Occupational stress is one of the most prevalent problems that the contemporary organizations face. Occupational stress results in negative outcomes for organizations in terms of increased levels of employee turnover, unproductivity, absenteeism, and lower moral. All these elements are costly to the organization. Occupational stress has also detrimental outcomes for individual employees by negatively affecting their wellbeing. Although vast research has been conducted on the issue, finding solution to the problem has been largely elusive as evidence by the fact that the levels of occupational stress are persistently increasing. Consequently, the purpose of this qualitative single case study research is to expand current literature by exploring further understanding occupational stress including ways of reducing it in organizational settings.

In particular, this study will explore the perceptions and experiences of employees regarding occupational stress and how it can be diminished, the perceptions of HR personnel regarding the challenges to addressing the problems, and the ways it can be diminished. Since occupational stress is a complex phenomenon, the conceptual framework used in this research will comprise of various psychological theories and models that attempt to explain the phenomenon. The underlying view is that no single factor causes occupational stress. The models incorporated in the framework are person-environment (PE) fit theory, job characteristics theory, the diathesis-stress model, the job-demand resources model, and the effort-reward imbalance model. The data for the research will be collected using semi-structured interviews administered to HR personnel and employees recruited from the case study organization, which is a financial services organization in the United States. The findings of this study can potentially influence the strategies that organizations can utilize in order to develop competitive workplace settings that enhance productivity.

Background

The workplace, whether it is an office or a factory, is not just a place where people receive compensation for their attendance and presence (Ackfeldt & Malhotra, 2013). The compensation is often paid for some form of work done, and the quantity of the completed work denotes the productivity of an employee, which depends on various factors apart from experience and qualifications. An employee’s productivity level is a crucial variable that influences the profitability of any organization including its long-term survival (Adler & Castro, 2013). This explains why many organizations are quick to dismiss non-performing employees or adopt initiatives aimed at enhancing the productivity of employees through their management practices (Mosadeghrad, 2013; Taris & Kompier, 2014). One of the key issues that the organizations can address to enhance their productivity is looking for ways of reducing the levels of stress among its employees.

The stress is intangible; as a result, it is a complex concept. As Beehr (2014) explains, stress is the outcome of the interaction between person and his/her environment, which yields an emotional strain that affects mental and physical condition of a person. The factors causing stress are referred to as stressors, which comprise of events that interfere with an individual’s state of equilibrium (Ahmad, 2010). Beheshtifar & Nazarian (2013) alludes to the fact that stress denotes anything that hampers the ability of a person with respect to maintaining crucial variables within limits deemed acceptable. The experience of stress is often typified by an event that is overly demanding. The events are deemed stressful if the people experiencing it view them as something distressing (Taris & Kompier, 2014). The degree to which an individual considers an event stressful is contingent on the psychosocial orientation of the person including his/her past experiences, beliefs, values, and spirituality. The events that people perceive as conflicting, unsatisfying, threatening, or overwhelming have a higher likelihood of being experienced as distressing (Babatunde, 2013).

One of the events that can be stressful for people is their job; as a result, various scholars emphasize the importance of organizations providing their employees with a healthy job (Babatunde, 2013; Biron, Karnika-Murray, & Cooper, 2012). The latter is one whereby the demands of the work match with the resources and abilities of employees. Other aspects associated with a healthy work environment include providing employees with support and sufficient autonomy over their work (Mohammad, 2014; Taris & Kompier, 2014). A work environment that is not healthy is bound to increase the levels of stress among employees. The stress at work place refers to the response that the employees might have if their work pressures and demands are not congruent with their skills, which, in turn, hinders their coping abilities. The stress occurs in various work situations; however, it is aggravated to worse levels when employees are of the view that their colleagues and supervisors are not providing them with adequate support, and when they believe that they have little or no control of the work processes (Arnetz, Lucas, & Arnetz, 2011; Beehr, 2014). Workplace pressures are unavoidable because of the demands that are found in the present-day work environment. According to Beheshtifar & Nazarian (2013), an individual might perceive pressure as something acceptable, and can be helpful in ensuring that the workers are alert, trained, and motivated based on their personal attributes and the existing resources. Nevertheless, in the instances of extreme or unmanageable work pressure, the outcome is stress that can be detrimental to the health of the employee and the performance of the organization.

