Developing and Assisting Members

organization development  Developing and Assisting Members

Workforce Diversity Interventions

Several profound trends are shaping the labor markets of modern organizations. Researchers suggest that contemporary workforce characteristics are radically different from what they were just twenty years ago. Employees represent every ethnic background and color; range from highly educated to illiterate; vary in age from eighteen, to eighty; may appear perfectly healthy or may have a terminal illness; may be single parents or part of dual-income, divorced, same-sex, or traditional families; and may be physically or mentally challenged. Workforce diversity is more than a euphemism for cultural or ethnic differences. Such a definition is too narrow and focuses attention away from the broad range of issues that a diverse workforce poses. Diversity results from people who bring different resources and perspectives to the workplace and who have distinctive needs, preferences, expectations, and lifestyles.42 Organizations must design human resources systems that account for these differences if they are to attract and retain a productive workforce and if they want to turn diversity into a competitive advantage. Figure 55 presents a general framework for managing diversity in organizations.

Figure 55

organization development  Developing and Assisting Members

First, the model suggests that an organization’s diversity approach is a function of internal and external pressures for and against diversity. Pro-diversity forces argue that organization performance is enhanced when the workforce’s diversity is embraced as an opportunity. But diversity is often discouraged by those who fear that too many perspectives, beliefs, values, and attitudes dilute concerted action.

Second, management’s perspective and priorities with respect to diversity can range from resistance to active learning and from marginal to strategic. For example, organizations can resist diversity by implementing only legally mandated policies such as affirmative action, equal employment opportunity, or Americans with Disabilities Act requirements. On the other hand, a learning and strategic perspective can lead management to view diversity as a source of competitive advantage. For example, a health-care organization with a diverse customer base can improve perceptions of service quality with physician diversity.

Third, within management’s priorities, the organization’s strategic responses can range from reactive to proactive. Diversity efforts at Texaco and Denny’s had little momentum until a series of embarrassing race-based events forced a response.

Fourth, the organization’s implementation style can range from episodic to systemic. A diversity approach will be most effective when the strategic responses and implementation style fit with management’s intent and internal and external pressures. Unfortunately, organizations have tended to address workforce diversity pressures in a piecemeal fashion; only 5 percent of more than fourteen hundred companies surveyed thought they were doing a “very good job” of managing diversity. As each trend makes itself felt, the organization influences appropriate practices and activities. For example, as the percentage of women in the workforce increased, many organizations simply added maternity leaves to their benefits packages; as the number of physically challenged workers increased and when Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, organizations changed their physical settings to accommodate wheelchairs. Demographers warn, however, that these trends are not only powerful by themselves but will likely interact with each other to force organizational change. Thus, a growing number of organizations, such as MBNA Corporation, Lockheed Martin, the St. Paul Companies, Levi Strauss, Procter & Gamble, Monsanto, and Wisconsin Electric, are taking bolder steps. They are not only adopting learning perspectives with respect to diversity, but systemically weaving diversity-friendly values and practices into the cultural fabric of the organization. Many of the QD interventions described in this book can be applied to the strategic responses and implementation of workforce diversity, as shown in Table 21. It summarizes several of the internal and external pressures facing organizations, including age, gender, disability, culture and values, and sexual orientation. The table also reports the major trends characterizing those dimensions, organizational implications and workforce needs, and specific OD interventions that can address those implications.

Age

The average age of the U.S. workforce is rising and changing the distribution of age groups. Between 1998 and 2008, the category of workers aged twenty-five to fifty-four years will grow 5.5 percent and the fifty-five and over age category is expected to increase almost 48 percent. This skewed distribution is mostly the result of the baby boom between 1946 and 1964. As a result, organizations will face a predominantly middle-aged and older workforce. Even now, many organizations are reporting that the average age of their workforce is over forty. Such a distribution will place special demands on the organization. For example, the personal needs and work motivation of the different cohorts will require differentiated human resources practices. Older workers place heavy demands on health-care services, are less mobile, and will have fewer career advancement opportunities. This situation will require specialized work designs that account for physical capabilities of older workers, career development activities that address and use their experience, and benefit plans that accommodate their medical and psychological needs. Demand for younger workers, on the other hand, will be intense. To attract and retain this more mobile group, jobs will have to be more challenging, advancement opportunities more prevalent, and an enriched quality of work life more common. Organization development interventions, such as work design, wellness programs (discussed below), career planning and development, and reward systems must be adapted to these different age groups. For the older employee, work designs can reduce the physical components or increase the knowledge and experience components of a job. At Builder’s Emporium, a chain of home improvement centers, the store clerk job was redesigned to eliminate heavy lifting by assigning night crews to replenish shelves and emphasizing sales ability instead of strength. Younger workers will likely

