Article Review: How Stress Affects a Public Organization

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Occupational Stress in a Public Organization

How Stress Affects Behavior and Operation of a Public Organization

How occupational stress effects the behavior and operation of a public organization has been extensively researched and has been found to have both positive and negative effects on the operations of a public organization. The level of stress and the employee's responses to the stress will determine whether the stress is a positive or negative element in the employee's level of performance. Over the years, many theories have been hypothesized in the interest of better understanding occupational stress. These theories evaluate how the body is initially exposed to stress, how the body responds to the stress, whether the body adapts to the stress or avoids it, and the lingering or long-term effects of the stress on the body. Excessive amounts of stress over extended periods of time can result in stress related medical problems such as hypertension and exhaustion. In the workplace, unhealthy levels of stress can result in absenteeism, lower levels of productivity, and high turnover rates. To this end, many public organizations offer stress management programs as a service to their employees. If positive results are achieved, these programs can have the effect of reducing stress related illnesses of the employee, increasing productivity, lowering absenteeism, and reducing turnover. However, these programs have oftentimes not been found to be effective in reducing the employee's level of job satisfaction. In addition to the stress management programs, the management staff in a public organization can have a positive effect on stress reduction rates by simply providing social support for their employees in times of high stress.

Overview

Occupational stress is a common occurrence in the in a public organization. While a healthy amount of stress is normal, excessive amounts of stress can negatively effect the operational functioning of a public organization. If the management and employees of the organization are effected by excessive stress, the potential for health related illnesses, such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension, gastrointestinal disorders, tension headaches, low back pain and decreased immune functions increases. Weiss, Fielding, and Baum (1991). Excessive stress has also been associated with an increase in the occurrences of mental health disorders. Weiss, Fielding, and Baum (1991). With the increase in stress related illnesses the likelihood of absenteeism increases and productivity can decrease. Therefore, in order to increase the functionality of a business, it is essential to control stress within the company. The purpose of this study is to examine the effects of stress on the behavior and operation of a public organization including its employees, managerial staff, and its stress management programs.

Stress and Its Causes

Stress is a negative emotional experience that is the result of a stressor in the environment. Taylor (2009). A stressor in the environment can be almost anything that creates a negative emotional reaction. For example, a traffic jam, noisy children, a pending deadline, or anticipating giving a speech for an audience of strangers are all examples of stressors. Stress results in a biochemical, physiological, cognitive, or behavioral change within the person experiencing the stress. These changes within the individual are directed towards altering the stressful event or adapting to its changes. Taylor (2009).

Historically, there have been many theories evaluating what stress is and human reactions to stress. In 1932, Sir Walter Canon developed the "Fight or Flight" theory. This theory surmised that the physiological response to stress equips the individual to either attack the stressor or to flee. Taylor (2009). This theory supports that a natural human reaction to stress is to either overcome it or to free oneself from it. In other words, based on the "Fight or Flight" theory, it is not natural for humans to fail to react to a stressful situation.

Another historical theory studying stress is somewhat opposite of Canon's theory is Hans Seyle's theory of "General Adaptation." Seyle's Theory divided stress into four stages -- alarm reaction, resistance, exhaustion and death. Neylan (1998). In short Seyle's theory studied the effect of a stressful agent, such as cold, on lab rats (alarm reaction). Neylan (1998). The rats then developed physiological syndromes separate from the agent (resistance). Neylan (1998). As a result of the resistance phase and the trauma to the body a form of exhaustion is likely (exhaustion). In more severe cases, death is possible. Neylan (1998). Seyle's theory depicts how stress can begin in humans, trigger other physiological problems as a result of trying to cope with the stress and if these physiological changes persist or are left untreated can lead to more serious health related issues.

Each of these early theories will assist in understanding the phenomenon of stress in the workplace and how its affects the health and productivity of the public organization.

Overview of Stress in a Public Organization

Occupational stress can be caused by several events. Stress causing events at work include too much work, conflict with co-workers, too much email, conflicts with citizens/customers, unreasonable demands, and travel or commuting problems. Denhardt, Denhardt, and Aristiqueta (2009). Many other symptoms are listed as contributing to occupational stress and it is important to note that the more of these symptoms that an employee experiences the more likely they are to experience a high level of stress and mental or physical health problems associated with stress.

Organizational or occupational stress can be divided into categories that classify and analyze behavior. Included in those categories are the Cybernetic Theory and the Ethological Theory. Cooper (2002). Another theory of stress is the Cognitive Activation Theory of stress. Each theory addresses a different approach to stress, how stress affects employees, employers, and the overall productivity in the organization.

The Cybernetics Theory

Cybernetics concerns the functioning of self-regulating systems. Edwards (1992). The principles of the Cybernetics Theory can be summarized as follows: The input function senses the environment, and transmits this to the comparator which evaluates the sensed environment with the reference criterion. If the comparison reveals a discrepancy between the sensed environment and the reference criterion, the output function attempts to alter the environment or eliminate the discrepancy. Edwards (1992). A further illustration of the Cybernetic Theory in terms is follows: The five human senses perceive the environment and transmit this signal to the brain. The brain and the other parts of the human body interpret this signal and compare it with either current expectation held by the person and their abilities or what were once their expectations and abilities. If a discrepancy results between the signal that the senses have sent to the brain and what the expectations are, the body attempts to alter or eliminate the discrepancy.

A possible cursory summary of how the Cybernetic Theory depicts stress in the public organization is as follows. Company goals (sensed environment) that are placed on the employee by the administration represent the source of stress for the employee if these goals are not readily attainable based on prior experience or expectations (reference criterion). The employee will assesses these goals (comparator) and conclude whether or not they are readily attainable. (Input function). If the goals are not readily attainable, the employee will experience strain or stress and attempt to eliminate the stress or strain (Output function.) Eliminating the stress could take on the form of complying or resisting. Resisting could result in decreased productivity, absenteeism, or stress related illness.

Ethological Theory

The Ethological Theory of stress hypothesizes that stress occurs due to a perceived challenge of the status quo along with a physical experience. Greenberg, Carr, and Summers (2002). A stressor that challenges the organism's ability to maintain the basic necessities of life known as homeostasis, trigger a distinct reaction by the organism -- it will cope by either removing the stressor or complying with it. Greenberg, Carr, and Summers (2002). Under this theory, the organism typically responds physiologically either by neural or endocrinal responses and the extent of this physiological response is determined by the extent of the stress. Greenberg, Carr, and Summers (2002). In relation to stress and the organization, the Ethological Theory can be summarized as follows: The work environment challenges the employee's ability to maintain what the employee perceives as basic life necessities. The employee's job may be affected by the stress or the lack of productivity resulting from the stress. This, in turn, triggers a coping response by the employee and the employee will either cope with the stress by removing the stress, removing himself from the stress, or complying with it.

Cognitive Activation Theory of Stress

In this theory, the stress itself is an alarm to the employee and the response to the stress depends on the acquired expectancies that the employee has. Eriksen H.R., Murison, R., Pensgaard, a.M., Ursin, H. (2005). If the acquired expectancies held by the employee are positive and perceived as attainable, then the response to the stress alarm will be positive and non-threatening. On the other hand, if the acquired expectancies held by the employee are negative and perceived as unattainable, then the stress alarm will be… [END OF PREVIEW]

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