Work Environment, Absenteeism, Performance and Productivity: Relationship

This qualitative case study was used to explore the experiences of project and production managers concerning the effectiveness of management techniques at a ship repair company in New Jersey. The objective was to answer the primary research question: What techniques do production managers and project managers at a ship-repair company use to reduce work-related stress? Confidential, face-to-face, semi-structured interviews were conducted with eight project and production managers who had at least five years’ experience as a manager in the ship-repair industry. The participants shared their experiences regarding management techniques used in the company. Before the interviews, the managers reviewed and signed consent forms as acceptance for participation in this study. Each interview lasted approximately 20 to 30 minutes, and all interviews took place in a coffee shop. The seven interview questions (see Appendix F) helped to answer the primary research question. The researcher transcribed all interviews verbatim using Dragon Naturally Speaking 13.0 software and prepared the data for analysis. After transcribing the interviews, transcript review and member checking was performed, and then the participants’ experiences were analyzed using the NVivo10TM software. Additionally, a reflective diary was used to collect (a) notes taken during interviews, (b) participant’s demographics, (c) old and new workplace policies from the ship repair company, and (d) the last 5 years of company data on employee turnover rates, absenteeism, and vacations. The use of secondary data made it possible to confirm the results of the study through a convergence of different perspectives, validating the effect of management techniques on the minimization of stress in measurable terms. Specifically, the researcher arrived at a robust set of findings by relying on the data collected via interviews, document reviews, and reflective diaries. Through data analysis, three themes emerged. The chapter presents the trustworthiness of the data, results, discussion of the findings, and summary.

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Trustworthiness of Data

The researcher used three strategies to ensure the credibility and comprehensiveness of the data and to enhance the understanding of the phenomenon under the investigation: peer debriefing, transcript review, member checking, and methodological triangulation. Peer debriefing with the dissertation chair was a strategy that helped test the trustworthiness of insight emerging during the research process (Elo et al., 2014). The inquirer used peer feedback to improve the quality of data findings and develop more informed conclusions. Another approach to ensuring the trustworthiness of data was the application of transcript review and member checking. The strategies are commonly used in the research community to verify accuracy of gathered data as well its interpretations (Alsaawi, 2014; Harvey, 2015). The researcher printed out responses of the participants and asked them to verify accuracy of presented information. Later, participants checked the accuracy of the interpretations of the gathered data. Upon receiving feedback from the managers, the investigator introduced necessary corrections, which allowed eliminating inaccuracies and achieving a higher level of clarity.

Methodological triangulation was an important step taken to improve the trustworthiness of the results. The researcher employed triangulation under the assumption that interviewing alone is not sufficient to assess the phenomenon of stress in a professional context. The usefulness of applying complementary research methodologies has been confirmed by multiple independent lines of investigation (Balzacq, 2015; Hantrais, 2014). The method involved the collection of qualitative data with two methodological instruments: interviews and a reflective diary. The advantage of this approach to data collection is the findings produced by one method are corroborated by the results produced by another method.

Reflective diary was chosen as a supplemental method of data collection because it made possible the validation data obtained from the interviews with a better understanding of managerial experiences and insight with regard to workplace stress management, collection of participant demographics, old and new company policy data, and administrative data on absenteeism. According to Bryman (2015), researchers use reflective diaries for data collection to help recall their experiences. Taking into consideration the level of workplace stress greatly varies, the researcher chose a reflective diary as a second dimension of methodological triangulation. The employment of the adjunct method of data gathering was critical for gaining additional insight into the effects of stress in the workplace as well as stress management techniques used by the participants of the study. In addition to the use of semi-structured interviews and reflective diaries, the researcher relied on administrative data from the ship repair company. The researcher gathered administrative data for the last five years on turnover rates and absenteeism within the company. All interviews were transcribed verbatim using Dragon Naturally Speaking 13.0 software and analyzed with the help of NVivo10™ software. The researcher conducted member checking and peer feedback to ensure the accuracy of the additional data.

Results

One research question helped to gain a comprehensive understanding of the research problem and fill the existing knowledge gap regarding occupational stress in the ship-repair industry.

Q1. What techniques do production and project managers at a ship-repair company use to reduce work-related stress?

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Eight managers participated in face-to-face, semi-structured, confidential interviews. The researcher explored the experiences of project and program managers concerning the effectiveness of work-place stress management techniques. During the interviews, each participant responded to the same set of seven interview questions (see Appendix F). The researcher encouraged participants of the study to answer each interview question with as much detail as they wanted.

Each interview began with a participant’s demographic information (see Table 1). The responses to the demographic questions indicated that management experience ranged from 6 to 40 years. All participants in this study were male.

Table 1

Participant Demographics

Participant Pseudonym Total years managing Total years project or production managing
P1 6 6
P2 10 7
P3 40 25
P4 8 6
P5 12 7
P6 7 6
P7 6 6
P8 30 18

The researcher transcribed seven audio-recorded interviews verbatim with the help of Dragon Naturally Speaking 13.0 software and prepared them for data analysis. Participant number 8 was not audio recorded. After the interviews were transcribed, each participant reviewed the printed materials for accuracy. Transcript review by the interviewee led to an improved accuracy of the transcripts, thereby increasing the validity of the research findings. Next, the researcher analyzed the data by using specific words and phrases to identify patterns and determine emerging themes. The investigator conducted additional analyses in NVivo10™.