Table 21

Workforce Diversity Dimensions and Intervention
Work force Difference Trends Implications And Needs Interventions
Age Median age up distribution of ages changes Health care mobility security Wellness program job design Career planning and development reward system
Gender Percentage of women increases Dual income families Child Care Maternity/paternity leave single parents Job design Fringe benefits Rewards
Disability The number of people with disabilities entering the workforce increasing Job challenge Job skills Physical space Respect and dignity Performance management Job design Career planning and development
Culture and Values Rising proportion of immigrant and minority group workers shift in rewards Flexible organizational policies Autonomy Affirmation Respect Career planning and development Employee involvement Reward system
Sexual orientation Number of single sex households up More liberal Attitude towards sexual orientation Discrimination Equal employment Opportunities Fringe benefits Education and training

Require more challenge and autonomy. Wellness programs can be used to address the physical and mental health of both generations. Career planning and development programs will have to recognize the different career stages of each cohort and offer resources tailored to that stage. Finally, reward system interventions may offer increased health benefits, time off, and other perks for the older worker while using promotion, ownership, and pay to attract and motivate the scarcer, younger workforce.

Gender

Another important trend is the increasing percentage of female workers in the labor force. By the year 2008, almost 48 percent of the U.S. workforce will be women, and they will represent more than half of the new entrants between 1998 and 2008. The organizational implications of these trends are sobering. Three-quarters of all working women are in their childbearing years, and more than half of all mothers work. Health-care costs will likely increase at even faster rates, and costs associated with absenteeism and turnover will rise. In addition, demands for child care, maternity and paternity leaves, and flexible working arrangements will place pressure on work systems to maintain productivity and teamwork. From a management perspective, there will be more men and women working together as peers, more women entering the executive ranks, greater diversity of management styles, and changing definitions of managerial success. Work design, reward systems, and career development are among the more important interventions for addressing issues arising out of the gender trend. For example, jobs can be modified to accommodate the special demands of working mothers. A number of organizations, such as Digital Equipment, Steel case, and Hewlett-Packard, have instituted job sharing, by which two people perform the tasks associated with one job. The firms have done this to allow their female employees to pursue both family and work careers.

Reward system interventions, especially fringe benefits, can be tailored to offer special leaves to mothers and fathers, child-care options, flexible working hours, and health and wellness benefits. Career development interventions help maintain, develop, and retain a competent and diverse workforce. Organizations such as Polaroid, Hoechst Celanese, and Ameritech have instituted job pathing, challenging assignments, and mentoring programs to retain key female members.

Disability

A third trend is the increasing number of men and women with disabilities entering the workforce. The workforce of the twenty-first century will comprise people with a variety of physical and mental disabilities. For example, the high school dropout rate has remained above 4 percent throughout the 1990s, and approximately 21 percent of the population over age 16 have only rudimentary reading and writing skills. In a world of knowledge work, the lack of education or an inability to learn is a profoundly debilitating condition. More and more organizations will employ physically handicapped people, especially as the number of younger workers declines, creating a great demand for labor. In 1990, the federal Americans with Disabilities Act banned all forms of discrimination on the basis of physical or mental disability in the hiring and promotion process. It also required many organizations to modify physical plants and office buildings to accommodate people with disabilities. The organizational implications of the disability trend represent both opportunity and adjustment. The productivity of physically and mentally disabled workers often surprises managers, and training is required to increase managers’ awareness of this opportunity. Employing disabled workers, however, also means a need for more comprehensive health care, new physical workplace layouts, new attitudes toward working with the disabled and challenging jobs that use a variety of skills. OD interventions, including work design, career planning and development, and performance management, can be used to integrate the disabled into the workforce. For example, traditional approaches to job design can simplify work to permit physically handicapped workers to complete an assembly task. Career planning and development programs need to focus on making disabled workers aware of career opportunities. Too often, these employees do not know that advancement is possible, and they are left feeling frustrated. Career tracks need to be developed for these workers. Performance management interventions, including goal setting, monitoring, and coaching performance, aligned with the workforce’s characteristics are important. At Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida, for example, a supervisor learned sign language to communicate with a deaf employee whose productivity was low but whose quality of work was high. Two other deaf employees were transferred to that supervisor’s department, and over a two-year period, the performance of the deaf workers improved 1,000 percent with no loss in quality.

