The existence and importance of stress in industry was first recognised in America in 1956. A machine operator named James Carter cracked up while working on the General Motors production line in Detroit. Mr. Carter had what is now commonly known as a nervous breakdown and he sued General Motors, claiming that the stresses of his job had contributed to his condition. It was an important law suit. Carter won and from that day onwards most executives and all lawyers and the physicians in America took the relationship between stress and industry very seriously indeed. However, executives around the rest of the world have beenslow to recognise the importance of stress in Industry.
Indeed, in some ways it is difficult to blame company executives for failing to understand the importance of ‘stress’ as a trivial problem and laugh at any suggestion that there could be a link between problems in the mind and problems affecting the body.
In the last few years evidence has accumulated from around the world to show that the most common cause of destructive ill health is stress at work. Researchers have not only built up evidence showing links between industrial stresses in general and ill health but have even accumulated evidence showing that it is possible to link specific occupations with specific types of stress induced disease. No one is immune. The man or women on the shop floor is just as vulnerable as the man or women on the board of directors.
In India, the statistics show, the rate of people suffering from the heart-related problems has gone up nine times within the last four decades.
Although there is absolutely no doubt that stress is killing many people, disabling many more and costing industry crores of rupees every year, there is one important question that has to be asked. Why are we so susceptible to stress these days?
The answer to this apparently unanswerable paradox is quite simple. Our bodies were designed a long, long time ago. We were not designed for the sort of world in which we live today. We were designed for a world in which fighting and or running were useful practical solutions to everyday problems. We were designed to cope with physical conformations with sharp-toothed tigers.
The problem is that our environment has changed far more rapidly than we have evolved. We have changed our world far faster than our bodies have been able to adapt. At no other time in the history of the world has there been such a constant progression of ideas and technology. Fashions, themes and attitudes have never changed as rapidly as they have in the last hundred years or so. Never before have expectations and pressures been so great. Revolutionary changes in agriculture, navigation, medicine, military tactics, design, transport, communications and industrial methods have all transformed our world. But our bodies are still the same as they were tens of thousands of years ago. It takes millennia for the human body to adapt. We have moved far too quickly to be good for our bodies.
It is these environmental changes that have made stress more pronounced. These days stress is ubiquitous. None can escape stress. As a matter of fact stress has its origin in the body chemistry which has remained unchanged since the man came on the earth.
Let us take example of the cave man. For him to survive was either a fight or a flight. Whenever there was any life threatening event any action off light or fight, pituitary would give appropriate signals for secreting adrenaline in the blood stream. This resulted in creation of additional energy for the body either to fight or fly. This is known as ‘fight or flight mechanism’.
Following are some of the changes that occur in the body to protect itself from the danger within a few microseconds. These responses of the body to a situation are known as fight or flight mechanism with, interalia, the following bodily responses:
Release of Adrenaline and conversion of glycogen into glucose;
Raised Blood Pressure;
Digestion slowed because of diversion of blood supply from stomach to the extremities of the body;
Over million of years the lifestyle has changed; however, the body chemistry has not changed. With the change in the lifestyle, stressors have multiplied and diversified in different forms. However, the body chemistry response has remained the same.
The theory of ‘General Adaptation Syndrome’ states that when an organism is confronted with a threat, the general physiological response occurs in three stages viz. alarm reaction, resistance reaction and state of exhaustion.
The first stage includes an initial “shock phase” in which resistance is lowered, and a “countershock phase” in which defensive mechanism become active. Alarm Reaction is characterised by autonomous excitability; and adrenaline discharge; increased heart rate; muscle tone, and blood content; and gastro-intestinal ulceration. Depending on the nature and intensity of threat and the conditions of the organism the severity of the symptoms may differ from a mild invigoration to disease of adaptation.
Stage of Resistance
Maximum adaptation occurs during this stage. The bodily signs characteristic of the alarm reaction disappear. Resistance increases to levels above normal. If the stress persists, or the defensive reaction proves ineffective, the organism deteriorates to the next stage.
State of Exhaustion: Adaptation energy is exhausted, signs of alarm reaction reappear, and resistance level begins to decline irreversibly the organism collapses.