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The researcher allowed the participants to check the summaries of their responses after the interview. This action of verification was essential for ensuring that respondents had completed every question as they desired (Hancock & Algozzine, 2016). It also allowed the investigator to determine how to handle missing data in a manner that corresponded with the intentions of the participants. Specifically, the strategy helped to determine whether the participants had left questions blank intentionally or forgotten to answer them. The interviews for this study were open-ended to broaden the scope of the responses that the participants gave regarding the research. The views that the respondents offered indicated the emergence of three themes. The themes that arose in the analysis of the interview data included:

  • Environment-Based Techniques
  • Communication-Based Techniques
  • Incentive-Based Techniques

Work Environment and Employee Stress

The first theme that emerged from the analysis of the participants’ responses was that the work environment affects the level of employee stress. Emotional and social experiences of workers in the company are substantial contributors to mental strain or lack thereof in the workplace. The production and project managers of the ship repair company argued that different work environments are characterized by various levels of stress. The participants mentioned that a match between skills, requirements, and needs of an employee is critical for avoiding excessive stress and negative health effects associated with it. By analyzing the participants’ responses, the researcher established that the work environment is formed not only be interpersonal relations between members of the company but also by the nature of the workplace norms.

The responses of the managers were indicative of the fact that occupational stress contributes greatly to emotional exhaustion, which has deleterious effects on employee wellbeing. The detrimental effects of stress span across a large number of health indicators and facets of employee lives. Stress in the occupational context functions as an inhibitor of productivity and performance. Production and project managers often rely on environment-based techniques to improve employee productivity, increase employee performance, and reduce the level of occupational stress. By raising the perspectives of the participants from a concrete to an abstract level, the researcher constructed three subthemes: 1) stress, productivity, and performance and 2) stress and absenteeism.

The responses of P2 and P6 were dedicated mainly to the discussion of the work environment and employee stress. Participant P6 stated, “The work environment plays a huge role [on the] stress [of the] employee” in response to the question regarding workplace aspects that act as stressors to the employees. Interviewee P2 listed “the responsibility of the employee, time crunch[es] that one might face, [the] work environment, [and] job difficulty” while responding to the same inquiry, thereby, indicating that it is an equally essential factor for consideration. The responses to this question emphasized that the work environment can contribute to increase or decrease of workplace stress depending on its nature. The respondents argued that the following elements of the work environment have the most bearing on the levels of stress experienced by employees: comfort, shared values, positive reinforcement, team connections, respect, role clarity, and possibilities for self-development. The responses indicated that these elements are inter-related. Most importantly, the lack of comfort and overabundance of work-related conflicts are antecedents of stress. The responses opened avenues for managerial intervention, which will be discussed later in the paper.

Opinions expressed by P2 and P6 were in line with the findings of the study conducted by Theorell et al. (2015) that pointed to the presence of a bidirectional link between negative work environment and stress. Respondent P6 argued that the presence of workplace stress “negatively affects employees and their environment.” That answer was indicative that exposure to workplace stressors also affects the way people operate in the organization. Therefore, workplace stress leads to negative outcomes for employees in particular and for the work environment in general.

Data analysis revealed several features of the positive work environment that can decrease occupational stress: safety, comfort, appreciation, respect, friendship, and corporate social activities. According to respondent P2, “Working in a safe environment, taking all the precautions when needed, [and] changing the environment” are some of the strategies that an organization can utilize to reduce workplace stress. The views of interviewee P1 were, “Just making the workplace a happy place employees would want to be at” can alleviate stress. These two responses indicated that the organization’s managers are cognizant of the mediating role of the workplace environment on the relationship between stress and performance. Specifically, the elimination of stressful components of the professional environment is an organizational-level intervention technique that is used by company managers to reduce the workers’ exposure to stressors. It is well established that the effectiveness of environment-directed interventions in reducing the level of stress at work (Ruotsalainen, Verbeek, Marine, & Serra, 2015).

The data gathered with the help of interviews and reflective diaries points to the fact that strong leadership helps employees to feel confident about their jobs, which positively contributes towards the reduction of occupational stress. Employees who are confident in their leaders’ ability to manage company projects and provide sufficient guidance show lower propensity for emotional exhaustion. This is especially important for workers who face overwhelming demands of interpersonal interaction with customers. Moreover, high-levels of stress are best managed by workers who feel appreciated by their immediate managers. It follows that work-related stress is a function of the work environment, which is manageable to a great extent. By controlling the key features of the work environment contributing to the emergence of negative emotional states, it is possible to diminish the role of stress in paid employment.