The stress emanating from work-related factors can be attributed to various issues such as poor organization of work in terms of the manner in which job and work systems are designed and managed (Ackfeldt & Malhotra, 2013), poor work design such as lacking control over the processes of work (Mosadeghrad, 2013), poor management practices (Taris & Kompier, 2014), work conditions that are not satisfactory (Wright, 2014), and lacking support from co-workers and supervisors (Mark & Smith, 2012). The studies have revealed that the most stressful form of work is typified by excessive pressures and demands that exceed the abilities and knowledge of workers having little or no opportunity for exercising control and lacking support. The likelihood of employees experiencing work-related stress diminishes when there is a match between the abilities and knowledge of employees and the work pressures demand them to control their work and receive support from others (Kurspahić-Mujčić, Hadžagić-Ćatibušić, Sivić, & Hadžović, 2014).

Occupational stress is prevalent in all professions and workers’ categories. It remains the key issue of concern for the management of the organization and its employees as well as other stakeholders. The stressors are often found in all forms of job. Over the past decades, tremendous research has offered crucial insights in helping to understand the problem of occupational stress and its impacts on organizations and employees (Beheshtifar & Nazarian, 2013). The research studies show that the degree and nature of occupational stress differs between industries and also within a specific industry (Beehr, 2014; Cooper, Quick, & Schabracq, 2015). The dominant view is that occupational stress is attributed to the interaction between an employee and the work environment, and since every job has a unique work and environment and all people are different, it can be expected that the effect and nature of occupational stress differs between jobs and individuals (Donovan, Doody, & Lyons, 2013; Kossek, Kalliath, & Kalliath, 2012).

In many countries, occupational stress is prevalent in all groups of workers and professions, and affects societies and families considerably. In fact, occupational stress has been described as a global pandemic by the International Labor Organization (ILO). For instance, in the US, three out of four workers consider their work to be stressing (Goh, Pfeffer, & Zenios, 2015). Whereas the physical effects associated with stress have been overemphasized in the literature, the economic impacts of workplace stress are also worrying. In the US alone, the costs associated with work-related stress is estimated at $200 billion annually in the form of medical insurance, employees’ compensation, employee turnover, reduced productivity, and absenteeism among others (Millward, 2005). An estimated 60% of lost work days annually have been linked to work-related stress (Millward, 2005). Moreover, about 75–90% of healthcare provider visits have also been associated with stress-related conditions, which is increasing the costs of employees in the form of higher healthcare costs (McVicar, Munn-Giddings, & Seebohm, 2013).

McVicar et al. (2013) further report that one third of workers in the US consider quitting due to workplace stress, whereas 14% quit because of such stress. The majority of employees consider their work as a leading stressor in their lives (Ackfeldt & Malhotra, 2013). The worrying trend is that the level of occupational stress is increasing. For instance, Wright (2014) showed that 75% of employees believe that contemporary workers experience more job-related stress when compared with a decade ago. Similar trends have been documented in Europe, wherein 20–30% of workers in various sectors reported that occupational stress was considerably affecting their health (Beehr, 2014). In Britain, the prevalence of occupational stress is about 16.6%. Empirical evidence shows that occupational stress is the leading cause of employee turnover within many organizations (Babatunde, 2013). As a result, managing occupational stress has been labelled as one of the most important challenges that business managers face in the 21st century.

Despite the vast research that has been conducted on the issue of occupational stress, finding ways of diminish occupational stress is still elusive. This is evidenced by the increase in the prevalence and the costs associated with occupational stress (Ahmad, 2010; Beehr, 2014). Consequently, the further understanding of ways of diminishing occupational stress is warranted to help organizations manage this problem effectively. To this end, this study seeks to offer further understanding of the ways that organizations can deploy in order to reduce occupational stress by exploring the issue from the perspective of employees. The bulk of the existing measures outlined in the literature focuses on designing work-related factors while ignoring the viewpoint of the employees, which is the focus of this research.

