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Why has stress emerged as a major issue for organisations? Discuss the factors contributing to its increasing prominence and the challenges for people management.

Why hаs strеss еmеrgеd аs а mаjоr issuе fоr оrgаnisаtiоns? Disсuss thе fасtоrs соntributing tо its inсrеаsing рrоminеnсе аnd thе сhаllеngеs fоr реорlе mаnаgеmеnt.


Successful organizations have attributed their success to a positive working environment conducive to work in. A conducive work environment is a stress free environment. While the subject of stress in organizations has received attention amongst the scholars, little has been done to explain why it has become a major issue in modern day organizations. Another major challenge of stress is that it can be caused by factors from both within and outside an individual. Management of stress is therefore a major challenge. This essay will discuss on the reasons why stress has emerged as a major issue for organizations. It will also discuss on the factors causing and increasing stress.


According to Michie (2002), stress is defined as that physical and psychological state of an individual resulting from scarce resources which may not be enough to satisfy the demands of a given situation. It can also be defined as the response of an individual to a given demand which do not match the ability to cope (Leka, Griffiths & Cox, 2003). A mismatch between demands and copying abilities results to stress. Stress on individuals vary because different people have different coping abilities. Stress can be caused by factors within and outside the work environment. Factors from within an organization can be managed and reduced. Stress has been highlighted to have undesirable effects on health of employees and the performance of an organization. It hinders the achievement of organizational goals and objectives (Michie, 2002).

It is important for organizational management to know when an employee is stressed. There are different signs of a stressed individual but a key sign is change in behaviour (Michie, 2002). A stressed employee is withdrawn, easily irritated, unmotivated and lack concentration. Stress has an adverse effect on the physical health of an individual. These physical effects include frequent headaches, ulcers, nausea, cancer and blood circulatory problems (Kortum, Leka & Cox, 2010). Physical changes occur in the cardiovascular, immunological and neuro-endocrine system of a stressed individual (Cooper & Marshall, 1976). There are also some mental health effects of stress that include depression, suicidal behaviours and mental disorders (Kortum et al., 2010). Besides having an effect on the physical health and mental health, persistent stress causes adverse change in behaviours. According to Kortum et al., (2010), stress increases the risk of individuals engaging in health risk behaviours such as alcoholism and unhealthy diet. A galore of studies have linked substance abuse and obesity to stress (Kortum et al., 2010). The overall effect of these conditions is reduced performance which also has an undesirable effect on the overall performance of an organization.

Causes of Stress

Stress is caused by numerous factors but there are some common ones. The stress causative factors have been categorized into groups. Stress can be as a result of workload, working hours, job content, participation and control, career development, roles related, interpersonal relationships, organizational culture and home-work interface (Leka et al., 2003). Grawitch et al., (2006) in their work on the role of psychologically healthy workplace cited these practices as key determinants of a healthy workplace. According to them, the five determinants of a psychologically healthy workplace are work-life balance, recognition, employee participation, health and safety and employee growth and development (Grawitch et al., 2006). These factors make up a healthy workplace and reduce stress. Therefore, stress can be managed in an organization through effective management of these practices. According to Grawitch et al., (2015), each of these health workplace practices plays a key role in stress management interventions. Job content factors are those factors that are job related and may include monotony, insecurity and undertaking non-motivational tasks. When a task is undertaken continuously without change, there is a likelihood of monotony which results in stress. In addition to this, there is a likelihood for an employee to get stress if he/she is insecure in the job. Job insecurity could be as a result of downsizing strategy in an organization. In fact, studies have linked long sick leave periods and trauma with downsizing that results to job insecurity (Marmot et al., 2001).

Various research studies have linked employee participation and control with the welfare at work (Ganster & Fusilier, 1989). Employee participation and control is an important factor that helps in making them feel part of the organization. Moreover, employees should be allowed to express autonomy in their work. The aspect of employee participation was also stressed by Gordon (2014) as a crucial factor in reducing stress at the workplace. As it has been argued by Grawitch et al., (2006), this factor should be considered when coming up with stress management interventions. Stress may also result from having too much or too little to do. A mismatch between accomplishment of many tasks and timeline results to stress. working hours related factors include rigid work schedules, lack of enough time for socialization and irregular work schedule.

It is every employee’s wish to develop in their career. Failure to develop career wise will result in stress. Organizations can help their employees grow and develop in their careers by allowing them expand their skills. This can be done through on-job training, leadership training programs and education advancement (Grawitch et al., 2006). These career development programs help an employee to have leadership skills. However, career development may not necessarily be focused on the enhancement of employee leadership skills. It can focus on helping employees acquire skills for managing career related stress. In fact research studies on stress management have centred on helping workers acquire skills of managing stress related to their work, career change and leadership (Grawitch et al., 2015). Helping employees to develop career wise is part of recognition. Despite the fact that this aspect has not been researched widely, a few studies have cited recognition as one the factors that can cause stress in an organization. For instance, findings from a research done by Kazi and Haslam, (2013) indicated that high stress levels were linked to failure by the call centre to recognize its employees. A similar study done by Abualrub & Al-Zaru, (2008) on a hospital setting gave the same findings. Organizations normally use promotions to recognize their employees. However Johnston and Lee (2013) have differed with the use of promotion a tool for recognition. According to them, promotion is detrimental because the effects are short term. In spite of this argument, the aspect of recognition at the workplace cannot be neglected. It is also quite important to note that different recognitions give different results on stress levels (Grawitch et al., 2015). Other obvious causative factors of stress are poor interpersonal relationships, poor organizational culture, conflicting home-work demands, excess or little workload, rigid time schedules and conflicting roles.

