The psychological well-being of employees in the workplace is critical to avoid stress and improve employees’ performance (Vainio, 2015). According to Hiriyappa (2013), stress is inevitable in the workplace, and the effects of stress are mostly negative. Even though stress can enhance employees’ performance at the workplace (Britt & Jex, 2015), 75% of American workers report experiencing significant stress every month resulting in health damages (American Psychological Association, 2015), leading to reduced performance, increased turnover and absenteeism (O’Keefe, Brown, & Christian, 2014).
O’Keefe et al. (2014) found that work-related stress lead to performance decrease in 20 % of employees, increased turnover in 65 % of workers who demonstrate dissatisfaction with their stress-related work, and 9% absenteeism caused by tension at work. Work-related stress causes 5-8% of the entire US healthcare costs each year with companies spending more than $150 billion dollars in healthcare expenses (White, 2015). In addition to companies spending more on healthcare cost, work-related stress also causes higher turnover adding greater losses on recruiting and preparation of new workers (O’Keefe et al., 2014). The cost of hiring a new employee in place of one who left and made less than $50,000 a year may cost 20% of his or her salary while the replacement of an executive worker may require up to 200% of his or her annual salary (Patel, 2013).
The general problem is that work-related stress affects people emotionally, mentally, and physiologically, resulting in aggravated job performance, increased turnovers, and absenteeism (Patel, 2013). Occupational stress can also lead to the development of cardiovascular diseases, disturbances of mood, psychological and emotional disorders, and injuries at the workplace (O’Keefe et al, 2014). Leon and Halbesleben (2013) noted that work-related stress is directly related to the worsening of employees’ working performance and cooperation with other colleagues.
The specific problem is that ship-repair managers lack the skills and understanding to reduce occupational stress, absenteeism, and turnover to increase employee performance. The backbone to ship-repair leaders should be strategies to deal with and prevent work-related stress for successful performance outcomes, and preventive measures that are meant to neutralize the stressful environment (Sherridan & Ashcroft, 2015).
Purpose of the Study
The purpose of this qualitative exploratory case study is to discover the strategies that managers in a ship-repair company, in the maritime industry, can use to reduce occupational stress, absenteeism, turnover, and increase employee performance. The participants will be employees from one ship-repair Service Company located within the Hampton Roads area in Virginia. A group of 5 helpers, 5 trade persons, and 7 managers will be interviewed using open-ended questions to gain an in-depth understanding regarding occupational stress, absenteeism, turnover, and employee performance. The employee’s personal perspectives might shed some light on strategies for managers to address the aforementioned issues.
The following section contains the research questions for this study.
- RQ1. What are the primary aspects of the work that may lead to the occupational stress?
- RQ2. What are the occupational consequences of work-stress?
- RQ3. How does work-related stress affect employees, employee performance, turnover, and absenteeism?
- RQ4: What are the strategies used by managers in ship-repair company to reduce work-related stress?
- RQ5: What strategies are most effective in reducing work-related stress and improving overall performance?
Definition of Key Terms
This research attempts to explore a number of concepts, which are critical in developing a strong organizational performance. Below, the paper contains the definitions of some of the terms used throughout the course of the review.
- Stress: Stress refers to an interaction between individuals and the source of demands within their environment (Naqvi, Khan, Kant, & Khan, 2013).
- Job satisfaction: Job satisfaction refers to the positive and pleasurable emotional feeling that emanates from an individual’s job experience (Gupta, Kumar, & Singh, 2014).
- Job performance: Job performance is all the behaviors employees engage in while at work (Gupta et al., 2014).
- Productivity: Productivity refers to the ratio of output to inputs and the real output per unit of labor (Naqvi et al., 2013).
- Motivation: Motivation is the inner force that stimulates individuals to pursue and accomplish predetermined organizational and personal goals (Naqvi et al., 2013).
The proposed study employs the job demands-resources model (JD-R model) that researchers use to predict the effect of increased job demands on employees stress levels. The JD-R model explores employee health and well-being from aspects of the job (Demerouti, Bakker, Nachreiner, & Schaufeli, 2001). The revised version of the JD-R model includes work engagement and burnout as two key factors that influence job demands and the well-being of employees (Demerouti et al., 2001). Work engagement is a positive factor that impacts employees’ dedication, vigor, and absorption towards their job. On the other hand, burnout stems from a negative perspective of the working environment and is associated with health problems of employees (Xanthopoulou, Bakker, Demerouti, & Schaufeli, 2007).
Job demands lead to building up of stress among employees, while resources represent the positive aspects that promote their good health (Xanthopoulou et al., 2007). According to Demerouti et al. (2001), the job demands include physical, social, or organizational characteristics of the work environment that command restricted physical and psychological commitment of employees. Job demands physiological and psychological attract costs for health damages and stress respectively. Job resources create enthusiasm, reducing the adverse effects of job demands (costs) (Xanthopoulou et al., 2007). Additionally, job resources stimulate personal growth and development of workers. This model underpins the current study as it clearly shows that a positive working environment that provides the necessary and supportive resources lead to positive employees’ outcomes (Xanthopoulou et al., 2007). A job with high demands is unhealthy for employees resulting in work-related stress. However, the effectiveness with which organizations develop a stress free environment for working depends on the extent organizational managers understand occupational stress. In a bid to reducing occupational stress, it is essential to discover strategies that managers can use to reduce occupational stress, absenteeism, turnover, and increase employee performance.