Nature of the Study

This study is qualitative in nature because the research seeks for conducting an in-depth examination of the issue of occupational stress. Moreover, the explorative nature of this study warrants the utilization of qualitative methods for the investigation of the topic of study. This research does not contain any confirmatory or descriptive aspects; hence, the quantitative approach was not suited for this study. This will require the use of open and flexible methods to enable the researcher to conduct detailed investigation and provide novel insights that can help understand the ways of reducing the levels of occupational stress. The particular qualitative approach that will be used in this study is the case study design. The case studies have been described as being ideal for conducting detailed investigations, especially when the researcher is not interested in generalizing the findings but developing deeper understanding of the research problem (Creswell, 2011).

A single case study will be used in this work, which is recommended for conducting explorative research. The case study for this research will be a financial institution in the US. Next, the data collection will involve the use of semi-structured interviews with employees and human resources (HR) in the selected case study organization in order to gain their views concerning occupational stress and the ways in which it can be reduced. Besides the use of semi-structured interviews, the researcher will also review the existing policies and approaches used at the case study organization to lessen occupational stress. The review of organizational policies will provide an opportunity to triangulate the data. A field test will be performed with three experts in the field of HR and organizational psychology to determine the dependability and the credibility of the questions included in the interview protocol. The semi-structured interviews will be conducted on face-to-face basis with the respondents, which will then be recorded verbatim using digital dictaphone. Further, the data analysis will be performed using the NVivo software for identifying the dominant themes emerging in the data. The constructs that will be explored in this research are the perceptions of employees towards ways that the organization can reduce the levels of occupational stress, the employees experiences and perceived notions of occupational stress, HR personnel perceptions regarding the problems and challenges of managing occupational stress, and their perceptions of the methods that the organization can use in reducing occupational stress levels.

Significance

Numerous studies have affirmed the widespread nature of occupational stress and the detrimental consequences for individual employees and organizations across the globe (Ackfeldt & Malhotra, 2013; Babatunde, 2013; Mosadeghrad, 2013; Wright, 2014). Nevertheless, occupational stress remains a complex phenomenon attributed to the interaction between a person and his/her environment. As a result, considerable differences exist with respect to occupational stress because of the variances in work settings and support levels (Adler & Castro, 2013; Taris & Kompier, 2014). In the recent past, the levels of occupational stress have been in an upward trend across the globe, which is costing organizations billions of dollars (Ahmad, 2010). The bulk of literature of occupational stress places a considerable emphasis on variables within the work environment while disregarding an individual employee (Babatunde, 2013; Beheshtifar & Nazarian, 2013; Millward, 2005; Wright, 2014). Essentially, the dominant view in the literature is that occupational stress stem from work-related factors with individual-related factors playing a marginal role. To this end, the research will expand existing literature by exploring the issue of occupational stress from the perspectives and experiences of employees.

The focus of this research is placed on developing deeper investigation into the problem of occupational stress, particularly as perceived and experienced by employees themselves. Ideally, the results obtained from this research can be decoded into useful information for organizational change, HR, and management consultants in their endeavors to create the workplace that is more competitive and enhances the productivity of employees. Additionally, an implicitly attempting to create a workplace that is based on the views of employees is akin to creating more humanistic and holistic work environment. Therefore, the researcher hopes that in an attempt to conduct deep investigation into the problem of occupational stress, the results of this research will be helpful in the development of a general plan for establishing work environments that cherish the concerns of employees. Overall, the findings of this study will guide management and HR consultants in the development of a model for reducing occupational stress, which will be beneficial not only to employees but also to organizations.

Summary

Occupational stress is one of the major challenges that the organizations in the 21st century face. It has been associated with increasing costs to organizations in the form of low levels of employee productivity, increased absenteeism, high employee turnover, and medical costs. Despite the vast research conducted to understand occupational stress, it is still a prevalent problem wreaking havoc in present-day organizations. Occupational stress is not only detrimental to organizations but also to the wellbeing of employees. Consequently, there is a need for further understanding occupational stress and ways of diminishing it using the novel approach that focuses on the experiences and perceptions of employees. To this end, the purpose of this research will be the expansion of the existing literature by further exploring the understanding of occupational stress and including ways of reducing it in organizational settings. A qualitative approach will be adopted using the case study design, wherein the data will be gathered using semi-structured interviews with HR personnel and employees in a case study organization.