Culture and Values

Cultural diversity has broad organizational implications. Different cultures represent a variety of values, work ethics, and norms of correct behavior. Not all cultures want the same things from work, and simple, piecemeal changes in specific organizational practices will be inadequate if the workforce is culturally diverse. Management practices will have to be aligned with cultural values and support both career and family orientations. English is a second language for many people, and jobs of all types (processing, customer contact, production, and so on) will have to be adjusted accordingly. Finally, the organization will be expected to satisfy both extrinsic and monetary needs, as well as intrinsic and personal growth needs. Several planned change interventions, including employee involvement, reward systems, and career planning and development, can be used to adapt to cultural diversity. Employee involvement practices can be adapted to the needs for participation in decision making. People from certain cultures, such as Scandinavia, are more likely to expect and respond to high-involvement policies; other cultures, such as Latin America, view participation with reservation. Participation in an organization can take many forms, from suggestion systems and attitude surveys to high-involvement work designs and performance management systems. Organizations can maximize worker productivity by basing the amount of power and information workers have on cultural and value orientations. Reward systems can focus on increasing flexibility. For example, flexible working hours that permit employees to arrive at and leave work within specified periods enable them to meet personal obligations without sacrificing organizational objectives. Many organizations have implemented this innovation, and most report that the positive benefits outweigh the costs. Work locations also can be varied. Many organizations (e.g., Pacific Telesis, Eddie Bauer, and Marriott) allow workers to spend part of their time telecommuting from home. Other flexible benefits, such as floating holidays, allow people from different cultures to match important religious and family occasions with work schedules. Child-care and dependent-care assistance also support different lifestyles. For example, at Stride Rite Corporation, the Stride Rite Intergenerational Day Care Center houses fifty-five children between the ages of fifteen months and six years as well as twenty-four elders over sixty years old. The center was established after an organizational survey determined that 25 percent of employees provided some sort of elder care and that an additional 13 percent anticipated doing so within five years. Finally, career planning and development programs can help workers identify advancement opportunities that are in line with their cultural values. Some cultures value technical skills over hierarchical advancement; others see promotion as a prime indicator of self-worth and accomplishment. By matching programs with people, job satisfaction, productivity, and employee retention can be improved.

Sexual Orientation

Finally, diversity in sexual and affectional orientation, including gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals and couples, increasingly is affecting the way that organizations think about human resources. The primary organizational implication of sexual orientation diversity is discrimination. People can have strong emotional reactions to sexual orientation. When these feelings interact with the gender, culture, and values trends described above, the likelihood of both overt and unconscious discrimination is high. Interventions aimed at this dimension of workforce diversity are relatively new in OD and are being developed as organizations encounter sexual orientation issues in the workplace. The most frequent response is education and training. This intervention increases members’ awareness of the facts and decreases the likelihood of overt discrimination. Human resources practices having to do with Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) and fringe benefits also can help to address sexual orientation parity issues. Some organizations have modified their EEO statements to address sexual orientation. Firms such as Advanced Micro Devices, Fujitsu, Ben & Jerry’s, and Dow Chemical have communicated strongly to members and outsiders that decisions with respect to hiring, promotion, transfer, and so on cannot (and will not) be made with respect to a person’s sexual orientation. Similarly, organizations are increasingly offering domestic-partner benefit plans. Companies such as Microsoft, Apple, Lotus Development Corporation, and Inprise Borland have extended health-care and other benefits to the same-sex partners of their members. A 1992 Newsweek poll found that 78 percent of the respondents favored extending employee benefits to the domestic partners of lesbians and gay men. Workforce diversity interventions are growing rapidly in OD. A national survey revealed that 75 percent of firms either have, or plan to begin, diversity efforts. Research suggests that diversity interventions are especially prevalent in large organizations with diversity-friendly senior management and human resources policies. Although existing evidence shows that diversity interventions are growing in popularity, there is still ambiguity about the depth of organizational commitment to such practices and their personal and organizational consequences. A great deal more research is needed to understand these newer interventions and their outcomes.