Brief Review of the Literature
To date, workplace stress is one of the primary challenges that the managers and leaders of the modern organizations have to face (Aftab & Javeed, 2014). The contemporary work environments are highly competitive and intense; as a result, many employees develop problems that occur due to workplace stress (Dwamena, 2012). Workplace stress may influence multiple aspects of the workers’ lives and affect their physical and mental health, families and romantic relationships, professional performances and relations with the coworkers (The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, 2014). Apart from harming the workers, stress has adverse effects on the organizations as well since it results in the loss of human resources and capitals, problems with reputation and brand image, and disruption of the workplace climate and corporate culture and ethics (The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, 2014). The following review of the literature will explore such manifestations of the workplace stress as job satisfaction, employee absenteeism, productivity, and health effects.
Authors of studies have found a correlation between employees’ psychological wellbeing and job satisfaction (Griffiths, Baxter, & Townley-Jones, 2011). Employees’ access to support from managers and peers affects their job satisfaction level (Griffiths et al., 2011). Employees having lower stress levels were identified to have a feeling of control on some decision-making events (Griffiths et al., 2011). Social support contributes to perceived physical and mental soundness of community health workers (Griffiths et al., 2011). Workers are more satisfied with their jobs when they have autonomy and not subdued by bureaucracy (Griffiths et al., 2011).
The study of Griffiths et al. (2011) focused on job satisfaction and work stress among financial counsellors in NSW Australia and examined factors related to financial counselling. They identified increasing workload as a significant predictor of work stress. This occurred when the financial counsellors had received increasing demand of their services during deteriorating economic conditions.
Many studies cover the issue of correlation between workplace stress and job satisfaction in a variety of spheres. For instance, healthcare is one of the career fields with heavy workloads and high level of pressure on the employees (Chen et al., 2014; Trivellas, Reklitis, & Platis, 2013). The researchers recognized that the primary factors contributing to the decrease in the employees’ job satisfaction and the increase in the workplace stress levels are conflicts with coworkers, lack of access to information, heavy workloads, absence of career opportunities, benefits, and rewards, and overall negative environments (Chen et al., 2014; Trivellas, Reklitis, & Platis, 2013). These studies also emphasized the common grounds of the job satisfaction and turnover intention. As the researches showed, workplace stress is an outcome of a multitude of determiner working in a combination. At the same time, there are factors that oppose the negative influences and minimize the levels of stress or turnover intention; such factors are the age and experience of the employees, their marital status, and the employment under a contract (Chen et al., 2014).
Another field with a high level of job dissatisfaction is public service. Obiora and Iwuoha (2013) present a study that identifies the main contributors to the low satisfaction of the public service employees in Nigeria. Kula and Sahin (2015) cover the same problem exploring the sphere of law enforcement specifically. Both researchers emphasize that in the public service careers the primary contributors to the high rates of dissatisfaction are overtime hours and low payments; both authors conclude that workplace stress leads to the loss of human resources (Kula & Sahin, 2015; Obiora & Iwuoha, 2013).
Occupational stress causes absenteeism and reduces productivity (Daniel, 2015). Prolonged exposure to work stress deteriorates workers’ health, such as headaches, stomach aches and other depressive symptoms causing absenteeism or presenteeism. If this is not well managed, it creates pressure on workers and their families (Prater & Smith, 2011). An employee practices presenteeism if he/she goes to work despite being ill, injured, or under stress, which results in lower productivity. Absenteeism is defined as the customary failure of an employee to attend work (Prater & Smith, 2011).
Depression is high among American youth and young adults, especially those aged 15 to 44 and 40 to 59 (Prater & Smith, 2011). Depression is a costly sickness for a country. For the U.S., it is about $83 billion annually, which is the cause of low productivity and workplace absenteeism (Prater & Smith, 2011).
The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (2014) points out that the employers have a legal obligation to take care of the wellbeing of their workers; this obligation covers physical hazards as well as psychosocial threats such as work-related stress. In cases when the organizations fail to accomplish their duties, the negative outcomes may turn out to be rather costly (The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, 2014). The mechanisms the individuals employ as strategies for coping with work-related stress differ from one person to another (Meško et al., 2013). As explained in the paper by Meško et al. (2013), the scientists divide stress coping mechanisms into two main types – focused on emotions, and focused on problems.
According to the research of Meško et al. (2013), the latter mechanism is more efficient in terms of the productivity of the employees using it as their absenteeism rates are lower. Further, the causes of absenteeism related to workplace stress may be either objective that are difficult to influence for the organization or an individual, or subjective that refer to the effects stress may have on the employees’ health (Meško et al., 2013). Namely, work-related stress can result in such issues as mental and psychological disorders (loss of sleep and focus, eating disorders, substance abuse and addictions, depression, depersonalization, and cardiovascular disease (Meško et al., 2013). Moreover, avoiding work-related stress, some employees may search for made up reasons not to go to work (Meško et al., 2013).