One of the major shortcomings of this theory is that the related research was carried out on animals where the stressors are usually physical or environmental–and this is not always the case in relation to human organisms. The concept of General Adaptation Syndrome is, therefore, not given weightage in the present days.
Present day human is being compressed by stresses from various sources such as his own psychological and physical make up; the familial demands, the social demands, the demands of the job etc. etc.
Whenever a superior scolds a subordinate, the latter’s body chemistry acts in the same way it did in the cave man when he was threatened by a tiger. Even all his body functions race up to meet the emergency. However, physical emergency there is none. This additional burst of energy is not only useless for him but is harmful. He can neither fight physically with the superior nor leave the place of work. The adrenaline is metabolised. These metabolic changes act on various balancing and self-correcting mechanisms of the body. The result is the psychosomatic diseases.
Different definitions of stress occur. Dr. Seyles, an expert in stress management, gives the best definition in stress management. According to him “stress is a non-specific response of the body to situation”.
It is important to remember that the body chemistry does not distinguish between the anxiety causing, pleasant or unpleasant situations. In any of these situations, the body response is the same, resulting in fight or fly mechanism.
The other definitions of stress are :
“Stress is a physiological abnormality at the structural or bio-chemical level caused by overloading experiences.”
“Stress is an adaptive response to an external situation that results in physical, psychological and or behavioural deviations.”
According to Dr. Pestonji of I.I.M. Ahmedabad, the stress can be categorised as under:
This stress is because of the sudden overjoy. Fortunately this type of stress is not longlasting. Furthermore it is a state of happiness. Eustress, therefore, is not harmful, being occasional and fleeting.
This is anti-thesis of eustress. Distress is caused whenever a person is suddenly very sad or angry. Distress is caused because of the demands of the modern life and anxiety to cope with them. This results in feelings of inadequacy, anxiety, nervousness, loss etc. This type of stress is harmful. It is this stress that has caused more havoc in the executive life. It is this stress that justifies the saying “Ulcer is the surest sight of executive success”.
Since it is distress that takes a heavy toll of executive efficiency, the organisations should try to alleviate it. An atmosphere of objectivity and mutual trust would go a long way in reducing distress.
Hyper Work Stress
This type of stress is caused because of the hyper activity and travails of life to meet deadlines etc. Target mindedness and the eleventh hour rush or continuous overwork cause hyper stress. The key therefore, to deal with hyper stress lies in good planning.
This type of stress is the opposite of the hyper stress. This stress is caused by less than optimum activity. The effects of hypo stress are slower than other types but are more penetrating and longer lasting. There are examples when the Organisation have deliberately created hypo stress by denying legitimate work to their employees. Such situations, beyond creating stress, deprive a person of the fulfillment of self-esteem needs. More often the retired persons experience this stress. For them it is a transition from hyper to hypo stress. This underlines the necessity of planning the post-retirement period, doing proper time management by planning activities so that an individual remains optimally busy.
The above discussion shows that whatever an individual does or does not so, there is always some sort and some amount of stress on him. This is why stress is known as “non-specific response of the body to the situation.
There are three broad categories of stressors. They are :
- Organizational stressors;
- Life stressors; and
- Personal stressors.
Organisational membership is a dominant source of stress. The concept of organizational stress was first evolved in the classic work of Kahn et al. They were the earliest to draw attention to organisational stress in general and role stress in particular.
Some of the organisational stressors are intrinsic to the job. They are boredom, time pressures and deadliness, exorbitant work demands and technical problems.
Some organisational stressors relate to the role in the Organisation. They are role ambiguity, role conflict, role overload etc.
Some organisational stressors relate to the organizational structure and the climate. They are lack of participation in the decision-making, lack of responsiveness and appreciation, pressers towards conformity etc.
Life stressors can be catagorised in three classes.They are:
- Life changes
- Daily stressors
- Life trauma
Personal stressors relate to the personal health and the familial life of an individual.They are like menopause or male menopause,commuting problems,reduced self-confidence as a result of aging etc.