Stress shows itself in a number of ways. For instance, an individual who is experiencing a high level of stress may develop high blood pressure, ulcers, irritability, difficulty in making routine decisions, loss of appetite, accident proneness, and the like. These can be subsumed under three general categories: physiological, psychological, and behavioral symptoms.
Most of the early concern with stress was directed to physiological symptoms. This was predominantly due to the fact that the topic was researched by specialists in the health and medical sciences. This research led to the conclusion that stress could create changes in metabolism, increase heart and breathing rates, increase blood pressure, bring on headaches, and induce heart attacks.
The link between stress and particular physiological symptoms is not clear. There are few, if any, consistent relationships. This is attributed to the complexity of the symptoms and the difficulty of objectively measuring them. But of greater relevance is the fact that physiological symptoms have the least direct relevance to students. Our concern is with attitudes and behaviors. Therefore, the two other categories of symptoms are more important to us.
Stress can cause dissatisfaction. Job-related stress can cause job-related dissatisfaction, in fact, is “the simplest and most obvious psychological effect” of stress. But stress shows itself in other psychological states for instance, tension, anxiety, irritability, boredom, and procrastination.
The evidence indicates that when people are placed in jobs that make multiple and conflicting demands or in which there is a lack of clarity about the incumbent’s duties, authority, and responsibilities, both stress and dissatisfaction are increased. Similarly, the less control people have over the pace of their work, the greater the stress and dissatisfaction. While more research is needed to clarify the relationship, the evidence suggests that jobs that provide a low level of variety, significance, autonomy, feedback, and identity to incumbents create stress and reduce satisfaction and involvement in the job.
But moderate levels of stress experienced continually over long periods, as typified by the emergency room staff in a large urban hospital can result in lower performance. This may explain why emergency room staffs at such hospitals are frequently rotated and why it is unusual to find individuals who have spent the bulk of their career in such an environment. In effect, to do so would expose the individual to the risk of “career burnout”.
Behavior related stress symptoms include changes in productivity, absence, and turnover, as well as changes in eating habits, increased smoking or consumption of alcohol, rapid speech, fidgeting and sleep disorders.
There has been a significant amount of research investigating the stress performance relationship. The most widely studied pattern in the stress performance literature is the inverted-U relationship.
The logic underlying the inverted U is that low to moderate levels of stress stimulate the body and increase its ability to react. Individuals then often perform their tasks better, more intensely or more rapidly .But too much stress places unattainable demands on a person, which result in lower performance. This inverted U pattern may also describe the reaction to stress over time as well as to changes in stress intensity. That is even moderate levels of stress can have a negative influence on performance over the long term as the continued intensity of the stress wears down the individual and saps energy resources. An athlete may be able to use the positive effects of stress to obtain a higher performance during every Saturday’s game in the fall season, or a sales executive may be able to psych herself up for her presentation at the annual national meeting.
In spite of the popularity and initiative appeal of the inverted U model, it doesn’t get a lot of empirical support. At this time, managers should be careful in assuming that this model accurately depicts the stress-performance relationship.