Effects of Employee Stress

The analysis of the interview data helped to establish a thematic link between work-related stress and its effects. Distinct work conditions that contribute to the development of stress responses by employees are controlled by managers of the organization to avoid the reduction in performance and productivity. Another deleterious effect of stress is the increase in absenteeism rates among employees of the company. High job stress affects job performance and productivity by diminishing employees’ capacity to adequately respond to demands of their job, while carrying out their professional functions. By analyzing the responses, the researcher established that overabundance of daily occupational stressors negatively affects mood of workers, thereby increasing the intensity of workplace conflicts. The heightened intensity of interpersonal conflicts takes place at both worker-worker and worker-customer levels. Stressed employees are not capable of conveying feelings of respect for their co-workers and customers, which substantially diminishes their performance. To clarify the reciprocal relationship between employee stress and negative occupational outcomes the theme was subdivided into two sub-themes: 1) employee stress, performance and productivity and 2) employee stress and absenteeism.

Employee stress, performance, and productivity

Prior to the discussion of the effect of employee stress on performance and productivity of the workforce, it should be noted that the production and project managers treat performance as a function of efficiency; whereas, productivity is measured in terms of output per unit of time. It was evident from the analysis of the reflective diaries’ content that high-performance work environments are characterized by a low level of stress. Participant P4 indicated that focusing “on positive aspects of employee’s performance and not always talk[ing] about the negative or the things that they [(the workers)] are not doing” is an effective approach to enhancing the performance of the workforce. The view held by the manager is indicative of the fact that the level of stress is at the core of professional performance and productivity. A similar sentiment was espoused by Harrington and Lee (2015), who believed that positive performance appraisal, is a common feature of high-performing organizations. Respondent P5 stated that using incentives “seems to help increase productivity without the adverse effect of creating stress.” The manager also maintained that incentives can be both financial and non-financial. The participants emphasized strategies that they used to improve the production and performance of both the employees and the organization. Respondent P5 discussed the need for proactive leadership as a part of the approaches that enabled managers to control their workers and boost the overall performance of the organization. Manager P3 mentioned that stress in the workplace causes “low morale and job performance.” That perspective resonated with that of respondent P8 who indicated that work stress “degrades performance and health.” In a question related to the effects of workplace stress in the organization, participant P8 indicated that it leads to “performance at a reduced level.” It should be mentioned that the responded also espoused the view that the frequency of stressors occurrence also has bearing on employee performance. The answer was supplemented by the remark that “the longer duration of stressors is more detrimental in its impact on the productivity of the workforce.” It follows that both frequency and duration of occupational stressors should be examined to understand how they affect work performance.

Participants P4 and P5 also reflected on how workplace stress affects the productivity of both the employees and the organization. In one question relating to the effect of stressors on the employees, respondent P4 stated, “This worry has proven to be detrimental on some jobs where their [(the workers)] production has decreased dramatically.” Under the same inquisition, respondent P5 said, “Productivity decreases, employee morale decreases, absenteeism or time off increases, [and] interpersonal work relationships become strained.” In response to the interview question on the impact of stress on the functioning of the organization, respondent P5 stated, “Productivity is affected, planning is affected due to uncertainty in manpower, and financially the company’s affected.” The financial dimension of the effects of occupational stressors is especially relevant for the for-profit organization, which renders additional importance to the study. Within entrepreneurial settings, the criterion of performance is viewed as critical by both managers and customers. Thus, the impact of workplace stress on productivity and performance is a particularly salient aspect of the study. If employees are not capable of carrying out their professional duties at the sufficient level of productivity, long-term success of the organization can be undermined. In this context, it is clear why many managers of the company expressed their concern over this dimension of the influence of occupational stress on employees.

The participants also highlighted the effect of lower production to the organization. In one statement, respondent P5 stated, “Poor production also projects a negative image of our company to our customers.” The individual indicated that stressed-out employees could be difficult to control. He described an incident involving a confrontation between workers that was witnessed by customers. The respondent maintained that such events degrade the company’s image, thereby harming its competitive standing. These findings are pertinent to those of earlier research activities indicating that work stress can lead to organization failure by lowering productivity and overall performance (Siegrist, 2016). The respondents’ decision to focus on productivity and performance, can be viewed as an indicator of the saliency of the deleterious effects of employee stress.

Employee stress and absenteeism

The second sub-theme that emerged from the analysis of the participants’ responses was that workplace stress and absenteeism could substantially disrupt the effectiveness of the organization by damaging its reputation. The researcher established that stress is a causal agent in absenteeism, which accounts for the substantial reduction in the company’s effectiveness. A close analysis of the gathered data produced a clear picture of why occupational exposures to stress result in heightened rates of absenteeism. Participants’ responses convincingly demonstrated that workplace stress negatively effects employees’ health, thereby forcing them to increase frequency and absence duration. Cumulative effects of the prolonged exposure to occupational stress can result in both sickness-induced and voluntary absence. Regardless of the motivational underpinnings of absenteeism, its effects on the organization are deleterious.

The majority of the participants espoused the view that stressful working conditions are detrimental to the health of their workforce. Participant P2 offered the response, “Employees get frustrated, angry, worn out, and might lose sleep” to the question on how workplace stress affects workers. There is ample evidence for the link between occupational stress and emotional breakdown. A study by Mullan (2014) suggested that stress mediates the relationship between insomnia and depression, which are conditions that can result in negative health outcomes for employees. It follows that workplace stress is a causal agent of health problems, which are key antecedents of involuntary absenteeism.

