Anyone who is familiar with the major organizations in their area probably has observed firsthand how dramatically the business environment has changed in recent years. These changes have had a significant impact on organizational efforts to be successful. In practically every instance organizations have tried to more clearly identify and then focus on factors that impact their success. One factor that seems to be receiving more attention than any other are the people who work for organizations.
What organizations are realizing is that their likelihood of sustained success is most dependent on learning to get the maximum out of their employees. Such a realization has had a significant impact on the practice of human resources management (HRM). What’s more, business forecasters predict that the role of employees, managers, and HRM personnel are likely to see more changes in the decades ahead. Thus, individuals entering the business environment today (and tomorrow) require both an understanding of the importance of human resources and effective HRM to organizational success.
As we move further into the twenty-first century, it’s becoming absolutely clear that the effective management of an organization’s human resources is a major source of competitive advantage and may even be the single most important determinant of an organization’s performance over the long term. Organizations have started to realize that their success is dependent on their ability to attract, develop, and retain talented employees.
Robert Reich emphasizes this point when he suggests that in the future, the organization’s ability to attract, develop, and retain a talented workforce will be a critical factor in developing a high-performance organization. The long-term, sustained success of an organization in today’s changing and challenging business environment involves top management’s commitment to designing and implementing HRM programs geared to developing both high-performing employees and organizations.
This means that top management anticipates the future need for employees and develops specific plans to obtain, develop, and retain the type of employees who meet the needs of a high-performing organization. Only by anticipating and working toward the development and retention of the right type of employees can any organization expect to be successful in a global, dynamic, and continuously changing competitive environment. An important element of organizational success is an HRM strategy where every manager is an HRM manager.
For example, every manager must be expected to set goals for the development and satisfaction of employees. Second, every employee is viewed as a valuable resource, just like buildings and equipment. The organization’s success is dependent upon high-performing employees, and without such employees there is no competitive advantage for the organization. Finally, through effective HRM programs the organization’s goals are successfully integrated with individual employee needs.
It is the thesis of this paper that HRM will continue to be an important element in achieving organizational success in the years to come. What makes one organization successful whereas another fails to make use of the same opportunities? For our purposes, the key to continued survival and organizational success lies not in the rational, quantitative approaches, but increasingly in a commitment to things like people, employee involvement, and commitment. Success for the organizations of today and tomorrow is being increasingly seen as dependent on effective HRM.
Effective HRM positively affects performance in organizations, both large and small. Human resources management is the term increasingly used to refer to the philosophy, policies, procedures, and practices related to the management of an organization’s employees. While a great deal of research has been devoted to identifying the sources of workplace stress and its links to adverse health and organizational outcomes, little has been done to focus on interventions to improve working environments.
In reviewing the practice overall of stress prevention and intervention at the workplace, three conclusions may be drawn. First, although there is a considerable amount of activity in the field of stress management, “it is disproportionally concentrated on reducing the effects of stress, rather than reducing the presence of stressors at work. ” (Kahn & Byosiere, 1992) To put it differently, stress management activities focus on secondary and tertiary prevention, rather than primary prevention.
Whereas the latter involves interventions aimed at eliminating, reducing or altering stressors in the working situation, the former two are aimed at the effects of stress, with secondary prevention concerning the helping of employees (who are already showing signs of stress) from getting sick (for example, by increasing their coping capacity); and tertiary prevention concerning treatment activities for employees with serious stress-related health problems (for example, stress counseling/employee assistance programmers, the rehabilitation after long-term absenteeism).
Second, most activities are primarily aimed at the individual rather than at the workplace or the organization, in other words, a worker-oriented approach, for instance, by improving employees’ skills to manage, resist or reduce stress, as opposed to a job or organization-oriented approach, for instance, by job redesign or in some way changing the corporate culture or management style.
Moreover, as Kahn and Byosiere (1992) conclude in their literature review: ‘Even the programs that aim at stress inhibition tend to address subjective rather than objective aspects of the stress sequence; almost none consider the organizational antecedents (policy and structure) that intensify or reduce the presence of objective stressors’ (p. 633).
