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Dealing with Stress and Ambiguity in Organizations Essay

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JOMO KENYATTA UNIVERSITY OF AGRICULTURE AND TECHNOLOGY Dealing with Stress and Ambiguity in Organizations Group Assignment STUDENTS NAME: 1. DANIEL NDERI- HD313-C006-3244/2012 2. PATRICK LIVONDOLO HD313-C006- 3243/2012 3. TIMOTHY NYAUCHO HD313-C006-3333/2012 COURSE INSTRUCTOR: Dr. NYONGESA PAUL UNIT: HR3102- ENTREPRENEURIAL BEHAVIOUR MSC ENTREPRENEURSHIP –JKUAT (KISII CAMPUS) TABLE OF CONTENTS Title Pagei Table of contentsii 1. 0 Introduction1 2. 0 Symptoms of Stress 2 3. 0 Causes of Stress3 4. 0 Managing Stress5 5. 0 Role Ambiguity8 6. Conclusion10 References 11 1. 0 Introduction Employees stress is a growing concern for organizations today. Stress can be defined as a lively circumstance in which people face constraints, opportunities, or loss of something they desire and for which the consequence is both unpredictable as well as crucial. Stress is the response of people to the unreasonable/excessive pressure or demands placed on them. Stress is an imprecise term.

It is usually defined in terms of the internal and external conditions that create stressful situations, and the symptoms that people experience when they are stressed. McGrath (1976) proposed a definition based on the conditions necessary for stress. So there is a potential for stress when an environmental situation is perceived as presenting a demand that threatens to exceed the person’s capabilities and resources for meeting it, under conditions where he expects a substantial differential in the rewards and costs from meeting the demand versus not meeting it. (p. ,352) Williams and Huber (1986) define stress as “a psychological and physical reaction to prolonged internal and/or environmental conditions in which an individual’s adaptive capabilities are overextended. ” (p. 243) they argue that stress is an adaptive response to a conscious or unconscious threat. Like McGrath, they point out that stress is a result of a “perceived” threat, and is not necessarily related to actual environmental conditions. The amount of stress that is produced by a given situation depends upon one’s perception of the situation, not the situation itself.

In other words, stress is a relativistic phenomenon. Stress is fundamentally seen as a physical, embodied experience emerging from a set of interrelated circumstances and processes. The experience of stress is a complex phenomenon; it is complicated to separate mental and bodily experiences into discrete domains (Shilling, 1993: 115-124), and stress is complicated to think of in linear cause-effect schemes. Stress could be seen both as the cause and the effect of specific bodily malfunctioning. 2. 0 Symptoms of stress

Selye (1946) was the first to describe the phases that the body goes through in response to a threat. The general adaptation syndrome model states that the body passes through three stages. The first stage is an alarm reaction. The body prepares for a potential emergency. Digestion slows down, the heart beats faster, blood vessels dilate, blood pressure rises, and breathing becomes rapid and deep. All bodily systems work together to provide maximum energy for fight or flight. The second stage is resistance. If the stress continues, the body builds up a tolerance to its effects.

The body becomes habituated to the effects of the stressor, however, the bodies adaptive energies are being used as a shield against the stressor. The third stage is exhaustion. When the body’s adaptive energies are depleted, the symptoms of the alarm reaction reappear, and the stress manifests itself as an illness, such as ulcers, heart ailments, and high blood pressure. During the first or second stages, the removal of the stressor will eliminate the symptoms. Some of the symptoms of stress at workplace are as follows- Absenteeism, escaping from work responsibilities, arriving late, leaving early, etc. * Deterioration in work performance, more of error prone work, memory loss, etc. * Cribbing, over-reacting, arguing, getting irritated, anxiety, etc. * Deteriorating health, more of accidents, etc. * Improper eating habits (over-eating or under-eating), excessive smoking and drinking, sleeplessness, etc. 3. 0 Causes of Stress Stressors can be divided into those that arise from within an individual (internal), and those that are attributable to the environment (external).