Manager P2 pointed to the link between stress and sickness-induced absence and said, “First off, absenteeism can lead to the deterioration of the customer service quality. This in turns results in arguments and complaints. And when everybody is angry at each other nothing gets done.” The respondents also observed various adversities that emerge in stressful workplaces and contribute to increased rates of illness-related absence. In response to the question on the effect of stress on personnel, participant P4 stated, “Also, we have noticed that stressed-out employees tend to be more confrontational with their coworkers, which is also detrimental to the job.” Respondent P7 held a similar view: “I believe stress affects the employees by not being able to work as a team due to problems in their personal life.” Participant P5 stated, “Productivity decreases, employee morale decreases, absenteeism or time off increases, [and] interpersonal work relationships become strained.” The respondents’ insights corresponded to the findings of a study on the impact of stress burden on absenteeism. A study by Marzec, Scibelli, and Edington (2014) showed that a high level of work-related stress is a reliable predictor of absenteeism. It follows that the management of stress levels can help to reduce the frequency and duration of voluntary and involuntary absence periods.

When discussing stress-management techniques, respondent P4 mentioned, “Our company also has an open door policy with the owner and management for [an] employee to bring out any grievances, so that management can address these promptly.” This view can be squared with a large body of academic literature on the topic by underscoring the importance of grievance handling (Zoysa, 2016). Manager P1 stated, “Working with them, listening to them when they have ideas and problems, to make a happy workplace, so they want to be at work.” The respondents indicated the significance of promoting a culture that focuses on grievance handling as an approach to reducing workplace stress and absenteeism. Figure 1 illustrates the relationship between work environment, absenteeism, performance and productivity, customer relationship management and stress.

Relationship between work environment, absenteeism, performance and productivity, customer relations management and stress
Figure 1. Relationship between work environment, absenteeism, performance and productivity, customer relations management and stress

Employee Stress Reduction Strategies

The theme of employee stress reduction strategies emerged in the analysis as a key factor in managing the severity of stress experienced by the workforce. The analysis of the data from the interviews and reflective diaries also led to significant clarity on this theme. Managers of the company utilize stress management interventions to ensure that their employees are capable of coping with a wide-range of occupational stressors. The researcher established that the managers increase employees’ emotional capacity to deal with work-related strains by using strategic mediators based on communication, role clarity, and incentives. These approaches to stress management have a causal influence on negative effects of stress such as excessively high absenteeism rates and diminished productivity. In other words, the application of employee stress reduction strategies is instrumental in eliminating work-related outcomes that do not contribute towards the long-term success of the company. The researcher’s principal interest was to explore stress management techniques used by managers of the company and their contribution towards outcome variables such as absenteeism and turnover rates. Therefore, for the clarity of presentation, managerial stress-management strategies were divided into three sub-themes: communication and stress, role clarity and stress, and incentives and stress.

Communication

The alleviation of workplace stressors in the organization can be achieved with the help of communication-based approaches. The analysis of the data points to the fact that employees who have well-developed communication channels with their superiors are capable of handling stressful professional encounters without burnout development. Communication-based interventions are, therefore, necessary to ensure that workers are not emotionally exhausted, which leads to increased turnover and absenteeism rates.

It has been long established that the existence of normal communication patterns between various stakeholders in an organization is essential to its performance and productivity (Cho, Park, & Ordonez, 2013). It has to be borne in mind, however, that differences in stress levels experienced by members of the workforce stem from variation in approaches to professional communication. For instance, Participant P8 stated the “lack of communication” is a key workplace stressor in the organization. Respondent P2 agreed with this statement by indicating that “communication with employees” is a strategy they commonly apply to minimize stress in the workplace. Interviewee P8 indicated that the use of effective approaches to communication contributes to the reduction of the stress burden among employees who are performing demanding tasks. The respondent P8 stated, “Better communication through documentation and clear oral instructions” assist in achieving this objective. Another respondent, P3, presented a similar opinion by saying, “Extensive communication with employees and project managers” is an approach they use to minimize workplace stress for the workers. Both respondents maintained that organizational leaders are responsible for ensure the success of organizational communication strategies.

Interviewee P4 indicated that the company also treated “inter-employee communication” as one of the strategies to reduce stress on the job. The respondent added, “A huge thing to know is the ability to communicate with other employees and also listen to them when they have problems and issues.” That statement indicated the importance of inter-employee communication. In the same response, participant P4 indicated the essence of creating communication channels that enhance cognition by stating that it enables them to “promote a family type atmosphere in the workplace.” That ideal reflected the connection that exists between effective communication and reduced levels of stress on the job. It is then vital to reveal the approach that offers the satisfaction for the employees in this regard.