A third peculiarity in the practice of stress prevention concerns the lack of a systematic risk assessment (‘stress audit’, identifying risk factors and risk groups) as well as of serious research into the effects of all these activities (Kahn and Byosiere, 1992). In the words of Kahn and Byosiere (1992): ‘The programs in stress management that are sold to companies show a suspicious pattern of variance; they differ more by practitioner than by company.
When practitioners in any field offer sovereign remedies regardless of the presenting symptoms, patients should be wary’ (p. 23). Against the background of (1) clear evidence of the relationship between psychosocial work characteristics and health , (2) national and international legislation that put the emphasis on risk assessment and combating risks by changing the stressful situation, and (3) the basic idea of prevention, that is, eliminating the stress producing situation (prevention at the source), the current practice of stress prevention and intervention seems disappointing.
Given the current status of stress prevention, a question that deserves attention is why it is that companies express a preference for ‘post hoc’ individual-directed interventions, as opposed to primary or job/organizational interventions. At least four factors seem to contribute to this rather one-sided ‘individual’-oriented approach : 1 Senior managers are often inclined to blame personality and lifestyle factors of employees who are absent from work or report health complaints, rather than the job or organizational factors, for which they are responsible.
Senior management also often point to the potential role of stressful life events (family problems such as a divorce or the loss of a beloved), or responsibilities and obligations in the family life (raising children for example). Of course, on the micro-level (i. e. on the level of the individual employee) stressors at work are often accompanied by stressors in one’s family situation, but because of the mutual influence and spill-over between both domains, the causes and consequences can hardly be disentangled.
Furthermore, holding individual characteristics responsible for differences in experienced stress, one cannot explain why some occupations show significantly more stress complaints and higher sickness absence rates than others. A risk attached to this view is that the employee is regarded as being ‘guilty’ of his or her own health problems, that is ‘blaming the victim’, with the potential threat in the workplace being overlooked. 2 The second reason may be found in the nature of psychology itself, with its emphasis on subjective and individual phenomena.
Many psychology-oriented stress researchers are primarily interested in stress as a subjective and individual phenomenon. To some extent, this may be a legacy of the strong tradition in psychology to focus on individual differences (i. e. differential psychology), and on individual counseling and therapy (i. e. clinical psychology). In this context, a warning seems appropriate against ‘psychologism’, that is, the explanation of (a sequence of) societal events from an individual-psychic point of view.
Because of this orientation, the potential impact of more ‘objective’ or ‘collective’ risk factors in the work situation (e. . poor management, work-overload and bullying), may go unnoticed and untreated. In stress research, there is a gap between what ‘theory’ preaches (that is, properly designed longitudinal studies, involving a randomized control group, collecting both subjective and objective measures that are analyzed properly with statistical techniques), and what is possible in practice. One of the main reasons for this gap is the difficulty of conducting methodological ‘sound’ interventions and evaluation studies in an ever-changing organizational environment.
In the 1990s, not only the context of work is rapidly changing, but also ‘work’ itself. Work organizations are in a constant state of change, due, in part, to new production concepts (for example, team based work, lean production methods, telework), ‘the flexible workforce’ concept, the 24-hour economy, the increased utilization of information technology, and the changing structure of the work force (for example, more women working). These changes clearly affect the work behavior of employees, work group processes, as well as the organizational structure and culture.
As a consequence, it is practically impossible to find two companies with comparable stress problems at the beginning of any intervention programme, of which the control company agrees not to undertake any action for a period of three or four years (the period a researcher might like to choose for an intervention project). A related problem is that it is often not in a company’s interest to facilitate ‘sound scientific research’ in the context of an ongoing business, involving interlopers from outside (i. e. researchers) and detailed data collection on the scene of sometimes confidential information.
Senior managers can regard research of this kind as a nuisance to the primary organizational processes and objectives. 4 A fourth factor may be found in the discipline segregation within stress research, with a tendency of researching to neglect the collection of more objective data on the impact of stress and its prevention. Work and organizational psychologists concentrate primarily on ‘soft’ outcome variables (e. g. motivation, satisfaction, effect and health complaints), and are well-known for their questionnaire-oriented approach. Traditionally, it has been observed that stress researchers are reluctant to co-operate with economists.