Internal conflicts, non-specific fears, fears of inadequacy, and guilt feelings are examples of stressors that do not depend on the environment. Internal sources of stress can arise from an individual’s perceptions of an environmental threat, even if no such danger actually exists. Environmental stressors are external conditions beyond an individual’s control. Bhagat (1983) has reported that work performance can be seriously impaired by external stressors. There are many aspects of organizational life that can become external stressors.

These include issues of structure, management’s use of authority, monotony, a lack of opportunity for advancement, excessive responsibilities, ambiguous demands, value conflicts, and unrealistic workloads. A person’s non-working life (e. g. , family, friends, health, and financial situations) can also contain stressors that negatively impact job performance. This can be summarized as follows. i. Organizational factors- With the growth in organizational stress and complexity, there is increase in organizational factors also which cause stress among employees.

Some of such factors are- a. Discrimination in pay/salary structure b. Strict rules and regulations c. Ineffective communication d. Peer pressure e. Goals conflicts/goals ambiguity f. More of centralized and formal organization structure g. Less promotional opportunities h. Lack of employees participation in decision-making i. Excessive control over the employees by the managers ii. Individual factors- There are various expectations which the family members peer, superior and subordinates have from the employee.

Failure to understand such expectations or to convey such expectations lead to role ambiguity/role conflict which in turn causes employee stress. Other individual factors causing stress among employees are inherent personality traits such as being impatient, aggressive, rigid, feeling time pressure always, etc. Similarly, the family issues, personal financial problems, sudden career changes all lead to stress. iii. Job concerning factors- Certain factors related to job which cause stress among employees are as follows- j. Monotonous nature of job k. Unsafe and unhealthy working conditions . Lack of confidentiality m. Crowding iv. Extra-organizational factors- There are certain issues outside the organization which lead to stress among employees. In today’s modern and technology savvy world, stress has increased. Inflation, technological change, social responsibilities and rapid social changes are other extra-organizational factors causing stress. 4. 0 Managing Stress There are essentially three strategies for dealing with stress in organizations (Jick and Payne, 1980): i) treat the symptoms, ii) change the person, and iii) remove the cause of the stress.

When a person is already suffering from the effects of stress, the first priority is to treat the symptoms. This includes both the identification of those suffering from excessive stress, as well as providing health-care and psychological counseling services. The second approach is to help individuals build stress management skills to make them less vulnerable to its effects. The third approach is to eliminate or reduce the environmental situation that is creating the stress. This would involve reducing environmental stressors such as noise and pollution, or modifying production schedules and work-loads.

Managers can take active steps to minimize undesirable stress in themselves and their subordinates. Williams and Huber (1986) suggest five managerial actions that can be used to reduce stress in workers. i. Clarifying task assignments, responsibility, authority, and criteria for performance evaluation. ii. Introducing consideration for people into one’s leadership style. iii. Delegating more effectively and increasing individual autonomy where the situation warrants it. iv. Clarifying goals and decision criteria. v. Setting and enforcing policies for mandatory vacations and reasonable working hours. p. 252) Establishing one’s priorities (i. e. , value clarification) is an important step in the reduction of stress. The demands of many managerial positions cause the neglect of other areas of one’s life, such as family, friends, recreation, and religion. This neglect creates stress, which in turn affects job performance and health. Value clarification is linked to time management, since we generally allocate our time according to our priorities. By setting personal priorities, managers and subordinates can reduce this source of stress.

It is typically the first step in any stress reduction program. Many sources of stress in organizations cannot be changed. These might include situations like a prolonged recessionary period, new competitors, or an unanticipated crisis. Organizational members generally have little control over these kinds of stressors, and they can create extended periods of high-stress situations. People who adjust to these stressors generally use a form of perceptual adaptation, where they modify the way in which they perceive the situation.

Job engineering and job redesign are recent concepts that attempt to minimize job-related stress. Job engineering takes into account the values and needs of the worker, as well as the production objectives of the organization 5. 0 Dealing with Role Ambiguity Individuals in complex organizations are constantly exposed to a variety of expectations from both themselves and others as they carry out their organizational roles. Expectations which are in conflict may result in role conflict for the individual, while unclear or vague expectations may cause role ambiguity.