Respondent P5 mentioned “knowledge exchange can both boost productivity,” and hence reduce the level of stress experienced by the workforce. The effect of proper information flow on the elimination of stress has been well explored in the field of business research. Specifically, the sentiment adopted by the fifth participant was supported by a study that suggested that knowledge management plays a mediating role between stress and performance (Michaelis, Wagner, & Schweizer, 2015). The findings of the study also suggested that by encouraging employees to exchange their knowledge, it is possible to reduce turnover rates in an organization (Michaelis et al., 2015). Participant P3 stated, “All-hands meetings at least monthly keeping all employees informed [of] coming tasks [and] making sure employees receive the positive feedback from our customers” were strategies for diminishing stress. The response is aligned with that of manager P5 on both conceptual and practical levels.

The respondents indicated that conversations between one another are an essential component of daily occupational activities that help them to reduce work stress. However, the interviewer did not ask questions that would pin down the particular nature of these activities. For example, the dialogs can occur through digital media or face-to-face interactions. Participant P6, who was one of the advocates of a conversational approach to stress reduction, stated, “I found that open conversation about stress can reduce stress on the job.” This participant proposed dialog that focused on the personal context of an individual and their work. In another response, the same respondent suggested, “Open conversations [on a] consistent basis can assist minimizing workplace stress.” However, this statement failed to put interactions occurring in the workplace into personal or professional context. Still, it was an indicator of the value that dialog has in reducing stress. The respondent expressed a similar opinion by stating, “Having conversations about employee expectations” is one of the strategies that enable management to reduce absenteeism and employee turnover. This statement indicated the value of conversational approaches to managing work-related issues in a professional context.

Role clarity

Communicating responsibilities that an employee undertakes is essential for reducing uncertainty concerning their professional functions. The issues of role clarity emerged in these interviews as a cause of workplace stress. Participant P3 said, “Most stressful for the employees would be the uncertainty” when asked to name key stressors. When highlighting the detriments of workplace stress, manager P1 also suggested that “stress-related work can affect employee’s work quality.” Other respondents also agreed with this view through their responses to various questions. Interviewee P5 stated, “Being asked to work on tasks outside [a worker’s] skill set, [or] being tasked with a larger workload than they [(the workers)] feel comfortable with” or “being tasked with limited time parameters” are some of the factors that lead to stress in the workplace. Participant P7 stated, “Problems that would occur in the organization would be, not being able to get the job done in a timely manner or professional manner” owing to the lack of clarity in defining the roles and responsibilities of an employee.

Some of the respondents provided insight into the implementation of role definition and clarity as solutions to workplace stress. Interviewee P5 stressed that he had “tried to manage manpower within the confines of their skill set in their ability to handle a particular workload.” This response was to the question on the approaches that the managers used to eliminate stress in the workspace. Participant P2 stated, “The responsibility of the employee” is essential in determining his or her stress levels in the workplace.

The respondents indicated the importance of clarifying employee roles in the reduction of stressor factors in the organization. Participant P2 stated, “Parts availability and the breaking of [an] item” that relates to the worker’s functions enables the firm to minimize workplace stress. Respondent P1 reiterated this view by offering that “making sure they [(workers)] have all their parts to perform through their duty at work” is an influential consideration in increasing employee performance. Participant P2 offered, “Preplanning for a job. Having all parts needed for finishing a job. Being flexible with employee situations” are some of the approaches that an organization can use to attain the same objective of better-performing workers who are not harmed by stress.

Incentives

The third sub-theme that emerged in this analysis was the use of incentive-based techniques to reduce the level of occupational stress experienced by the workforce. The participants of the study conceptualized the incentive-based approach to stress management in the workplace as a collection of financial and non-financial rewards to achieve behavior change needed for reducing a mounting burden of stress. The analysis of the gathered data shows that by incentivizing employees to take longer vacations, it is possible to reduce their work-family imbalances, which contribute greatly towards heightened occupational stress.

Participants in the study conducted by Lyness and Judiesch (2014) pointed to the disruption of work–life balance as one of the causes of work-related stress. The company’s project and production managers espoused the view that the establishment of work-life balance has a beneficial effect on the reduction of employee stress. It follows that by incentivizing employees to restore the work–life balance, it is possible to improve their performance.

The analysis of data produced by the interviews and secondary data on employee turnover and absenteeism rates showed the relationship between work–life balance and workplace stress. The respondents almost unanimously agreed that proper alignment of incentives could improve the harmful influence of stress. A study by Lyness and Judiesch (2014) suggests that equilibrium between the roles outside work and workplace functions is one of the factors that diminish stress. A study conducted by Lyness and Judiesch (2014) also points to the disruption of work–life balance as one of the causes of work-related stress. It was evident that managers of the organization were intent on helping workers channel their stress coping skills by focusing on incentives instead of punishments.

Participant P7 gave an insightful response stating, “I believe many people don’t have stress in the workplace. I believe it comes from home and is brought to the workplace.” This answer was to the question on the aspects of the workspace that leads to stress. The respondent indicated that people might have difficulties establishing boundaries between workplace issues and personal life responsibilities. Respondent P7 stated, “I believe stress affects the employees by not being able to work as a team due to problems in their personal life.” This statement further indicates that the lack of the work–life balance can be detrimental to the staff.

