Occupational stress is hard to avoid in the work environment. Primary causes of work-related stress are dense working conditions, severe competitiveness, experiencing differences in finding the balance between personal life and work, conflict with other members of a team, excess pressure from senior management, etc. (Dwamena, 2012; Trivellas, Reklitis, & Platis, 2013; Griffiths, Baxter, & Townley-Jones, 2011). The consequences vary, but in most cases, its effect on the psychological and physical wellbeing of employees is negative (Hiriyappa, 2013; American Psychological Association, 2015; Patel, 2013; O’Keefe, Brown, & Christian, 2014). In addition to it, work-related stress is the primary cause of decreasing employee performance, worsening cooperation with other team members as well as lower productivity, being dissatisfied with working conditions and demonstrating the desire to quit, depression, and emotional burnout (Leon and Halbesleben, 2013; The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, 2014; Hakanen & Schaufeli, 2012; Campbell, 2015). That said, occupational stress has a negative influence on both employees and employers, because it entails higher turnover rates, absenteeism, and expenditures for addressing healthcare needs of current workers, as well as training and hiring new ones (O’Keefe, Brown, & Christian, 2014; White, 2015; Patel, 2013; Prater & Smith, 2011).
Sherridan and Ashcroft (2015) believe that the most effective method for combating the consequences of work-related stress and diminishing the risks is to take preventative measures aimed at creating a friendly and trustworthy environment in the workplace, thus improving emotional wellbeing and employee performance. Most industries pay significant attention to reducing stress at work (Aftab & Javeed, 2014). However, when it comes to analyzing the shipbuilding and ship-repair industries, the level of occupational stress is higher in comparison to other sectors of the economy, and the effectiveness of management is lower. A similar trend can be explained by the lack of necessary skills to cope with the challenges evoked by work-related stress, and significant pressure with regard to overtime shifts, work-related accidents, and poor quality management (Cardoso, Padovani, & Tucci, 2014; Cezar-Vaz et al., 2014; Al-Raqadi et al., 2015).
Even though improving the performance of quality managers and reorganizing docks by introducing the newest technologies are the most effective measures to cope with the challenge of occupational stress in the ship-repair industry, it is highly sensitive to changes (Cardoso, Padovani, & Tucci, 2014; Al-Raqadi, Abdul Rahim, Masrom, & Al-Riyami, 2015). For this reason, it is paramount to explore the specifics of the industry’s operations, as well as the techniques used by management to reduce work-related stress and create a comfortable working environment. Therefore, the focus of this study will be on the experiences of both workers and managers, with the aim of estimating the effectiveness of occupational stress management techniques deployed by the managers of the ship-repair service company located within the Hampton Roads area in Virginia.
For the purposes of this research, a case study was chosen as a research design. The rationale for selecting this is the method’s usefulness when conducting research that focuses on personal experiences and in-depth apprehension of the issue under consideration. Moreover, the case study is the only research design that can be effectively deployed when the researcher cannot control behavior, because they are influenced by the external environment. In addition, issues under investigation are contemporary, i.e., can be changed easily (Yin, 2013). Finally, it allows an opportunity to analyze the behavior of the respondents in their natural environment (Crowe et al., 2011).
To find relevant answers to the research question, I will use a qualitative research design. The rationale for selecting this method is the fact that it is the most appropriate for analyzing social contexts, behaviors, and experiences, which are valuable for reaching research objectives (O’Sullivan, Rassel, & Berner, 2008). Quantitative research focuses on testing hypotheses, detecting cause-and-effect relationships, and making generalizations (Caruth, 2013; Frels & Onwuegbuzie, 2013). Mixed research is the combination of qualitative and quantitative research methods designed to address their limitations, and investigating the issue from both explanatory and exploratory perspectives (Caruth, 2013). Unlike these methods, qualitative research is based on the depth of understanding of the subject of research (Lund, 2012). Finally, qualitative research that is aimed at finding the meaning and understanding of perceptions allows using smaller sample sizes (Dworkin, 2012). Bearing in mind the limited resources of the proposed study and its objectives, it is the most appropriate research method.
Research questions were designed in a way to support the choice of a qualitative case study. These were constructed with the aim of pointing to the significance of personal experiences, perceptions, and perceived knowledge, i.e., to articulate the objectives of the study (Agee, 2009).
The proposed qualitative case study will be based on conducting interviews. The rationale for choosing interviews instead of other data collection tools is the fact that they offer an opportunity to analyze numerous perceptions of reality (King & Horrocks, 2010). In most cases, this is the best option for obtaining an in-depth understanding of the issue under investigation. The interviews will be comprised of open-ended questions, because they do not limit the area of the answer and are effective for gathering information regarding personal experience (Seidman, 2013). The primary purpose of conducting interviews is to inquire about feelings and personal experiences related to occupational stress. It means that I am the one to choose the phenomenological design for the interviews. The motivation behind this choice is the fact that this type of interview is the most appropriate for gathering the data necessary for qualitative research, because the information sought is based on sensations, perceptions, and intentions, i.e., lived experience (Seidman, 2013; Ericson & Melin, 2010). That said, the primary idea is to develop the questions aimed at studying job satisfaction, working environment, and work-related stress.
