Stress can be defined as the emotional, behavioral, cognitive and psychological reaction to a stressor; usually a noxious and aversive aspect of work, environment of work or the work organizations. Stress is characterized by high degrees of arousal and distress accompanied by feelings of not being able to cope. Ostell (1991), defines stress as, “the state of affairs which exists when the way people attempt to manage problems taxes or exceeds their coping resources” (Ostell 1991).
Work plays a central role in our everyday lives and well being in particular. Since the industrial revolution work has increasingly occupied a huge proportion of people’s lives. Even though employment and specifically the workplace environment can be very exciting and fulfilling, it has also been a major contributing factor to stress. Consequently as work continues to exert pressure and demands on time and energy of employees, the relationship that exists between the physical and the mental health continues to exhibit itself more profoundly.
Stress is a product of this relationship and it can either posit positive or negative effects on the individual career adjustment, economic productivity and economic viability of organizations. In the workplace, stress is but an interaction between employees and an external factor called a stressor. Basically, a stressor is descriptive of an object, a situation or a circumstance that is perceived as being disruptive. Ideally, stress is a result of an individual’s perception that the demands at hand are beyond their coping ability.
This means that an appraisal of stress determines the nature of interaction between an individual and the stressor with an aim of determining the nature of an individual’s response. Appraisals are determinable by goals, values, individuals’ commitment to the organization and the coping strategies that are routinely employed in response to a specific stressor. A hostile, impersonal and unstable work environment coupled to the physical demands and a host of psychosocial factors can trigger stress.
Organizational stressors can be categorized as; shift work, job insecurity, role conflicts, and exposure to physical hazards, long hours of work as well as interpersonal conflicts existing between coworkers or supervisors (Ford 2004). Since responses to stress are varied, elevated stress levels can result to; increased turn over or reduced productivity, low morale, absenteeism and sickness. At the personal levels, stress in the workplace is diagnosed as anxiety, depression, pain, anger, ulcers, chronic pains, symptoms of mental and heart diseases.
These are the manifestations that accompany the negativity of stress in the workplace. For stress to be perceived as being positive, it must manifest with its own unique characteristics. These unique characteristics motivate workers to pursue something that is good. Positive stress acts as a reform pedestal for personal development. Discoveries and creative solutions are products of positive stress. In response to a stressor, people have changed jobs, rescheduled their itineraries, or undertaken and successfully completed projects.
The difference between negative stress and positive stress lies in the products of stress. Positive effects are beneficial for organizational productivity and employee’s physical and mental health. Physiologically, the body has distinctly unique ways of responding to a stressor. Manifestations of negative stress such as anxiety and fears are results of adrenaline release. On the other hand, the body releases serotonin, endorphins and dopamine. These chemicals are responsible for a relaxing feeling.
Therefore, after the completion of a highly demanding task, the body relaxes and plans achieving a goal. Positive stress enables employees to detect problems before they reach cataclysmic levels. At such an early stage, problems are much easier to fix. Positive stress is an initiator of invention and advanced problem solving methodologies. There are so many instances where athletes have risen to the challenge of a stressor to achieve the unachievable, scientists continually stress themselves out to theorize and develop phenomenal laws that offer unthinkable explanations to mysteries in nature.
Throughout evolution, man has pushed himself to the limit to develop masterpieces that could not be developed in circumstances devoid of stressors (http://www. lifepositive. com/stress. html). Assumptions leaning on the dysfunctional perspective support the negative relationship between stress and performance. However, research has also demonstrated a positive relationship between stress and organizational performance. Stress can be enervating, motivating and challenge producing (Koslowsky, 1998).
Low stress levels have been found to arouse significant motivation in a worker. Too much stress levels is debilitating. Moderate stress levels are just what an employee needs to efficiently perform. Additionally, the negativity or the positivity of stress effects are variable with respect to the duration of exposure. Usually at the beginning of a major task such as a project, employees are subjected to significantly moderate levels of stress. This condition is important for the increased performance.
If high stress levels persist for a very long time then the worker may experience burnouts and consequently a reduction in the level of performance. Several moderators such as a self monitor, and approach to the job at hand also play a crucial role in determining the level of organizational performance. This interplay of the levels of stress and positive effects can be greatly used to improve efficiency and effectiveness in the organization if stress management strategies take into account the fact that too much stress levels have the potential of obliterating the positive effects achieved so far.
Increasing stress arousal is important for improvement in performance but only to a limit. Different levels of stress possess different levels of performance for different task. Beyond the optimal level of stress agitation threatens work performance. Likewise, low stress levels cause lack of alertness and challenge hence the employees are not able to perform at their best (Hellriegel 2008).
Practically, stress arousal can be used as a boost to improving the performance but it should be understood that studies of stress performance relationships often exhibit a negative association between stress levels and overall organizational performance. Reducing the number and magnitude of stressors in the work environment is more important in performance improvement than moderate stress arousal (Hellriegel 2008). Generally, management of stress in the workplace involves, the reduction of the sources of stress, stress management training, employee counseling and health promotion.