For instance in order to study the potential ‘hard’ outcome measures (that would include productivity, sickness absence rates and accident rates), as well as the financial effects of interventions. To put it differently, a history of gaining empirical insight in costs and benefits is merely lacking in stress research. Research in the field should in the future include some of the following: first, stress researchers should not only address ‘soft’ outcome variables (for example, motivation and satisfaction), but extend their focus to also include ‘hard’ outcome variables (for example, productivity and sickness absenteeism).
Whereas work and organizational psychologists have often stated that an adequate stress prevention programme may positively affect productivity and sickness absenteeism, until now they have not laid down a sufficiently strong empirical foundation for this position. For too long, stress prevention advocates have based their arguments on a moral or humanistic appeal to the good employer (that is, on ‘industrial charity’), or on legal regulations (for example, working conditions legislation). It is beyond doubt that these are important and strong arguments.
Still, it may well be that they are not enough, since these arguments are not those that primarily affect senior management, who are more ‘bottom line’ driven. Second, in order to increase the impact of stress prevention in the workplace, more emphasis should be placed on such factors as the quality of product and services, organizational flexibility, continuity, absenteeism, productivity, labor market facets and improved competitivity; and for there to be a multi-disciplinary approach rather than the traditional mono-disciplinary one (for example, co-operation with economists and ergonomists).
And finally, the demonstration of examples of good preventive practice is considered as a sine qua non for developing effective stress prevention procedures and for the involvement of both social partners in this field (i. e. employers and employees). Stress has always been a topic of concern for business and industry. Health educators, in response to this concern, have offered a variety of stress management or stress reduction programs. However, McGehee points out that her discussion is not about what stress is or how stress can be managed or the latest research in stress management.
The literature on these topics is profuse and easy to locate. Rather, she is concerned with the nature of stress management programs inside companies that have decided to make stress management a part of their employee development. Her discussion includes the reason behind a management program, the format of stress management programs, the selection of a stress management program, work issues and stress management, and the management of the stress response. Although stress has been a constant concern, a serious and growing problem in industry today is burnout.
Klarreich relates his health education program on burnout, which was extremely well received in his organization. He describes the nature of burnout, the myths associated with this phenomenon, and the societal and familial influences that contribute to this problem. He delineates a number of steps to “put out the fire. ” These include self-appraisal, alteration of expectations, communication to establish social support, and determination of a behavioral option. He indicates that the healthy employee of the future will be a “hardy employee. ” Achieving excellence in the workplace has become the passion of most North American corporations.
Pulvermacher presents a unique health education program, which he delivers as a workshop, to many corporate employees. He states that pursuing excellence requires the application of several fundamental skills. He reviews effective goal setting strategies, methods for avoiding the trap of perfectionism, techniques for managing self-defeating attitudes and beliefs, harnessing stress advantageously, increasing one’s self-discipline, managing conflict constructively, and communicating effectively. A variety of reasons for implementing stress management programs are ascribed to by the companies currently doing so.
The major reasons include reducing health costs, improving productivity, and boosting employee morale. In many cases, stress management is part of a wellness program. Stress-related disorders, including certain headaches, stomach disorders, chronic muscular pain, cardiac and respiratory conditions, and psychosomatic complaints have been linked to a large percentage of doctor’s office visits and hospital tests and admissions. One goal of stress management programs is to provide alternate ways to respond to stress, to prevent potential disorders, and ultimately to reduce health costs.
Stress level has been found to be linked to worker productivity. At moderate amounts of stress, performance is at its highest. Stress in moderate amounts, such as from reasonable deadlines, a focus on quality, rational performance rating systems, a system of accountability, often motivates performance. When stress rises to higher levels and a number of stressors are affecting the individual, performance deteriorates. At times of high stress, an individual is not as effective in solving problems, and on-the-job performance is negatively affected.
The goal of stress management programs in this case is to provide ways in which employees can cope better with increasing stress and continue to perform well on the job. Stress management programs are usually popular with employees. Attendance at talks and workshops shows that the topic is a popular one. Many companies decide to implement these programs as morale boosters because they “can’t hurt anything. ” Stress management has become an integral part of most preventive medicine programs. These programs attempt to include education and training in a variety of ways so that the employees can safeguard their health.