Employee Wellness Interventions

In the past decade, organizations have become increasingly aware of the relationship between employee wellness and productivity. The estimated cost to industry from stress-related ailments is more than $200 billion per year and is an increasingly global phenomenon. In the United Kingdom, stress and stress-related illness cost industry and taxpayers £12 billion each year. Employee assistance programs (EAPs) and stress management interventions have grown because organizations are taking more responsibility for the welfare of their employees. Companies such as Johnson & Johnson, Weyerhaeuser, Federal Express, Quaker Oats, GTE, and Abbott Laboratories are sponsoring a wide range of fitness and wellness programs. In this section, we discuss two important wellness interventions—EAPs and stress management. EAPs are primarily reactive efforts that identify, refer, and treat employee problems (e.g., drug abuse, marital difficulties, or depression) that affect worker performance. Stress management, both proactive and reactive, is concerned with helping employees alleviate or cope with the negative consequences of stress at work.

Employee Assistance Programs

Forces affecting psychological and physical problems at the workplace are increasing. The 1992 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse reported that 66.5 percent of current illicit drug users then 18 years or older were working full- or part-time. Similarly, alcohol and other drug use costs U.S. business an estimated $102 billion per year in lost productivity, accidents, and turnover. Britain’s Royal College of Psychiatrists suggested that up to 30 percent of employees in British companies would experience mental health problems and that 115 million workdays were lost each year as a result of depression. Other factors, too, have contributed to increased problems: altered family structures, the growth of single-parent households, the increase in divorce, greater mobility, and changing modes of child rearing are all fairly recent phenomena that have added to the stress experienced by employees. These trends indicate that an increasing number of employees need assistance with personal problems, and the research suggests that EAP use increases during downsizing and restructuring.

EAPs help identify, refer, and treat workers whose personal problems affect their performance. Initially started in the 1940s to combat alcoholism, these programs have expanded to deal with emotional, family, marital, and financial problems, and, more recently, drug abuse. EAPs can be either broad programs that address a full range of issues or more focused programs dealing with specific problems, such as drug or alcohol abuse.

Central to the philosophy underlying EAPs is the belief that although the organization has no right to interfere in the private lives of its employees, it does have a right to impose certain standards of work performance and to establish sanctions when these are not met. Anyone whose work performance is impaired because of a personal problem is eligible for admission into an EAP program. Successful EAPs have been implemented at General Motors, Johnson & Johnson, Motorola, Burlington Northern Railroad, and Dominion Foundries and Steel Company. Although limited, some research has demonstrated that EAPs can positively affect

Figure 56


organization development  Developing and Assisting Members

Absenteeism, turnover, and job performance. At AT&T, for example, fifty-nine employees who were close to losing their jobs were enrolled in an EAP and successfully returned to work. Hiring and training replacements would have been much more costly than the expense of the EAP.

The Employee Assistance Program Model

Figure 56 displays the components of a typical EAP. They include the identification and referral of employees into the program, management of the EAP process, and problem diagnosis and treatment.

  1. Identification and referral. The first step in an EAP is entry into the program, through formal or informal referral. In the case of formal referrals, the process involves identifying employees who are having work performance problems and getting them to consider entering the EAP. Identifying these employees is closely related to the performance management process. Performance records need to be maintained and corrective action taken whenever performance falls below an acceptable standard. During action planning to improve performance, managers can point out to appraisers the existence of support services, such as the EAR. A formal referral takes place if the performance of an employee continues to deteriorate and the manager decides that EAP services are required. An informal referral occurs when an employee initiates admission to an EAP even though performance problems may not exist or may not have been detected. As shown in Figure 56, several organizational activities support this initial step in the EAP process. First, a written policy with clear procedures regarding the EAP is necessary. Second, top management and the human resources department must publicly support the EAP, and publicity about the program should be
  2. well distributed. Third, training and development programs should equip supervisors to identify and document performance problems effectively, to carry out performance improvement action planning, and to develop appropriate methods for referring employees to the EAP. Finally, the confidentiality of employees using the program must be safeguarded to gain the support of the workforce.
  3. EAP office. The second component of an EAP is the work performed in the program office, where people with problems are linked with treatment resources. The EAP office accepts an employee into the program, provides problem evaluation and initial counseling, refers the employee to treatment resources and agencies, monitors the employee’s progress during treatment, and reintegrates the employee into the workforce. In some EAPs, especially in large organizations, the actual counseling and treatment resources are located in-house. In most EAPs, however, the employee is referred to outside agencies that contract with the organization to perform treatment services. In all cases, a clear procedure for helping the employee return to the workforce is crucial and must be managed to maintain confidentiality. Good management is required for an effective EAP. For example, the program’s relationship to disciplinary procedures must be clear. In some organizations, corrective actions are suspended if the employee seeks EAP help; in others, the two processes are not connected. Maintaining confidential records about treatment also is essential. In-house resources have the disadvantage of appearing to compromise this important program element, but they may offer some cost savings. If external treatment resources are used, care must be taken to screen and qualify those resources.
  4. Treatment. The third EAP component is the treatment of the employee’s problem. Potential resources include inpatient and outpatient care, social services, and self-help groups. The resources tapped by EAPs will vary from program to program.