Discussing productivity, RAND (2014) approaches the concept environmentally and distinguishes three domains of its determinants – work-related factors (workplace conflicts, environments, corporate attitudes, and conditions), personal factors (individual behaviors, habits, and perspectives), and health factors (long-term illnesses and health conditions that may affect one’s professional performance). Further, RAND (2014) adds that the concepts that help the managers measure the loss of productivity at an organization include daily activity impairment, absenteeism, and presenteeism; these variables allow calculating the exact number of days or hours that were lost due to the workers’ objective and subjective reasons. Consequently, the working hours can be easily converted into monetary equivalents in order to estimate the loss of capital the company has suffered due to productivity problems (RAND, 2014).
The method for the estimation of productivity and the rates of the other factors that influence it (job satisfaction, absenteeism, stress levels) are measured with the help of questionnaires, interviews, and feedback (Chen et al., 2014; Trivellas, Reklitis, & Platis, 2013, The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, 2014). Cevenini, Fratini, and Gambassi (2012) propose measuring the levels of stress based on six dimensions (role, structure, growth and sensibility, work-life balance, interpersonal relations, and fulfillment) and test their questionnaire measuring the workplace stress of the whole working population of Italy. The study had an extremely large sample (over 19 million people) and helped identify the correlation between workplace stress, occupational demotivation, and the personal wellbeing of the workers (Cevenini, Fratini, and Gambassi, 2012).
Imbalance between the employee and workplace foster the employee’s inability to endure obstacles and meet the demands of the job. Most of the time, employees encounter stressors which tend to accumulate if not well managed or released as waste from the physical and psychological faculties (Roelofsen, 2012). Workplace environment is one major stressor reducing productivity (Daniel, 2015). A survey conducted by the Building Owners and Managers Association International among building owners and managers in the US found that indoor environment is considered a major stressor, which caused a low level of performance among employees in the facility (Roelofsen, 2012).
Employee productivity is defined as the employee’s ability to meet or exceed assigned tasks in using the tools, technologies, and procedures given (Campbell, 2015). Productivity is defined as “the increased functional and organisational performance, including quality” (Roelofsen, 2012, p. 248). There is increased performance if there is less absenteeism and more quality production.
Workplace Stress in Ship-Repairing
In the sphere of ship-repair, the productivity of the employees and their ability to remain focused is crucial for the maintenance of safety (Al-Raqadi, 2015). Quality management is one of the most efficient and necessary approaches that could ensure better and safer working conditions at the docks (Al-Raqadi, 2015). At the same time, the docks are one of the areas that are extremely sensitive towards reorganization (Cardoso, Padovani, & Tucci, 2014). As the authors demonstrate using the modernization process at the Brazilian port Santos, the changes caused higher levels of stress among the workers (Cardoso, Padovani, & Tucci, 2014).
At the same time, the rapidly developing technologies of the modern days require that such companies that are involved in the performance of repair work and services increase their quality and efficiency by means of modernizing their operations and technologies (Al-Raqadi, 2015). Quality and change management approaches can be rather useful for the field of ship-repairing; however, the implementation of change and modernization should rely on smart and far-sighted plans. Otherwise, unorganized transformations may lead to workplace crises in terms of operations, productivity, and employee security and safety (Cardoso, Padovani, & Tucci, 2014).
According to the research of Cezar-Vaz et al. (2014), health problems resulting from work-related accidents are one of the most prominent stressors for the employees of the ship-repairing field and dock workers. That way, the disruption of well-oiled processes and habitual organization for the purpose of modernization and change may cause additional accidents and hazards to the health of the workers (Cardoso, Padovani, & Tucci, 2014). Overall, the evaluation of the main causes of stress among the dockworkers revealed that in addition to the hazardous working conditions and the frequency of accidents at the workplace, the employees experienced stress due to such factors as workplace conflicts, inequitable allocation of workloads, overtime shifts, lack of fulfillment, and insufficient work-life balance (Cardoso, Padovani, & Tucci, 2014). Bakotić and Babić (2013) prove the same tendency as they point out that working conditions are crucial for the employees of ship-building sphere as well. That way, as quality and change management directly affects the operations and organization of the working process, the transformations that occur due to its implementation may become the causes of workplace stress and its outcomes such as turnover, low job satisfaction, loss of resources, and absenteeism. This tendency has paradoxical character as a process designed to improve the working conditions has the capacity to make them worse and decrease the efficiency instead of making it better.
Working environments are one of the most significant stressors and management should take it as a precaution. Workplace stress can cost billions of dollars to the industry. The literature provides examples of stressful situations for workers. Construction workers, ship-repair workers, dockworkers, many blue-collar workers, work in dangerous environments which cause workplace stress. Other studies recorded a direct relationship between workplace stress and injuries in the construction industry Workplace stress is a significant indicator of other symptoms of anxiety and psychological distress (Sunal, A., Sunal, O., & Yasin, F., 2011).
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