Since role conflict and ambiguity pose problems of adjustment for the individual Kahn et al (1964) predicted and found lower levels of job satisfaction for those with high conflict and ambiguity. Role ambiguity is defined by Kahn et al as the single or multiple roles that confront the role incumbent, which may not be clearly articulated in terms of expectations, priorities, behaviors, or performance levels. Forte, Hoffman, Lamont, & Brockmann (2000) claim that role ambiguity may result from changes to the external environment and the subsequent reactions that impact organizational form or structure.

Faced with changing roles, new and varied job responsibilities, and technological advances, a worker or role incumbent finds himself or herself in ambiguous situations. Poorly written or detailed job descriptions, unclear assignments, and mixed messages from superiors can all impact perceptions of role ambiguity (Huber, 1981). There are four widely accepted dimensions to role ambiguity, which may be experienced by the role incumbents and are based on the role incumbent’s perception. The dimensions include: (a) expectation ambiguity – What is expected? What should I be doing? b) Process ambiguity – How do I get things done? How do I achieve organizational objectives? (c) Priority ambiguity – When should things be done and in what order? (d) Behavior ambiguity – How am I expected to act in various situations? What behaviors will lead to the needed or desired outcomes? Consequences of Role Ambiguity i. Increased tension, frustration, anxiety, and propensity to leave ii. Lower job satisfaction iii. Decreased motivation, quality of work life, iv. Decreased organizational commitment, individual and group productivity, v. nd an increase in withdrawal behaviors The best way to reduce ambiguity is to follow some very basic steps. i. Identify everything over which you have some reasonable degree of control. Focus in that area. ii. Shift your perspective. Often, items are blown out of proportion or totally ignored. If events seem blown out of proportion, develop perspective by relating your area to the overall performance of the company. Determine if lack of attention or lack of activity is causing more problems than would occur from actual attention or activity. iii. Weigh the risks.

A good manager calculates risk and converts risk into an adventure, not a danger. iv. Overcome negative fantasies. People have the ability to imagine consequences worse than actually occur. v. Identify manageable parts. Most huge situations fraught with numerous ambiguous states can be broken down into manageable subsets. vi. Plan for the unknown. After all is said and done, something will happen that no manager could anticipate. 6. 0 Conclusion Today’s management challenge is to avoid typical platitudes such as “Change is the only constant,” and to focus on actually being productive in a changing environment.

This type of environment puts people in an ambiguous state and stressful ones, such as: being in a situation that is inexplicable, doubtful or obscure, or being in a situation in which there are two or more possible outcomes. It’s an uncomfortable state; it can hinder productivity dramatically. So the goal is to understand how to cope with stress and ambiguity; how to be productive while it exists, and how to reduce it whenever possible.

REFERENCES Bhagat, R. S. (1983). “Effects of stressful life events on individual performance effectiveness and work adjustment processes within organizational settings: A research model. Academy of Management Review. 8(4): 660-671. Forte, M. , Hoffman, J. J. , Lamont, B. T. , Brockmann, E. N. (2000). Organizational form and environment: An analysis of between-form and within-form responses to environmental change, Strategic Management Journal, 21, 753 – 773. Huber, V. L. (1981). Managing stress for increased productivity, Supervisory Management, 26(12), 2 – 12. Jick, T. D. , and Payne, R. (1980). “Stress at work. ” Exchange: The Organizaitonal Behavioral Teaching Journal 5: 50-55. Kahn, R. , Wolfe, D. , Quinn, R. , Snoek, J. , and Rosentbal, R. (1964). Organizational stress: Studies in role conflict and ambiguity. New York: Wiley, Lawless, P. (1991). Employee Burnout: Amerca’s Newest Epidemic. Minneapolis, MN: Northwestern National Life Employee Benefits Division McGrath, J. E. (1976). “Stress and behavior in organizations. ” In Handbook of Industrial and Organizational Psychology. Dunnett, M. D. (ed) Chicago: Rand McNally College Publishing Selye, H. (1946). “The general adaptation syndrome and the diseases of adaptation. ” Journal of Clinical Endocrinology. 2: 117-230. Williams, J. C. , and Huber, G. P. (1986). Human Behavior in Organizations. Cincinnati, OH: South-Western Publishing.