Familial responsibilities of the employees can dissolve their work–life boundaries, thereby producing an undue amount of stress. Participant P4 indicated, “Also, with personal lives, some employees worry about their families when they are out of town.” The respondent echoed the previous statement by adding, “We do a lot of traveling, which can affect our personal home lives.” Both responses indicated that employees worry about the deterioration of the familial relationship because of work duties. Furthermore, the sentiments reveal that the investment of substantial time into professional life reduces the level of familial engagement, which produces stress. Long commutes disrupt worker’s schedules take time that enables them to meet their familial responsibilities. Participant P4 offered further insight on the approaches used by the organization to reduce the level of occupational stress:

When employees are in town, we try to be very aware of their personal lives and the need to take time off of work to spend time with their family and really try to accommodate any vacation requests and days off.

This statement indicated that the lack of free time is one of the concerns that employees have. Participant P5 presented the essence of maintaining equilibrium between job and domestic stress factors for the workers. The statement that respondent P5 used was, “Trying to maintain a work–home life balance also keeps employees focused satisfied and secure.” This response implies that it is in an employee’s best interest to establish a proper balance between personal and professional life. Manager P7 elaborated on the strategies that they used to help their workforce to deal with stress:

Some things that I have implemented have been to talk to somebody on a personal level outside, away from the work environment, and ask him if he needs help with anything, if [we] can provide that, [it] is a win–win situation for everybody.

The respondents also indicated the significance of breaks within the work schedule as well as those longer events such as vacations. Interviewee P5 stated, “Being cognizant of the fact that employees have responsibilities outside the workplace and trying to accommodate them results in higher morale and retention of employees.” That statement resonated with the perspective that work–life balance can enhance the performance of employees if the organization maintains it well (Lyness & Judiesch, 2014). Participant P2 stated that they encourage workers, “Taking a break, go for water, or a snack, or take a lunch break. Also, asking for help.” Respondent P8 indicated that “changing vacation policy” has allowed his department to substantially reduce stress, thereby eliminating absenteeism and turnover intentions. Participant P4 further highlighted the essence of encouraging workers to spend more time outside the workplace in contexts that allow them to connect with their families:

We try to promote more employees to take vacations throughout the years to get away from the job for [a] little bit [and] spent [sic] time with family to take care of things that they need to take care of for your daily life and just to de-load a little bit.

The effectiveness of this approach to stress reduction is underscored by the analysis of the organization’s administrative data. In 2014, the ship repair company changed the regulations on employee vacations in an attempt to reduce turnover intentions. The change led to a steep decline in turnover rates, from 17.62% in 2012 to 1.72% in 2014. Even though there was a marginal increase in turnover in 2015 (3.57%), the following year was marked by an extremely low percentage of employees who left the company (1.78%). Figure 2 shows the effect of implemented changes on employee turnover rates over the period of five years.

Employee turnover rates (2012-2016)
Figure 2. Employee turnover rates (2012-2016)

To better understand the incentives that produced the positive outcomes, it is necessary to review the changes to the company’s vacation policy. The company made changes to the use of unpaid leave by its employees as a means of encouraging those individuals to take their days off from work. The old policy that the organization used stated:

No unused leave or sick days can be carried forward to the succeeding anniversary year; any unused leave will be purchased by JRIT and any unused sick days will be lost. Employees receive monetary compensation in lieu of unused paid leave.

The new policy states that:

JRIT no longer offers to buyback unused vacation or sick days. Up to 50% of unused leave can be carried forward to the succeeding anniversary year adding to the new anniversary year total. Any carried over vacation days will expire six months into the new anniversary year. It is mandatory for all employees to take 5 consecutive days off from employees earned vacation, between anniversary dates.

The new policy encourages employees to take regular days off their work as a mandatory procedure. In the previous setting, the organization allowed the workers to take monetary compensation for the unused paid leave days, which negatively affected their emotional and mental states. However, the new policy was developed to diminish emotional exhaustion of workers, thereby ameliorating negative effects of stress on the workforce. Every employee has five days of mandatory earned paid leave and needs to take up the remaining paid leave days within the specified period or lose the earned benefit. The policy change has promoted more workers to attain a proper work–life balance according to the data that the company provided. Figure 3 shows the influence of the new vacation policy on absenteeism rates in the company.

Absenteeism rates in the company (2012-2016)
Figure 3. Absenteeism rates in the company (2012-2016)

Respondent P3 mentioned the issues of pay raises and bonuses as a part of the discussions in most of the organizational meetings. This response aimed at answering the question on how managers reduce absenteeism. That brought to light the idea of compensation and its relation to employee motivation in a firm. Respondent P5 stated, “Financial incentives, including employees and the overall strategy of the particular worksite and the company as a whole help to keep them motivated and focused” are significant in achieving the same objective. The same respondent further noted that “a positive direction using incentives instead of using punishment seems to help increase productivity without the adverse effect of creating stress between management and production.” These responses indicated a connection between compensation and the vices of poor employee performances, workplace stress, and absenteeism. The respondents indicated that positive rewards would generate desirable outcomes in those aspects.

