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Outline and evaluate research into Workplace Stressors as a source of Stress

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Over the past few years it has become apparent that a lot of stress in adults has been due to the environment of a workplace. Stress has even taken over the common cold as the main cause of absence from work, (Furedi, 1999). Many psychologists and researchers have looked at the workplace as a source of stress, and have guided their work into looking at why. Repetitive tasks and work underload may be a cause in people’s stress. In Sweden, a lot of people experience repetitive tasks when they are working.

In some workers’ urine high levels of adrenaline and noradrenaline were found indicating some amount of stress, this was studied by Frankenhauser in 1975. Work overload may cause a person to experience stress; excessive work demands and hassles could cause stress, as well as weakening people’s confidence. A study by Breslow and Buell in 1960 looked at workers under 45 in light industry who worked over 48 hours a week and compared the workers who worked 40 hours or less. They found that those who worked more than 48 hours were much more likely to develop Chronic Heart Disease.

All though this study indicates a link between stress and work overload, it is not the always the number of hours they work or the amount of work that is needed to be done but the perception of work that the worker thinks they need to do, be it working to long and hard. So this study is not as valid as others may be in the link between workplace as a source of stress. Role ambiguity is where guidelines for a role are unclear and ill defined. This is a major contender in factors which cause stress in the workplace.

As well as work overload/underload, other factors can lead to stress such as isolation, where high levels of adrenaline and noradrenaline are found in workers who are restricted in their everyday working environment, (Cooper and Marshall, 1976). Responsibility for others may contribute as well as job satisfaction and security. Environmental factors in the workplace could cause stress related illnesses such as hypertension, headaches and intestinal disorders, where noise levels are exceedingly high, (Bell et al, 1990).

Although, these illnesses could just be due to more physical problems with load noises, not just the stressfulness of the noises. Other environmental factors include humidity, vibration, lighting and ventilation, which could also cause physical difficulties. It is difficult to determine exactly what causes stress at the workplace because there are so many factors to consider. But we also have to consider that most people who work in lower paid jobs also have other sources of stress outside the workplace such as money worries.

Although it is clear in most cases that the workplace is defiantly a source of stress in most people, be it one, two or even all the factors involved. A study by Ettner and Grywacz shows a link between stress and those who work long hours and at night. They studied 2048 workers across America. They found that serious on-going work stress; job pressure, working long hours or shift work can result in negative effects on both physical and mental health, particularly those who worked long hours and on night shifts.

Although this study gives positive results between the workplace and stress it does not take other factors into consideration. Such as exactly what these people do and other stressful factors in their home life. It also needs to take into consideration previous mental and physical problems that might not be caused by stress but something completely different. Another study by Mcleod in 2000 studied 800 firefighters, giving a number of standard measures of stress (including SRRS, PT50).

The highest overall stress was those who worked days, who were living close and on call. Sub-officers were most likely to experience PT50, being first there on the scene of the incident and who are more exposed to accident victims. These people are involved in a very stressful job in which they come face to face with situations that normal people would not have to experience. The officers on call have the problem of waiting for an emergency, this waiting would increase the likelihood of stress and living close to the possible emergency would increase this.

Brady did one of the most controversial research studies into stress at the workplace in 1958, called “The Executive Monkey Experiment”. He placed monkeys in restraining chairs and conditioned them to press a lever. Every 20 seconds the monkeys were given an electric shock if they did not press the lever within that interval. Many monkeys died during the experiment and it had to be abandoned. The monkeys were examined after death and it founds that they had stomach ulcers due to high levels of gastrointestinal hormones.

Monkeys that had not received electric shocks did not have any lasting effects. So the ulcers must have been caused by the electronic shocks of the stress of pressing the lever at the right time. Another experiment of Brady looked at the relationship between high stress levels and in the development of ulcers with business executives in mind. This time monkeys were tested in pairs and the ‘executive’ monkey was in charge of the lever. The ‘yokel’ did nothing but received the shocks.

This occurred at 20-second intervals for 6 hours at a time over a 3-week period. He found that the executive monkeys had severe stomach ulcers and died and the yokels had no ill effects. This indicates a link between stress and the stomach ulcers. The monkeys were not randomly selected to be executives or yokels but instead were placed by how quickly they learnt to avoid shock by pressing the lever. They also did not take into consideration the prior health of the monkeys; monkeys that had malnutrition would get ill more quickly.

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