Work Related Stress and International Alert

Work Related Stress has long been associated with the onset of significant physical and mental health problems. Stress began to be implicated in areas beyond the bounds of physical and mental health as far back as the 1980s. In the organisational environment, both managers and subordinates have implicated stress in the deterioration of performance efficiency. When performance efficiency suffers, the quality of the overall organisational environment and productivity deteriorates.

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A deterioration of the organisational environment is accompanied by deterioration in organisational communication (Gilberg, 1993). Work occupies a major part of most of our lives, in terms of both time spent and importance. It contains the potential for many forms of gratification, challenge and harm. It is not surprising that a great many people at times find work life stressful. Indeed, stress at work is so commonplace that we tend to accept it as part of the necessary frustration of daily living. There is an increasing awareness of the effects of stress on employees in the workplace.

Burnout has become a reality to employee since the negative effects of ongoing exposure to stress have received much media attention lately. Organisations have also reacted to fears about stress, motivated by concern for employee well-being, and fears about the adverse consequences for their organisations of lower productivity and high absence levels. Employers are urged to consider the sources of stress and contributing factors in the workplace and to provide strategies to managing stress in the workplace. 1.

1 Background to the Problem About International Alert International Alert was created in 1985 to deal with gross violations of human rights and a rise in the number of internal violent conflicts. It is a lead organisation in the field of conflict prevention and sustainable peacebuilding. International Alert works with partners around the world to strengthen their analytical and operational peace building capacity. It focuses on the root causes of conflict and works to create sustainable solutions at national, regional and global levels.

International Alert is a non-governmental organisation based in the United Kingdom. Human rights advocates including Martin Ennals, former Secretary General of Amnesty International, set up the organisation in 1985. A committed defender of human rights, Martin Ennals was the founding Secretary General of International Alert. Stress can be defined in many ways but in general terms, it refers to the feeling of pressure, anxiety and tension.

Occupational stress refers to those organisational task/role performances, which induce stress on employees in the workplace. It can be characterised by as the harmful physical and emotional responses occurring when the job requirements, work environment or work organisation does not match the worker’s capabilities, resources or needs. The Health and Safety Executive define stress as ‘the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them’ (HSE, 2001).

Specifically, work related stress is caused when there is a mismatch between the job requirements and the individual’s abilities, resources or needs (NIOSH, 1999). A recent survey by the European Foundation for the improvement of Living and working Conditions (Paoli and Merllie, 2001) found that 29 percent of women and 28 percent of men reported that their work was causing them stress. Pressure can have a positive effect in stimulating motivations and alertness, providing the incentive needed to overcome challenging situations.

However extreme, persistent and unrelieved pressure can lead to stress and feelings of anger, fear and frustration, and cause a variety of short-term and long-term illnesses with damaging effects on individual mental and physical well being (Giga, 2001). A view maintained by substantial number of psychologists, regards minor amounts of stress as arousing and therefore, responsible for increased performance. A high level of stress however, is seen as producing a number of effects (confusion, interference, misdirection of efforts), which reduce performance.

This is in relationship with the learned helplessness theory according to Seligman (1975). Every individual first respond to the stressful situation with anxiety, but if the situation cannot be controlled, the person becomes helpless and the anxiety is replaced by depression. Various authors as regards the concept of stress have generated lots of theories. Each theory and author tries to give a vivid explanation of what the phenomenon is all about and what it encompasses, and yet till today no one theory can satisfactorily explain what “stress” really is.

House (1981) postulated that objective work conditions could lead to perceptions of stress. Perceived stress, in turn can lead to work-related strains such as dissatisfaction, boredom, and high turn over, and to individual strains such as anxiety, depression and physical illness. In addition the stress model hypothesizes that internal characteristics, that is, personal characteristics and external conditions, that is, situational characteristics not only have a direct effect but also interactive or moderating effects. 2. 2 Sources of Stress

There are three main areas to consider here: Stressors: are the things people report to as causing them to be stressed (e. g. workload). Stressors could take a variety of forms, they can stem from a job, family, friends, co-workers or internal demands. Stressors have one thing in common; however, they create the potential for stress, which an individual perceive as presenting a demand that may exceed their ability to respond. According to Dunham (1976), stressors can be defined as any environmental factor which influences (raises, lowers or maintains) our stress level.

Stressors are environmental factors that bring about stress, common examples include physical environment (light, noise, and temperature); individuals level stressors such as role ambiguity, work overload and responsibility for other people; group level stressor like lack of group cohesiveness, intra group conflict and inter group conflict; organisational-level stressors (organisational culture and structure) and finally, extra organisational-level stressors (family relations, financial problems and relocation problems).

When one or more of these factors are present, work-related stress can occur. Strain: the symptoms reported as a result of experiencing stressors (e. g. anxiety, depression, irritability, raised blood pressure) Stress outcomes: are the presumed consequences of the strain (e. g. increased absence, low productivity, increased accidents) In organisational terms, it makes little sense to look only at the stress outcomes or levels of strains without looking at individuals within their environment and looking at the whole process of the problem.

There is a reasonable consensus among the various attempts to review the hazards of work, which are experienced as stressful and/or otherwise carry the potential for harm (Baker, 1985; Blohmke and Peimer, 1980; Cooper and Marshall, 1976). This consensus is shown in Table 1, which outlines nine different characteristics of jobs, work environments and organisations, which are hazardous.

These include organisational function and culture, role in organisation, career development, decision latitude/control, interpersonal relationships, home/work interface, task design, workload/ work pace and work schedule. It has been suggested that these characteristics of work might be usefully conceived as relating to context to work or content of work (Hacker, 1991; Hacker et al, 1983).