the degree of role conflict and ambiguity to which people at work are subject.
(C) Role Negotiation: Role negotiation begins with the definition of a specific role, called the focal role, within its organizational context. The person in the focal role then identifies the expectations understood for that role, and key organizational members specify their expectations of the person in the focal role. The actual negotiation follows from the comparison of the role incumbent's expectations and key members' expectations. The point of confusion and conflict are opportunities for clarification and resolution. The final result of the role negotiation process should be a clear well-defined focal role with which the incumbent and organizational members are both comfortable.
(D) Organizational Communication: Increasing formal organizational communication with employees reduces uncertainty by lessening role ambiguity and role conflict. Given the importance that perception play in moderating the stress-response relationship, management can also use effective communications as a means to shape employee perceptions.
(E) Employee Wellness Programmes: Organizations may sponsor wellness programmes, which are designed to promote employee health and well-being. Evidence suggests that wellness programme make economic sense.
Employees have access to exercise equipment and may participate in educational programmes. An ethical issue with regard to wellness programmes is whether the employer has the right to have input in what employees eat, whether they smoke and how much they exercise. Often, some employees are not receptive to involvement in wellness programme. This implies that employees who could most benefit from a wellness programme are least likely to benefit from it.
(F) Social Support System at the Work Place: Team building, is one way to develop supportive social relationship in the workplace. However, team building is primarily task oriented, not socio-emotional in nature. Although employees may receive much of their socio-emotional support from personal relationships outside the workplace, some socio-emotional support within the workplace is also necessary for psychological well-being. Social support system can be enhanced through the work environment in a number of ways. These relations provide emotional caring, information, evaluative feedback, modelling and instrumental support.
(G) Organizational Culture: The organization's culture can help employees manage stress by limiting stress, strengthening coping skills and providing shared values and beliefs. Such a culture recognizes that employees are human beings in need of rest, social support, and a good laugh once in a while.
Managerial implications of stress
Stress is an inevitable result of work and personal life. Managers must learn how to create healthy stress for employees to facilitate performance and well-being without distress. They should be sensitive to early signs of distress at work, such as employee fatigue or changes in work habits, in order to avoid serious forms of distress. Distress is important to the organization because of the costs associated with turnover and absenteeism, as well as poor-quality production. Managers can use the principles and methods of preventive stress management to create healthier work environments. They can practice several forms of individual stress prevention to create healthier lifestyles for themselves, and they can encourage employees to do the same.
Stress carries a negative connotation for some people, as though it were something to be avoided. This is unfortunate because stress is a great asset in managing legitimate emergencies and achieving peak performance. The causes of stress are found within the environment, the individual, and the interaction between the two. Hans Selye described the General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS), an adaptive response that occurs in three phases: A, an alarm reaction. B, the stage of resistance; and C, the stage of exhaustion.
Stress is an inevitable feature of work and personal life. As organizations and their employees have come to perceive the consequences of stress as serious, they have to manage it. Some of these efforts have sought to limit the amount of stress employees experience; most are directed at improving employees' coping ability. Managers can use the principles and methods of preventive stress management to create healthier work environments. They can practice several forms of individual stress prevention to create healthier lifestyles for themselves, and they can encourage employees to do the same.
Writer is a PhD student at Makerere University and a lecturer of management/organizational behaviour