"Is the Absence of Stress Death? Exploring the Positives of Workplace Worries."
Stress was traditionally defined as an environmental pressure and strain within a person. The most common explanation these days is that it is one of the interactions between an individual and situations. It is a psychological and physical states usually catalyzed by the demands unmatched by resources to fulfill that demand. For instance, meeting targets in a short span of time, adhering to unsuitable organizational policies, finding a tough way to balance work-family are some common stress forms.
Stress, a matter of worry since history, is becoming exceedingly debilitating nowadays. A recent work-stress survey published in Huffington post shockingly stated that 8 Americans out of 10 are stressed for their jobs. Increasing workloads, managers' expectations, and performance related pay system have added to the woes of employees.
Whatever be the reasons, workplace stress is a stark reality that has aroused various researchers to study its different aspects. Researchers have linked stress to various constructs including job security, employees' mental and physical health, employee motivation and engagement, and overall organizational effectiveness. Hannigan, Edwards, & Bernard(2004) associated stress to employees turnover, employee absenteeism, and reduced performance.
Nevertheless, most of the studies are limited to highlighting the negative aspects of it, ignoring even a tinge of its importance at the workplace. One line of research relates stress to employees' issues; the other line focuses on organizational( structural, financial, cultural, etc.) matters. The third category of papers seems discerning the causes and nature of stressful events. Another body of research focuses on related areas including its relation to anxiety, personality disorders, family conflict and so on. Having studied and reviewed a wide range of literature, I found plethora of research papers on workplace stress related to nursing, IT, healthcare, construction and so on; almost all researches emphasized the negativity involved in this term.
Little I found even a single paper highlighting the positive side of the stress. Almost all studies assume that employee happiness flows from no-stress and focus on either highlighting its ill-effects or attempting to eliminate it.
Hans Selye( 1976) noted that there is no life without stress. It is unavoidable and also not unpleasing always. Bluntly he mentioned that the absence of stress is death. Scientists have endorsed that short-term stress increases the performance levels and boosts the immune system in the body. Having activated brain cells, it imparts periodic stimulation thereby preventing Alzheimer and other dementia forms. Scholarly and newspaper articles have backed this idea though; there is little building up on this idea after him.
A paper published in an online journal states that short-lived stress galvanizes the brain to optimize performance levels. It keeps the brain alert and encourages for better performance. To an extent, it encourages the workforce and motivate them towards achieving expected results. It is hard to imagine a workplace scenario where the management keeps it workforce absolutely free of stress. As such, stress can be considered a natural outcome of working.
I found the idea quite plausible that stress, up to a point, increases productivity. As I reviewed the available literature, I found a significant gap to this line of research. Most of the studies assumed stress as an unwanted guest and failed to discern its advantages in milder forms. These studies little explained about short-term stress and acute stress levels and their respective impact on employees' performance and organizational effectiveness.
Considering it a novel idea to discuss, I have built up the research study with a positive note, i.e., exploring on the positive impacts of short-term or milder stress levels. A lot has been asserted about its far-reaching negative effects, but scholars have paid little heed to the other side of the coin. I believe that working on this aspect will impart a completeness to the research related to stress levels. Additionally, it will help the management identifying and discerning stress levels that need to be managed and the ones that can just let be as they are. Succinctly, the research will help the organization streamline its stress management activities.
The primary aim of the research is to explore the positives of short-term and mild stress levels. Positive impacts will be seen in the context of employees' motivation towards work, its effectiveness of their job performance, and the expedite they show towards work completion.
As such, the research will attempt to highlight the necessity/importance of stress at the workplace. The plan is supposed to reveal that the workforce does not feel motivated to work in the condition of no deadlines, no work pressures, and absolutely no stress. Succinctly, it will explore the linkage between negligible stress and employees' boredom and lethargic attitude towards work.
Though no stress condition is just an imagination in the present business scenario, the researcher will control stressful conditions to see its manipulative impact on job performance and other related factors. To fulfill the main aim, following objectives will be accomplished:
Examining the available literature on the relationship between mild stress levels and job performance and employees' productivity.
Suggesting a framework for research work.
Exploring the stress levels beyond which organizations need to take care of the mental health of employees.
Investigating the positive reactions to stressful conditions that can make stress actually productive, i.e., not harmful.
Research questions / hypotheses
1. How the concept of stress positively relates to employees productivity and job performance?
2. Does no-stress condition catalyze employees' boredom and frustration at the workplace?
3. "Life without stress is death"- In what context the phrase is true?
This study will look at stress from a different perspective; as such, it will be an exploratory research. Exploratory research is done to tackle new issues on which little or no studies have been conducted. I found many studies in the scientific domain relating to positive aspects of small scale stress levels. However, there is a dearth of research papers in Psychology.