Empowering the employees to undertake their roles also came out as a prominent topic in the interview. The respondents provided information on the various actions they undertake to promote the way that workers handle their professional functions. Participant P4 indicated that the company leaders “provide training for employees being on the job.” This answer was in response to the question of the strategies that the organization uses to increase employee performance. The same participant stated, “Also, we provide tools, computers. Basically, anything employees need to do the job and try to limit downtime between jobs.” The statement indicated that the managers seek to attain the two objectives of empowering their workers and also enhancing process efficiency. That provided a hint of the benefits that arise from employee motivation strategies. Another respondent who reiterated this perspective was P6, who stated, “Assisting employees by putting them in situations to succeed” leads to an increase in performance. The statement below by interviewee P6 put that issue into context by highlighting the areas a manager should focus on in attaining this objective:

I feel that one of the key traits that any manager needs is the ability to interact with different types of personalities in the workplace and utilizing your employees in the best way possible. Knowing your employee’s strengths and weaknesses and also giving them the support when they need it on-the-job without micromanaging them is a balancing act.

Respondent P7 provided further insight into the matter by saying that “some of the strategies that I believe increased employment performance would be to trust the person to do the job, [and] not be over his shoulder all the time.”

Planning and managing time along with other resources arose as significant topics from the interviews. The study questions asked the respondents to name factors that they considered stressful and participant P1 stated, “Deadlines are very tight due dates.” That was an indication that employees experience some schedules as stressors to their activities in the workplace. Respondent P5 noted that “planning is affected due to uncertainty in manpower; the company is also affected financially from the presence of stress in the workplace.” Respondent P2 pointed to “planning, time management, and flexibility on the job site” as effective approaches to the minimization of workplace stress.

Evaluation of Findings

The purpose of this section is to interpret the preceding results in light of the existing literature, the employee engagement and transformational leadership theories as well as the job demands-resources model that constituted the theoretical framework for the study. The alignment of the results of the study with the components of the framework will be discussed in the following subsections.

Work Environment and Employee Stress

The respondents of this research highlighted the effects of work environment on employee stress. The managers also offered insights into various strategies that are used by the firm to alleviate those challenges. A prominent environment-based technique offered by respondents was proactive problem-solving through the involvement of leaders.

The respondents of this study offered information that reflected on how the work environment interacts with workplace stress. The results are consistent with previous research on the same topic and indicate that a safe workplace contains fewer stressors for workers (Smit, 2014). The respondents stated that making a positive workplace allows employees to undertake their functions better because it reduces stress. It was proposed that an organization should seek to reduce the occurrence of traumatic events to employees as one of the approaches to eliminating stress.

The managers indicated that prolonged exposure to stress can cause emotional breakdowns, which are extremely harmful for employees’ health. Other outcomes of occupational stress are frustration, anger, and burnout. These factors relate to a destructive manner of behavior that affects the whole conception of organizational culture in that workspace. The participants observed that the primary effects of these outcomes are lower productivity and performance. The respondents proposed the use of an open-door policy as the approach that allows employees to express their grievances and reduce stress.

The analysis of the gathered data was instrumental in showing that work environment is a heterogeneously defined concept, which describes many overlapping characteristics of work-related experiences such as comfort, shared values, positive reinforcement, team connections, respect, role clarity, and possibilities for self-development. Despite heterogeneities in the interpretations of work environment, all respondents concurred that the level of work-related stress depends on the quality of conditions in which employees perform their professional functions. The association between negative work environment and increased stress perceived by the workforce was a recurring theme in the majority of responses provided by the participants.

Effects of Employee Stress

The respondents indicated that the presence of stressors lowers workers’ ability to complete their functions effectively, thereby lowering performance and decreasing productivity. According to the participants of the study, employee performance and productivity under the conditions of heightened stress are deteriorated due to their inability to properly handle demanding tasks such as customer relations management. From the point of view of the mangers, stressed employees show substantial reductions in co-operative behaviors, which are essential for resource deployment and overall performance. The prolonged exposure to occupational stressors prevents employees of the company from achieving mental states necessary for concentration. Furthermore, stressed employees are more likely to exhibit confrontational inclinations than their counterparts with better stress-coping skills. Such behaviors can introduce disruption in performance, thereby damaging the company. The findings of this investigation are consistent with those of previous studies that suggest that workplace stress has negative effects on both employees and organizations (Bakker & Demerouti, 2014).

In addition to reduced motivation and effectiveness in the pursuit of professional tasks, employees exposed to occupational stressors are more likely to take sick leaves and participate in voluntary absenteeism. The latter is especially important because increased absence frequency and duration diminishes work productivity. The results of the study also suggest that prolonged emotional strains can contribute to the increase in turnover rates, which also damages the company.

The findings of the study indicated that stress affects the ability to plan and manage various operations in an organization. The participants showed that different stressor factors are responsible for this outcome because it encompasses the relationship between employees, their managers, functions, and the expectations that are in place to guide them all. The respondents mentioned that deadlines put pressure on workers and led to low quality work. The participants also stated that the presence of stress in the organization disrupts the ability of the workers to align the relevant resources properly. The respondents offered solutions in the direction of planning tasks beforehand and communicating the information to the employees.

