Managing stress – organizational approach


Several of the factors that cause stress — particularly task and role demands, and organizational structure are controlled by management. As such, they can be modified or changed. Strategies that management might want to consider include improved personnel selection and job placement, training, use of realistic goal setting, redesigning of jobs, increasing employee involvement, improved organizational communication, offering employee sabbaticals, and establishment of corporate wellness programs.

Certain jobs are more stressful than others and individuals differ in their response to stress situations. We know, for example, that individuals with little experience or an external locus of control tend to be more prone to stress. Selection and placement decisions should take facts into consideration. Obviously, management shouldn’t restrict hiring to only experienced individuals with an internal locus, but such individuals may adapt better to high-stress jobs and perform those jobs more effectively. Similarly, training can increase an individual’s self-efficacy and thus lessen job strain.

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.

We noted in our discussions of work design, not all employees want enriched jobs. The right redesign, then, for employees with a low need for growth might be less responsibility and increased specialization. If individuals prefer structure and routine, reducing skill variety should also reduce uncertainties and stress levels.

Role stress is detrimental to a large extent because employees feel uncertain about goals, expectations, how they’ll be evaluated, and the like. By giving these employees a voice in the decisions that directly affect their job performance, management can increase employee control and reduce this role stress. So managers should consider increasing employee involvement in decision making.

Increasing formal organizational communication with employees reduce uncertainty by lessening role ambiguity and role conflict. Given the importance that perceptions play in moderating the stress response relationship, management can also use effective communication as a means to shape employee perceptions. Remember that what employees categorize as demands, threats, or opportunities are merely an interpretation, and that interpretation can be affected by the symbols and actions communicated by management.

What some employees need is an occasional escape from the frantic pace of their work. In recent years, companies such Charles Schwab, Du Pont, L.L. Bean, Nike and 3Com have begun to provide extended voluntary leaves. These sabbaticals ranging in length from a few weeks to several months allow employees to travel, relax, or pursue personal projects that consume time beyond normal vacation weeks. Proponents argue that these sabbaticals can revive and rejuvenate workers who might be headed for burnout.

Our final suggestion is to offer organizationally supported wellness programs. These programs focus on the employee’s total physical and mental condition. For example, they typically provide workshops to help people quit smoking control alcohol use, lose weight, eat better, and develop a regular exercise programs. The assumption underlying most wellness programs is that employees need to take personal responsibility for their physical and mental health. The organization is merely a vehicle to facilitate this end.