Implementing an Employee Assistance Program

EAPs can be flexible and customized to fit various organizational philosophies and employee problems. Practitioners have suggested the following seven steps in establishing an EAP:

  1. Develop an EAP policy and procedure. Establish specific guidelines concerning the EAP and its availability to employees and their families. Policies concerning confidentiality, disciplinary procedures, communication, training, and overall program philosophy should be included. Use senior management and union involvement (where appropriate) in developing the guidelines to elicit worker commitment.
  2. Select and train a program coordinator. A person should be designated by the organization as the EAP coordinator. This person is responsible for overall coordination of program activities, such as training, handling program publicity, evaluating program activities, troubleshooting to ensure the quick resolution of problems, and providing ongoing program support.
  3. Obtain employee/union support for the EAR Program effectiveness demands employee or union support for EAP implementation. Obtaining that support may require meeting with key employee or union representatives to get their input in defining significant features of the EAP, including office location, staffing, participation on an EAP advisory committee, and employee/union attendance at EAP training; to review significant policy and/or procedural components to ensure support; and to share endorsements from other organizations where EAPs have been implemented.
  4. Publicize the program. Communicating about the EAP’s availability and increasing employee awareness of its procedures, resources, and benefits should be a high priority. Both formal and informal referrals to the program assume that managers and employees are aware of its existence. If it is not well publicized or if people do not know how to contact the program office, then participation may be below expected levels.
  5. Establish relationships with health-care providers and insurers. All applicable health insurance policies should be reviewed to determine coverage for mental health and chemical dependency treatment. Although most policies include this coverage, reimbursement procedures often vary. This information needs to be summarized for EAP users so that all parties are aware of potential costs and responsibilities. EAP staff should be prepared to advise employees seeking treatment about expected insurance coverage and any personal expenses related to treatment. Potential providers of EAP treatment services should be interviewed, screened, and selected, and appropriate procedures should be developed for making referrals and maintaining confidentiality.
  6. Schedule EAP training. The legal climate surrounding EAPs, referrals, and employee discipline requires that EAP training methods and materials be up-to-date and accurate. Training should include role plays about handling difficult employees as well as methods for referring workers to the program.
  7. Continually administer and manage the plan. A plan should be developed for reviewing program effectiveness. This typically involves auditing procedures, measuring system-user satisfaction, and determining whether treatment options should be added or deleted. Ongoing training of EAP staff also should occur, emphasizing the changing legal requirements of EAPs, new counseling or treatment options, organizational changes that may affect program use, and behaviors that focus on service quality.

Stress Management Programs

Concern has been growing in organizations about managing the dysfunction caused by stress. Stress is linked to the following illnesses: hypertension, heart attacks, diabetes, asthma, chronic pain, allergies, headache, backache, various skin disorders, cancer, immune system weakness, and decreases in the number of white blood cells and changes in their function. It can also lead to alcoholism and drug abuse, two problems that are reaching epidemic proportions in organizations and society. For organizations, these personal effects can result in costly health benefits, absenteeism, turnover, and low performance. One study reported that one in three workers said they have thought about quitting because of stress; one in two workers said job stress reduced their productivity; and one in five workers said they took sick leave in the month preceding the survey because of stress. Another study estimates that each employee who suffers from a stress-related illness loses an average of sixteen days of work per year. Finally, the Research Triangle Institute estimated the annual cost to the U.S. economy from stress-related disorders at $187 billion. Other estimates are more conservative, but they invariably run into the billions of dollars. Like other human resources management interventions, stress management is often facilitated by practitioners with special skills and knowledge—typically psychologists, physicians, and other health professionals specializing in work stress. Recently, some OD practitioners have gained competence in this area, and there has been a growing tendency to include stress management as part of larger OD efforts. The concept of stress is best understood in terms of a model that describes the organizational and personal conditions contributing to the dysfunctional consequences of stress. Two key types of stress management interventions may be used: those aimed at the diagnosis or awareness of stress and its causes, and those directed at changing the causes and helping people cope with stress.

