Consequences of Stress

As is pointed out in the introducing comments on stress, stress is not automatically bad for individual employees or their organizational performance. It is the dysfunctional aspects of the high level of stress that should be and are a major concern for contemporary society in general and for effective human resource management in particular. Distress experienced by individuals has negative consequences for them, their families and for the organizations they serve. The consequences of stress can be studied under three general categories :

Consequences for the Individual

Stress shows itself in a number of ways. An individual who is experiencing stress may develop the following symptoms :

1. Physiological Symptoms. In the initial stages, the major concern of stress was directed at physiological symptoms. The reason was that this topic was researched by specialists in the health and medical sciences. According to the researchers high degrees of stress are typically accompanied by severe anxiety, frustration and depression. Some of the physiological symptoms are as follows :

  • Stress: Irritability, insomnia, alcohol and food abuse. Physical changes including rapid breathing, and heart beat, tensed muscles. Prolonged stress can cause muscular twitches, skin problems, baldness and sexual problems such as impotence.
  • Anxiety: Excessive worry, irritability, anger, nervousness as well as unability to concentrate or sleep. Physical changes include palpitations, chest pain and dizziness.
  • Depression: Feeling of sadness, hopelessness, guilt and worthlessness, loss of interest in activities, change in appetite or weight, difficulty in concentrating and suicidal thoughts.

The link between stress and particular physiological symptoms is not clear. According to Academy of Management Journal there are few, if any, consistent relationships. But the fact which is relatively significant is that physiological symptoms have the least direct relevance to the students of Human Behaviour. Our concern is with behaviour and attitudes. Therefore, the other two categories of symptoms are more important to us.

2. Psychological Symptoms. While considerable attention has been given to the relationship between stress and physiological symptoms, especially within the medical community not as much importance has been given to the impact of stress on mental health. But psychological problems resulting from stress are very important in day to day job performance. The psychological impacts of stress may be :

  • Stress can cause dissatisfaction. Job related stress can cause job-related dissatisfaction. Job dissatisfaction, “is the simplest and most psychological aspect of stress.”
  • High levels of stress may be accompanied by anger, anxiety, depression, nervousness, irritability, tension and boredom. One study found that stress had the strongest impact on aggressive actions such as sabotage, interpersonal aggression, hostility and complaints.
  • The psychological problems from stress may lead to poor job performance, lowered self esteem, resentment of supervision, inability to concentrate, make decisions and job dissatisfaction.
  • Research indicates that when people are placed in jobs that make multiple and conflicting demands or in which there is a lack of clarity as to the individual’s duties, authority and responsibilities, both stress and dissatisfaction are increased.
  • The less control people have over the pace of their work, the greater the stress and dissatisfaction.
  • Some evidence suggests that jobs that provide a low level of variety, significance, autonomy, feed back and identity, create stress and reduce satisfaction and involvement in the job.

3.       Behavioral Symptoms. Any behaviour which indicates that you are not acting your usual self may be a sign of adverse reaction to stress. Direct behaviour mat may accompany high levels of stress include :

  • Undereating or overeating
  • Sleeplessness
  • Increased smoking and drinking
  • Drug abuse
  • Nodding off during meetings or social gatherings
  • Losing your sense of humour
  • Moving in a tense and jerky way
  • Reacting nervously or irritably to everyday sounds
  • Absenteeism and turnover
  • Reduction in productivity

Consistently acting and feeling out of character is a serious warning that we are losing our ability to cope with tension. Inability to feel or express any emotions or a sense of being indicates loss of contact with our surroundings and ourselves. The above indicators can help us in overcoming the tensions in our day to day life.

Like the psychological problems resulting from stress, the behavioural problems are often not attributed to stress by co- workers or supervisors and generate little sympathy.

Consequences for the Family

Distress which is handled by individuals in dysfunctional ways such as resorting to drinking or withdrawal behaviours, will have an adverse effect on their family life. The effects of this will be spouse abuse, child abuse, alienation from family members and even divorce. The stressors which generally affect the family life are :

  • In the dual career families where both the spouses are pursuing careers, a lot of personal commitments, varied in nature, are demanded from them (both to their jobs and families). The stresses experienced by the couples stem from role overload, since both partners have to manage their careers as well as help the family.
  • Additional stresses are experienced while handling the personal, social and cultural dilemmas of balancing work and family, discharging parenting responsibilities, handling competition at the work place and within the family and being an involved member of the extended family.

Consequences to Organisations

The effect of employees stress on organizations are many and varied. These include :

  • Low performance and productivity.
  • High rate of absenteeism and turnover.
  • Loss of customers due to poor attitudes of workers.
  • Increased alienation of the worker from the job.
  • Destructive and aggressive behaviours resulting in strikes and sabotage.

The stresses experienced by employees who take on critical roles and are responsible for public safety can sometimes be detrimental to the well being of the constituents served. For example, the stress experienced by airline pilot, train driver, railway guard or air traffic controller can result in the loss of so many lives. Therefore, the costs of employees stress to the organization in terms of lost profits, declining assets, bad image projection, poor reputation and loss of future business are enormous.

When we look at stress from organizational point of view, management may not be concerned about the low to moderate levels of stress experienced by the employees. The reason is, that some functional level of stress is necessary to improve employee performance. But high levels of stress and sustained low levels of stress are a cause of action by the management. But when we look at stress from individual’s point of view even the low levels of stress are perceived to be undesirable. Keeping this in mind we can discuss the individual and organizational approaches towards managing stress. Before discussing these approaches, we must keep in mind two points :

  • Firstly, we must not make any generalization. Each of us have different limits, different optimum stress levels and will perceive the sources of stress differently. One person’s overstress may be another person’s challenge and optimum stress.
  • Secondly, we need to differentiate between what we can do to equip ourselves and to organize our environment to prevent us from becoming over or under stressed. We label this as PREVENTION. Yet however, well we prepare ourselves and try to control our environment from time to time, we will still experience undesirable stress. It is then that we need to have developed MANAGEMENT SKILLS.