There are several rationales behind selecting respondents. First of all, only people occupied in the ship-repair industry will be interviewed, because their experience is valuable for finding the answers to the research questions. As already mentioned, the sample size will be seventeen people – five helpers, five tradespersons, and seven managers of the ship-repair service company located within the Hampton Roads area in Virginia. The motivation for choosing a small sample size for this research is the fact that it guarantees the opportunity to conduct individual interviews and obtain the necessary amounts of data (Hesse-Biber, 2016; Crouch & McKenzie, 2006). Because the purpose of the research is gaining an in-depth understanding of occupational stress, and the role of working conditions and management in reducing or increasing it, there is no sense in involving more people in the research (Miles, Huberman, & Saldaña, 2014). In addition to this, I decided to choose people carrying out different functions within one company, in order to obtain various perspectives on the same issue and draw comprehensive conclusions. The rationale for choosing people working in one company is their operation within one environment and interactions with each other. I believe that it would be beneficial for gathering accurate data.
For the purposes of this research, I have decided to use two sampling techniques – stratified sampling and purposeful sampling. The first technique is purposeful sampling, i.e., selecting only those people who are believed to provide me with enough details on the issue under consideration (Miles, Huberman, & Saldaña, 2014). This technique is commonly deployed in qualitative research, because it focuses on the participation of respondents who are closely related to the subject of the research (Palinkas et al., 2015). It will be supplemented by stratified sampling, i.e., choosing respondents who belong to a particular subgroup of people, or stratum (Johnson & Christensen, 2014). When speaking of the given research, belonging to a specific stratum stands for a position in a company – a helper, manager or tradesperson.
Type of Data and Data Analysis
Data obtained during interviews that focus on perceptions and experiences is referred to as qualitative data. It is subjective and major, reflecting the worldview of every particular respondent (Grbich, 2013). The data collection process will be made up of several stages. The first step is to construct interview questions based on research objectives and research questions (Agee, 2009; King & Horrocks, 2010). They should be phenomenological and open-ended. The second stage is shaping the sample for research on the basis of all the requirements for a respondent, i.e., belonging to a particular stratum and having enough experience (Palinkas et al., 2015; Johnson & Christensen, 2014). The third stage is conducting interviews. This will be done in a natural environment, i.e., within a company unit, in order to increase the accuracy because of the possibility of observing the environment (Agee, 2009). The final phase of the research is data analysis.
Two primary steps that are planned for analyzing the data are grouping and conceptualizing. Grouping stands for dividing respondents based on some visible criteria such as age, gender, position they occupy in a company, etc. (Grbich, 2013). Conceptualizing is the next step, because it implies fractionalizing on the basis of themes and concepts mentioned in the answers to the interview questions (Miles, Huberman, & Saldaña, 2014). Further analysis will be based on finding trends in concepts, such as determining the primary areas of the work environment and management that lead to occupational stress, ideas related to job satisfaction and employee performance, ways to reduce work-related stress, etc.
When conducting a qualitative research, constructs are the topics analyzed during the research in order to find answers to the research questions and achieve the objectives of the study (Roller & Lavrakas, 2015). There are different types and levels of constructs. For the purposes of this research, I will deploy operational constructs, i.e., those related to real-life experiences and examples (Emmel, 2013). Moreover, the research will be based on philosophical constructs related to worldview, i.e., understanding the nature of occupational stress and its consequences; emotional constructs, i.e., reflections on the interconnectedness of the emotional atmosphere in the working environment and occupational stress; and constructs related to knowledge, i.e., finding out whether employees and managers know how to cope with the stress and how other companies involved in the same industry overcome the challenge (Roller & Lavrakas, 2015).
Reliability and Validity
The central objective of the research is to guarantee that the gathered data is valid and accurate, because it influences the conclusions. The initial challenge is the sample size. Even though small sample sizes are commonly used in qualitative research and are the most appropriate for gaining an in-depth understanding of the issue under investigation, they are often threats to validity (Flick, 2014). To overcome this challenge, it is recommended to use triangulation and member checking. Triangulation stands for using different methods for analyzing data or collecting it (Flick, 2014; Grbich, 2013). Conducting interviews within a company and observing working conditions could become one of the tools for increasing trustworthiness and accuracy of interview responses (Grbich, 2013; Miles, Huberman, & Saldaña, 2014). As for member checking, this method is used during the process of conducting interviews. It implies restating primary ideas of the answers and asking a respondent whether they match (Harper & Cole, 2012).
For the purposes of this research, a qualitative method is the best option, because it focuses on perceptions and is beneficial for getting an in-depth understanding of the issue under investigation (O’Sullivan, Rassel, & Berner, 2008; Dworkin, 2012). The data will be collected through conducting individual interviews consisting of phenomenological questions. The sample size is small, which is also useful for qualitative research, especially bearing in mind the limited resources. Once the data is collected, it will be analyzed by grouping and conceptualizing, with the primary emphasis on such constructs as emotional, philosophical, and those related to knowledge and the focus on job satisfaction, work environment, and management skills. In order to guarantee data relevance, triangulation and member checking will be employed.
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