Definition and Model

Stress refers to the reaction of people to their environments. It involves both physiological and psychological responses to environmental conditions, causing people to change or adjust their behaviors. Stress is generally viewed in terms of the fit of people’s needs, abilities, and expectations with environmental demands, changes, and opportunities. A good person-environment fit results in positive reactions to stress; a poor fit leads to the negative consequences already described. Stress is generally positive when it occurs at moderate levels and contributes to effective motivation, innovation, and learning. For example, a promotion is a stressful event that is experienced positively by most employees. On the other hand, stress can be dysfunctional when it is excessively high (or low) or persists over a long period of time. It can overpower a person’s coping abilities and cause physical and emotional exhaustion. For example, a boss who is excessively demanding and unsupportive can cause subordinates undue tension, anxiety, and dissatisfaction. Those factors, in turn, can lead to withdrawal behaviors, such as absenteeism and turnover; to ailments, such as headaches and high blood pressure; and to lowered performance. Situations in which there is a poor fit between employees and the organization produce negative stress consequences. A tremendous amount of research has been conducted on the causes and consequences of work stress. Figure 57, a model summarizing stress relationships, identifies specific occupational stressors that may result in dysfunctional consequences. People’s individual differences determine the extent to which the stressors are perceived negatively. For example, people with strong social support experience the stressors as less stressful than those who do not have such support. This greater perceived stress can lead to such negative consequences as anxiety, poor decision making, increased blood pressure, and low productivity.

Figure 57 Stress and Work: A Working model

Consequences
Subjective: anxiety apathy
Behavioral Alcoholism Drug abuse Accident proneness
Cognitive Poor concentration Mental blocks burnout
Physiological:
  • Type A or
  • Hardiness
  • Social Support . Occupation
  • Negative Affectivity . Race

The stress model shows that almost any dimension of the organization (e.g., working conditions, structure, role, or relationships) can cause negative stress. This suggests that much of the material covered so far in this book provides knowledge about work-related stressors, and implies that virtually all of the OD interventions included in the book can play a role in stress management. Process consultation, third-party intervention, survey feedback, inter-group relations, structural design, employee involvement, work design, goal setting, reward systems, and career planning and development all can help alleviate stressful working conditions. Thus, to some degree stress management has been under discussion throughout this book. Here, the focus is on those occupational stressors and stress-management techniques that are unique to the stress field and that have received the most systematic attention from stress researchers.

Occupational Stressors. Figure 57 identifies several organizational sources of stress, including structure, role on the job, physical environment, and relationships. Extensive research has been done on three key organizational sources of stress: the individual items related to work overload, role conflict, and role ambiguity. Work overload can be a persistent source of stress, especially among managers and white-collar employees having to process complex information and make difficult decisions. Quantitative overload consists of having too much to do in a given time period. Qualitative overload refers to having work that is too difficult for one’s abilities and knowledge. A review of the research suggests that work overload is highly related to managers’ needs for achievement and so it may be partly self-inflicted. Research relating workload to stress outcomes reveals that both too much and too little work can have negative consequences. Apparently, when the amount of work is in balance with people’s abilities and knowledge, stress has a positive impact on performance and satisfaction, but when workload either exceeds employees’ abilities (overload) or fails to challenge them (underload), people experience stress negatively. This negative experience can lead to lowered self-esteem and job dissatisfaction, nervous symptoms, increased absenteeism, and reduced participation in organizational activities. People’s roles at work also can be a source of stress. A role can be defined as the sum total of expectations that the individual and significant others have about how the person should perform a specific job. The employee’s relationships with peers, supervisors, vendors, customers, and others can result in diverse expectations about how a particular role should be performed. The employee must be able to integrate these expectations into a meaningful whole to perform the role effectively. Problems arise when there is role ambiguity and the person does not clearly understand what others expect of her or him, or when there is role conflict and the employee receives contradictory expectations that cannot be satisfied at the same time.

Extensive studies of role ambiguity and conflict suggest that both conditions are prevalent in organizations, especially among managerial jobs where clarity often is lacking and job demands often are contradictory. For example, managerial job descriptions typically are so general that it is difficult to know precisely what is expected on the job. Similarly, managers spend most of their time interacting with people from other departments, and opportunities for conflicting demands abound in these lateral relationships. Role ambiguity and conflict can cause severe stress, resulting in increased tension, dissatisfaction, and withdrawal, and reduced commitment and trust in others. Some evidence suggests that role ambiguity has a more negative impact on managers than does role conflict. In terms of individual differences, people with a low tolerance for ambiguity respond more negatively to role ambiguity than others do; introverts and people who are more flexible react more negatively to role conflict than others do.