So, the paper will be done qualitatively, and I will use open-ended questions to expand the understanding on the issue. Responses may not be quantifiable, but it will provide a rich understanding and lay the groundwork for future research in this area.
The paper, being exploratory and qualitative, will use unstructured approach; qualitative and detailed questionnaires have been designed to fathom employees' mind on the issue. Interviews and questionnaires will form the basis of the primary data collection while secondary data will be built upon peer-reviewed articles, books, and other authentic sources. Data analysis will be manually by discerning some common themes from gathered responses.
Some ethical concerns that have been taken care of are as follows:
Informed Consent: Participants have been duly informed and given with a choice to participate or not. Though the principle of informed consent looks simple, it is not as straight as it looks. At times, juniors in the organization have pressures from seniors and peers to participate. Though I didn't have control over peer pressure, I have tried the best to provide the maximum information to employees about the direction the study might take. Also, there are no penalties if the participant wants to quit in between.
Confidentiality: The information provided by employees will not be shared with third party. Also, I will try to prevent an interview going in a personal direction. I will remain focused to the topic and avoid any information leakage. Only exception to this can be an emergency situation in which confidentiality can be waived for the good of an individual.
Privacy and Anonymity: Identification( individual and institutional) of employees will be kept under the hat. Even if I face any challenge in maintaining the secrecy, I will take prior permission before publishing the recordings and voice notes on any social media sites.
Providing Trustworthy Environment: I will develop rapport and friendship with the participants so that a dependable and comfortable environment gets developed. At the same time, I will have to limit the feeling of closeness and friendliness so as to maintain the decorum and dignity of the research. I do find it difficult as there is very thin line in between; my aim would be to set up a situation that employees feel trustworthy while avoiding unnecessary closeness.
Intrusiveness: It is one of the important challenges in qualitative questionnaires. Participants may feel that I am digging too deep to get their thoughts. Employees may also find questions invasive. Nevertheless, I will be cautious and try to be neutral while questioning employees.
Data Interpretation: I will interpret the data in a manner that avoids misstatements, and misinterpretations. Though there are all chances of over-interpretation and subjectivity, I will present evidence to back the interpretations.
Rigor: Coping with Limitations of the Study
Every research study faces some constraints especially because of time and finances. This research also has some issue including generalizability, reliability, objectivity, quantification and the like.
I feel that generalizing the results may be difficult based on the responses of just 35 people. Also, responses have been analyzed manually, and no software has been used considering time and cost constraints. It may result in misinterpretation of data to an extent leading to unreliable results.
Next important limitation, I feel, is the lack of objectivity. Though every effort has been done to keep interviews focused, the presence of researcher may itself crop up subjective interpretations of data. If this happens to a tinge, results will get affected thereby losing authenticity and reliability.
Though due caution has been maintained to remain as neutral as possible, these issues are common to qualitative research types and can't be avoided hundred percent. As such, I do not promise a fool-proof study though I can bet assure the maximum effectiveness, given time and other resources.
I will resort to peer debriefing, i.e., exploring the analysis and conclusion to a colleague on a continuous basis, to foster credibility in the research. Discussing research findings with knowledgeable peers is expected to stimulate the consideration of additional perspectives and explanation at various stages of the research study.
The idea of the research paper is novel and very less research has been done so far, particularly in psychology. The qualitative study will unearth new dimensions in stress management perspectives of managers and leaders. Instead of bothering the stress negativities, employees will be able to look at its positive side; it will enable them to cope with conditions in a better manner. Also, the research is expected to remove the stigma associated with the term stress and provide an imperative explanation to it. Rather than attempting to eliminate it from the workplace, the research will shift the focus towards managing it to those levels that foster creativity and innovation in the work. Succinctly, the research will open up a new paradigm for looking and tackling stress at the workplace.
Al-Swalhah, D. A., Irtima, D. H., Zouby, F., & Shaar, J. (2013). The Relationship Between Job Stress and Job Performance Among Workers in Alisraa Hospital. Far East Journal of Psychology and Business .
Cotton, D. H. (2013). Stress Management: An Integrated Approach to Therapy. Routledge.
Hannigan, B., Edwards, D., & Burnard, P. (2004). Stress and Stress Management in Clinicall Psychology: Findings From a Systemic Review. Journal of Mental Health , 235-45.
Mielach, D. (2013, August 22). Stress Affecting Majority Workers on Regular Basis, Survey Shows. Retrieved July 12, 2015, from huffingtonpost.com: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/22/stress-workers-employees-job_n_3795249.html?ir=India&adsSiteOverride=in
Sanders, R. (2013, April). Researchers Find out Why Some Stress is Good for You. Berkeley News.
Selye, H. (1976). Stress in Health and Disease. MA: Butterworth.
Stebbins, R. A. (2001). Exploratory Research in the Social Sciences. London: SAGE.