Work & Health. Cognitive Activation Theory of Stress applied in an organisational setting
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Most models of occupational stress propose that stressors in the work environment lead to negative psychological, physical, and behavioural changes in the individual employee (Jex & Bliese, 1999). This thesis focuses on three potential stressors in the work environment; downsizing, poor work environment in general, and poor leadership. What are the characteristics of these stressors, and can they be causes of ill health? Does a focus on the individual interpretation of the environment give a better understanding of the relation between work and health? The theoretical framework for these discussions is the Cognitive Activation Theory of Stress (CATS) (Ursin & Eriksen, 2004). This thesis consists of three papers, one for each of these three common causal explanations on the relation between work and health: Downsizing (Paper 1), poor work environment (Paper 2), and poor leadership (Paper 3). To study if an employee’s previous learning experience and characteristics of the working environment are associated with positive attitudes towards downsizing, a survey was done in the Norwegian branch of a global oil company (n=467). The results showed that when facing an organisational downsizing, 1/3 of the employees were positive to the coming change and 1/3 was not. There was a strong positive relation between employees’ perceptions of their work environment and their attitude to organisational change (43% explained variance). Statistical significant factors explaining attitude to organisational change were Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), Involvement & Participation, Team leadership, and Team effectiveness, with CSR being the most important factor. Employees with leadership responsibilities were less positive to change compared to employees without leadership responsibilities and older employees were more positive than younger ones. Poor work environment and the relation to health was investigated in 5 organisations (total n=458). The results showed that subjective health complaints (SHC) were common, also among workers with high job satisfaction. Satisfied workers reported an average of 5-6 subjective health complaints which corresponds to the prevalence found in a Norwegian general population. Work environment explained 43% of the variance in job satisfaction and 9% of the variance in SHC. The relation between poor leadership and subordinate health was investigated with multilevel analysis of questionnaires from 2915 employees and their 322 leaders. Leadership behaviour was defined as being supportive, empowering and fair. Leadership behaviour (organisational level) was not related to sick leave. However, examining individual perception (individual level) of leadership showed that those who perceived their leader as not being supportive, empowering or fair, had more sick leave in a 1-year follow-up. Furthermore, individual perception of leadership explained 20% of the variance for work related exhaustion and 17% for job satisfaction. This was more than twice the variance explained by leadership behaviour (organisational level). For all outcomes individual perception of leadership explained more variance than leadership behaviour. The conclusion in this thesis is that a simple stressor-strain model where downsizing, poor work environment, or poor leadership inevitably leads to ill health is not correct. As postulated in CATS, the important factor is the individual perception of these potential stressors. This might explain why interventions at the individual level have better results than interventions at the organisational level (Reynolds, 1997).
Paper 1: Scandinavian Journal of Psychology 48 (2), Svensen, Erling; Neset, G. & Hege R. Eriksen, Factors associated with a positive attitude towards change among employees during early phase of a downsizing process, pp. 153-159. Copyright 2007 The Scandinavian Psychological Associations. Published by Blackwell Publishing Ltd., Full-text also available from publisher’s website: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9450.2007.00577.xPaper 2: Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine 49(5), Svensen, Erling; Arnetz, B.B.; Ursin, H. & Hege R. Eriksen, Health complaints and satisfied with the job? A cross-sectional study on work environment, job satisfaction and subjective health complaints, pp. 568-573. Copyright 2007 the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. Published by Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins. Abstract only. Full-text not available due to publisher restrictions. http://dx.doi.org/10.1097/JOM.0b013e3180577700Paper 3: Svensen, Erling, Lie, S.A., & Hege R. Eriksen, Leadership and health: A multilevel analysis of the relative importance of individual perception of leadership. Preprint. Submitted to Occupational and Environmental Medicine. Published by he BMJ Publishing Group Ltd