Individual Differences. Figure 57 identifies several individual differences affecting how people respond to occupational stressors: hardiness, social support, age, education, occupation, race, negative affectivity, and Type A behavior pattern. Much research has been devoted to the Type A behavior pattern, which is characterized by impatience, competitiveness, and hostility. Type A personalities (in contrast to Type Bs) invest long hours working under tight deadlines. They put themselves under extreme time pressure by trying to do more and more work in less and less time. Type B personalities, on the other hand, are less hurried, aggressive, and hostile than Type As. Extensive research shows that Type A people are especially prone to stress. For example, a longitudinal study of thirty-five hundred men found that Type As had twice as much heart disease, five times as many second heart attacks, and twice as many fatal heart attacks as did Type Bs. Researchers explain Type A susceptibility to stress in terms of an inability to deal with uncertainty, such as might occur with qualitative overload and role ambiguity. To work rapidly and meet pressing deadlines, Type As need to be in control of the situation. They do not allocate enough time for unforeseen disturbances and consequently experience extreme tension and anxiety when faced with unexpected events. Unfortunately, the proportion of Type A managers in organizations may be quite large. One study showed that 60 percent of the managers were clearly Type A and only 12 percent were distinctly Type B. In addition, a short questionnaire measuring Type A behaviors and given to members of several MBA classes and executive programs has found that Type As outnumber Type Bs by about five to one. These results are not totally surprising because many organizations (and business schools) reward aggressive, competitive, workaholic behaviors. Indeed, Type A behaviors can help managers achieve rapid promotion in many companies. Ironically, however, those same behaviors may be detrimental to effective performance at top organizational levels where tasks and decision making require the kind of patience, tolerance for ambiguity, and attention to broad issues often neglected by Type As.

Diagnosis and Awareness of Stress and Its Causes

Stress management is directed at preventing negative stress outcomes either by changing the organizational conditions causing the stress or by enhancing employees’ abilities to cope with them. This preventive approach starts from a diagnosis of the current situation, including employees’ self-awareness of their own stress and its sources. This diagnosis provides the information needed to develop an appropriate stress management program. Two methods for diagnosing stress are the following:

Charting Stressors. Such charting involves identifying organizational and personal stressors operating in a particular situation. It is guided by a conceptual model like that shown in Figure 18.4, and it measures potential stressors affecting employees negatively. Data can be collected through questionnaires and interviews about environmental and personal stressors. Researchers at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research have developed standardized instruments for measuring most of the stressors shown in Figure 57. It is important to obtain perceptual measures because people’s cognitive appraisal of the situation makes a stressor stressful. Most organizational surveys measure dimensions potentially stressful to employees, such as work overload, role conflict and ambiguity, promotional issues, opportunities for participation, managerial support, and communication. Similarly, there are specific instruments for measuring the individual differences, such as hardiness, social support, and Type A or B behavior pattern. In addition to perceptions of stressors, it is necessary to measure stress consequences, such as subjective moods, performance, job satisfaction, absenteeism, blood pressure, and cholesterol level. Various instruments and checklists have been developed for obtaining people’s perceptions of negative consequences, and these can be supplemented with hard measures taken from company records, medical reports, and physical examinations. Once measures of the stressors and consequences are obtained, the two sets of data must be related to reveal which stressors contribute most to negative stress in the situation under study. For example, a relational analysis might show that qualitative overload and role ambiguity are highly related to employee fatigue, absenteeism, and poor performance, especially for Type A employees. This kind of information points to specific organizational conditions that must be improved to reduce stress. Moreover, it identifies the kinds of employees who may need special counseling and training in stress management.

Health Profiling. This method is aimed at identifying stress symptoms so that corrective action can be taken. It starts with a questionnaire asking people for their medical history; personal habits; current health; and vital signs, such as blood pressure, cholesterol level, and triglyceride levels. It also may include a physical examination if some of the information is not readily available. Information from the questionnaire and physical examination is then analyzed, usually by a computer that calculates the individual’s health profile. This profile compares the individual’s characteristics with those of an average person of the same gender, age, and race. The profile identifies the person’s future health prospect, typically by placing her or him in a health-risk category with a known probability of fatal disease, such as cardiovascular risk. The health profile also indicates how the health risks can be reduced by making personal and environmental changes such as dieting, exercising, or traveling.