Why Stress has Become a Major Issue for Organizations

Stress has become a major issue for modern day organizations mainly because it hampers with the productivity of the employees. Productivity of employees has an effect on the performance of an organizations. Stress at the workplace ought to be looked at from a financial view. Organizations lose a lot from decreased productivity as a result of stress (Bickford, 2005). Prolonged stress has been linked to increased employee turnover, reduced productivity, increased sick leaves and absenteeism (Williams, 2003). Stress effects can no longer be neglected in modern society where productivity is a source of competitive advantage. Findings from a research study done in the United States to establish the cost of stress indicated that over 150 billion US dollars are lost every year due to absenteeism, decreased productivity and insurance claims (Neuman, 2004). A similar study done in the United Kingdom in 2005 indicated that over half a million citizens were experiencing stress related to work which resulted to them being ill (Health and Safety Executive (HSE), 2006). According to the HSE findings, work related stress effects cost the UK economy 12.8 million. Furthermore, the research revealed that stress was the most costly as a result of the days lost (HSE, 2006). Many organizational leaders who have been interviewed in the recent past have cited stress as the main cause of absenteeism at the workplace. A survey done in Canada that involved interviewing CEOs revealed that over 65% of them agree with stress being a major cause of decreased productivity of organizations (National Union of Public and General Employees, 2005). Even though stress related disorders comes after musculoskeletal disorders, it is ranked as the costliest with regards to days lost of disorders related to work.

Why has stress emerged as a major issue for organisations? Discuss the factors contributing to its increasing prominence and the challenges for people management.

Estimated days lost due to Illnesses

Source (HSE, 2006)

Mental health disorders has also been linked to workplace stress. Stress is believed to be a major cause of increasing mental disorders. From studies which have been done in the recent past, cases of mental problem as a result of work related stress have been reported. Australian National Health Survey’s findings have shown that 10% of the respondents admitted to have had mental problem as a result of work related stress (Australian Safety and Compensation Council (ASCC), 2006). Other similar aiming at establishing a link between mental health disorders and work related stress have given similar findings. For instance, the increasing number of mental health claims in Canada is a proving to be a major point of concern for organizations (Bickford, 2005). According to Connor (2005), up to 40% of disability claims in Canada are mental health related. Additionally, businesses in Canada have lost over 30 billion dollars due to mental problems relating to stress. Increasing mental health problems can be linked to increasing stress levels. Generally, stress has detrimental effects on organizations’ productivity

Factors Contributing to Increasing Prominence of Stress

Currently, there has been an upsurge in work related stress. There are many factors that have contributed to the increasing stress. For instance the levels of stress amongst employees in the United Kingdom reached a maximum towards the end of 1990’s and the start of 2000’s and have remained high since then (Blaug et al., 2007). Stress level increase can be linked to historical and economical factors. According to Blaug et al., (2007), increase in the number of reported cases of stress has been due to increased awareness. Therefore it is personal perception and can be regarded as a reflection of historical circumstances. Moreover, Bickford (2005) argues that the changing economic situation of workplace for last 3 decades has resulted to increasing stress. Several changes occured during the 1980’s in what many referred to it as a decade of enterprise culture (Bickford, 2005). It was during this period when business were transformed and things like mergers, privatization and partnerships started emerging. This was a response to the effects of globalization that was slowly taking shape. The aspect of competition came in because organizations were globalizing their operations. For businesses to compete favourably in the market, they had to restructure the operations. Restructuring operations include downsizing, delayering, flattening and rightsizing (Bickford, 2005). Unlike in the past, employees work in small organizations with lesser number of people making them feel insecure. Moreover, many organizations have downsized and reduced the number of employees thus increasing the workload of those available. Besides this the effect of information technology accelerating the movement of information thus increasing the pace of work (Bickford, 2005). The effect of all these is work related stress. Currently, employees are stressed by the fact that they are feeling insecure in their positions and at the same time there is work overload. This new culture is the main reason for increasing stress levels. Additionally, as it has been argued by Swaminathan & Rajkumar (2010) the increasing levels of industrialization, urbanization and scales of operation are the reasons for increased stress levels.

In conclusion, stress is a crucial factor that determines the performance of an organization. It is therefore important for organizations to offer a stress free working environment for their employees. Increasing levels of stress in modern organizations is as a result of globalization which has been accompanied by stiff competition. Organizations need to come up with stress management programs to help employees cope with stress.


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