The employee engagement and transformational leadership theories were used to create the theoretical framework for this study. The job demands-resources model offered the conceptual framework for this research. The findings of the investigation are consistent with the theoretical underpinnings of the study. The employee engagement theory is based on the organizational and managerial role of ensuring a balance between the activities of mitigating workplace stress and challenging the employees to perform better through motivation (Truss, Alfes, Delbridge, Shantz, & Soane, 2013). This theoretical approach offers strategies that involve managing emotional burnout, balance, organization, and management. The results of this investigation are also consistent with the employee engagement theory. Participants P3, P4, P5, P6, and P7 stated that they regularly employ motivation strategies in their workplaces. Respondents P4, P5, and P7 mentioned various work–life balance issues experienced by the organization’s workforce. All of the participants indicated that the correct use of relevant strategies improved performance and lowered stress in the workplace.

The results of this study are consistent with the transformational leadership theory, which posits that managers have the responsibility of ensuring that they develop a stress-free workplace and promote work exceptionalism (Syrek, Apostel, & Antoni, 2013). Respondents P4, P6, and P7 indicated that they use tools for professional development of their workers. The JD-R model enables leaders to ascertain expectations that they impose on workers and essential resources to facilitate the achievement of organizational objectives (Bakker & Demerouti, 2014). Respondents P1, P2, P3, and P5 mentioned the need for clear role definitions to enhance the way employees undertake their functions in the workplace. These are indications that the results of this study are consistent with the theoretical foundation of the JD-R model.

Employee Stress Reduction Strategies

The analysis of the data shows that the absence of good communication strategies can lead to the creation of a stressful environment for the employees. The presence of effective channels of communication allow employees to share their feelings with others. Communication-based interventions that the respondents offered included conversations between employees as well as with their leaders. Establishing a dialog with people outside the workplace is also a significant factor in reducing stress according to the suggestions of the interviewees. The respondents encouraged workers to converse outside the workplace to enhance their communication abilities. These findings are consistent with other studies showing that bidirectional communication is essential for reducing stress and conflicts among the workers (Swanson, Territo, & Taylor, 2016).

The participants of this study highlighted the effects of role definition. Specifically, employees who do not have a sufficient understanding of their professional functions face multiple uncertainties that act as stressors. The respondents also indicated that performing tasks outside their scope of knowledge and job description led to stress among workers. In other cases, such arrangements involved large workloads that employees needed to handle while knowing they were not in their area of expertise. The findings of this study are consistent with prior research results that indicate that continuous workflows in areas that fall outside the scope of employees’ responsibilities and knowledge increase uncertainties and stress among them (Anthony‐McMann, Ellinger, Astakhova, & Halbesleben, 2017).

The findings of this research resonate with previous studies on the role of the work–life balance in reducing stress among the employees (Deery & Jago, 2015). The respondents of this investigation suggested that the lack of proper skill arrangements leads to high levels of stress and a consequential drop in performance and productivity. The participants suggested that family responsibilities are a primary concern that increases workers’ worries in the workplace. Other responses indicated that workers might have other significant activities that they wish to undertake outside the workplace. The respondents stated that having the time to perform those functions is essential in reducing stress and motivates companies to offer breaks and vacations to their employees. The managers also pointed to the use of inter-employee interactions outside the context of the workplace as one of the approaches to ensuring the work–life balance and minimizing stress.

The findings of this study touch on the issues of compensation, incentives, and employee motivation that have shown high sensitivity in previous research results (Cerasoli, Nicklin, & Ford, 2014). The respondents reported that the lack of these aspects leads to an increase in workplace stress. The participants also showed that this event causes lower performance deriving from the absence of employee engagement in various operations. The findings are consistent with the results obtained by other researchers who have collected evidence on organizational improvements that arise from employee development programs (Cerasoli et al., 2014). The respondents offered various solutions that seek to empower workers as a part of the motivational approaches. The managers submitted proposals that included implementing training and development activities, providing tools that enhance functionality, and the presence of pay raises and bonuses as incentives that motivate workers to increase their efficiency. The respondents indicated that employees need to feel appreciated by the organization to improve their perception of their work. The leaders also need to show that they can trust various persons to undertake multiple roles as a means of encouraging their engagement. Dhar (2015) confirmed the validity of this view by indicating that trust between workers and their occupational seniors promotes performance in the organization.

Summary

The opening section of this chapter presented the results from the analysis of the responses that the eight respondents provided. Three themes emerged from the analysis of the interviews and secondary data (reflective diary): (a) environment-based techniques, (b) communication-based techniques, and (c) incentive-based techniques. The study proceeded to the second part that involved the evaluation of these themes. It has been argued that the findings of this study agree with the assumptions of the theoretical framework derived from the employee engagement and transformational leadership theories as well as the JD-R model. The research develops a discussion of each of the themes and topics that arose during the analysis of the interview data. The primary findings indicate that workplace stress reduces the performance and productivity of the organization. The recommendation is to outline strategies that could allow the organization to solve these challenges and develop successful workspaces. The discussion of those approaches is presented in the following chapter.

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