Alleviating Stressors and Coping with Stress

After diagnosing the presence and causes of stress, the next step in stress management is to do something about it. Interventions for reducing negative stress tend to fall into two groups: those aimed at changing the organizational conditions causing stress and those directed at helping people to cope better with stress. Because stress results from the interaction between people and the environment, both strategies are needed for effective stress management. This section first presents two methods for alleviating stressful organizational conditions: role clarification and supportive relationships. These efforts are aimed at decreasing role ambiguity and conflict and improving poor relationships, key sources of managerial stress. Then, two interventions aimed at helping people to cope more positively with stress are discussed: stress inoculation training and health and fitness facilities. These can help employees alleviate stress symptoms and prepare themselves for handling stressful situations.

Role Clarification. This involves helping employees better understand the demands of their work roles. A manager’s role is embedded in a network of relationships with other managers, each of whom has specific expectations about how the manager should perform the role. Role clarification is a systematic process for revealing others’ expectations and arriving at a consensus about the activities constituting a particular role. There are several role clarification methods, among them Job Expectation Technique (JET) and Role Analysis Technique (RAT) and they follow a similar strategy. First, the people relevant to defining a particular role are identified (e.g., members of a managerial team, a boss and subordinate, and members of other departments relating to the role holder) and brought together at a meeting, usually in a location away from the organization. Second, the role holder discusses her or his perceived job duties and responsibilities and the other participants are encouraged to comment and to agree or disagree with the role holder’s perceptions. An OD practitioner may act as a process consultant to facilitate interaction and reduce defensiveness. Third, when everyone has reached consensus on defining the role, the role holder is responsible for writing a description of the activities that are seen now as constituting the role. A copy of the role description is distributed to all participants to ensure that they fully understand and agree with the role definition. Fourth, the participants periodically check to see whether the role is being performed as intended and make modifications if necessary.

Supportive Relationships. This involves establishing trusting and genuinely positive relationships among employees, including bosses, subordinates, and peers. Supportive relations have been a hallmark of organization development and are a major part of such interventions as team building, intergroup relations, employee involvement, work design, goal setting, and career planning and development. Considerable research shows that supportive relationships can buffer people from stress. When people feel that relevant others really care about what happens to them and are willing to help, they can cope with stressful conditions. Recent research on the boss-subordinate relationship suggests that a supportive boss can provide subordinates with a crucial defense against stress. A study of managers at an AT&T subsidiary undergoing turmoil because of the company’s corporate breakup showed that employees who were under considerable stress but felt that their boss was supportive suffered half as much illness, depression, impaired sexual performance, and obesity as employees reporting to an unsupportive boss. This research suggests that organizations must become more aware of the positive value of supportive relationships in helping employees cope with stress. They may need to build supportive, cohesive work groups in situations that are particularly stressful, such as introducing new products, solving emergency problems, and handling customer complaints.

Stress Inoculation Training. Companies have developed programs to help employees acquire the skills and knowledge to cope more positively with stressors. Participants are first taught to understand stress warning signals, such as difficulty in making decisions, disruption in sleeping and eating habits, and greater frequencies of headaches and backaches. Then they are encouraged to admit that they are overstressed (or understressed) and to develop a concrete plan for coping with the situation. One strategy is to develop and use a coping self-statement procedure. Participants verbalize a series of questions or statements each time they experience negative stress. The following sample questions or statements are addressed to the four stages of the stress-coping cycle:

  • Preparation (What am I going to do about these stressors?)
  • Confrontation (I must relax and stay in control.)
  • Coping (I must focus on the present set of stressors.)
  • Self-reinforcement (I handled it well.) Stress inoculation training is aimed at helping employees cope with stress rather than at changing the stressors themselves. Its major value is sensitizing people to the presence of stress and preparing them to take personal action. Self-appraisal and self-regulation of stress can free people from total reliance on others for stress management. Given the multitude of organizational conditions that can cause stress, such self-control is a valuable adjunct to interventions aimed at changing the conditions themselves.

Health Facilities. A growing number of organizations are providing facilities for helping employees cope with stress. Elaborate exercise facilities are maintained by such firms as Xerox, Weyerhaeuser, and PepsiCo. Similarly, more than five hundred companies (e.g., Exxon, Mobil, and Chase Manhattan Bank) operate corporate cardiovascular fitness programs. In addition to exercise facilities, some companies, such as McDonald’s and Equitable Life Assurance Society, provide biofeedback facilities in which managers take relaxation breaks using biofeedback devices to monitor respiration and heart rate. Feedback of such data helps managers lower their respiration and heart rates. Some companies provide time for employees to meditate, and other firms have stay-well programs that encourage healthy diets and lifestyles.

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