Motivation and emotion/Book/2019/Workplace stress and motivation

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Workplace stress and motivation:
How does workplace stress affect motivation?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Stress is a crucial aspect to understanding human behaviour and motivation. Comprehension and in depth understanding into the influence of stress in individuals and its impact is essential in understanding the human condition, particularly in relation to motivation and emotion.

Research conducted considering [awkward expression?] both workplace stress motivation provides a holistic understanding of the psychological and physiological implications on the individual, as well as considering the impacts on the workplace in terms of performance, productivity and engagement. Motivational theories such as Self-determination theory and Social Cognitive theory provide a deeper understanding of motivation on an individual level, providing an concept for workplaces to consider when it comes to managing workplace stress and increasing motivation and self-efficacy among employees.

Focus questions
  1. What constitutes a stressful work environment?
  2. How is motivation relevant within the workplace?
  3. How does workplace stress affect wellbeing and physiology?
  4. How can stress be managed on an individual level?
  5. How can stress be managed within occupational practices?

Stress and Motivation in the workplace[edit | edit source]

[Provide more detail]

What constitutes a stressful work environment?[edit | edit source]

When considering the components that constitute a stressful work environment, the association between the job stress model and wellbeing indicators including psychological distress, sleep and job satisfaction was considered by Elovainio et al. (2015). The job stress model utilised within this research consisted of three key areas used to examine the level and severity of stress in a workplace environment; these included job demands, job control and organisational justice (Elovainio et al., 2015). It was within this research that a reciprocal association was found between job control and psychological distress (Elovainio et al., 2015), suggesting that the job stress model and its components not only contribute an understanding of the factors that ind a stressful work environment but further begins to identify the influence of these factors on psychological health and wellbeing.

Figure 1. Causes contributing to employee turnover include occupational stress.

A similar identification of a stressful organisational environment was used by de Croon, Sluiter, Blonk, Broersen, and Frings-Dresen (2004) in a study examining stressful work and psychological job strain, with high severity of job demands and control found to influence psychological strain. This psychological strain was further associated with turnover within the industry examined, motivating interoccupational (that is, to a new industry) turnover (see Figure 1) (de Croon, Sluiter, Blonk, Broersen, & Frings-Dresen, 2004). This provides insight into the components that comprise a stressful work environment and its influence on psychological wellbeing, however, this also highlights the significant role in which stress and psychology play in an organisational setting and the direct disadvantageous effects on the workplace.

Differently to the factors considered above, Paille (2011) examined job satisfaction as a mediator between stress and intention to leave an organisation. It was found that stressful work environments increased desire to leave employer, further supporting the results of de Croon et al. (2004) mentioned above. Understanding the role of job satisfaction on severity of stress in individuals in organisational environments is essential identifying not only the factors that comprise these environments but further how these stressors can be mediated benefiting both the wellbeing of the individual and outcomes within the workplace.

How is stress measured?[edit | edit source]

Whilst there are numerous methods currently utilised in measuring the presence of stress and its severity, these methods often differ according to the type of research being conducted. For example the measurement of stress for studies examining physiological impacts differs from that used in psychological research. It is important to consider a wide variety of measurements in order to have a complete and holistic understanding of the influence of stress and its severity.

Many psychological studies measuring stress levels include an element of self report, often measured on a likert scale. This method was used in the Paille (2011) study examining the mediating role of job satisfaction, with perception of work related stress measured through self-report on a three item scale including items such as 'job concerns follow me home at night' (Paille, 2011). In the same way, Elovainio et al. (2015) employed self-reporting methods in measuring stress, however, these were used in conjunction through physiological measures as assessed longitudinally by a physician based upon wellbeing indicators including psychological distress, sleeping problems and job satisfaction (Elovainio et al., 2015).

Examining stress through the use of various forms of measurement including both self-report measures as well as biological markers are essential in understanding the holistic influence of stressors including that experienced in the workplace on wellbeing of an individual. It is through the understanding of the harmful effects of this stress on individuals that the impacts on organisations and workplaces are able to be identified.

Motivation[edit | edit source]

For an in depth understanding of motivation and its influence from a scientific perspective, please see Motivation.

Motivation in occupational settings[edit | edit source]

Self-determination theory (SDT) has been identified in providing an application of psychological motivational theory to workplace behaviours and stress. It has been suggested that the use of salient extrinsic reinforcers in workplace environments has detrimental effects on intrinsic motivation (Gagne & Deci, 2005). Whilst these findings identify a major flaw within many modern organisations, it is important to consider how extrinsic motivation is able to be used beneficially to motivate and encourage productive workplace behaviours. Research has identified that both intrinsic motivation and autonomous extrinsic motivation are strongly related with performance, satisfaction, trust and wellbeing in the workplace (Gagne & Deci, 2005). Gagne & Deci (2005) were also able to establish the way in which SDT can be used to alter extrinsic motivation to become autonomous, resulting in higher levels of the resulting factors mentioned above within the workplace. With these outcomes, SDT can be seen to provide an approach to understanding motivational influences on workplace behaviour.

Social Cognitive theory (SCT) is also suggested to contribute to the understanding of motivation in the workplace through the concept of self-efficacy. Self efficacy is defined by Porter, Bigley & Steers (2003) as "an individual's belief (or confidence) about his or her abilities to mobilize motivation, cognitive resources, and courses of action needed to successfully execute a specific task within a given context". SCT provides a comprehensive understanding of motivation in the workplace, with workplace behaviours explained by this theory in terms of three concepts (see Table 1) (Porter, Bigley & Steers, 2003). Self efficacy and collective efficacy have been found to have strong relationships with work-related task performance and improving human performance in organisational settings (Porter, Bigley & Steers, 2003). Efficacy beliefs at both group and individual levels was found to be effective in predicting performance, suggesting that these components must be considered in workplace environments in order to determine both motivational drive and the influence of stress upon this (Porter, Bigley & Steers, 2003).

Table 1.

Explanation of workplace behaviours according to Social Cognitive theory. Adapted from Porter, Bigley & Steers (2003).

Concept Description Example
Reciprocal causation among the person Unique personal characteristics Ability
Environment Consequences from the organisation Pay based on performance
Behaviour Previous successful or unsuccessful performances Successful or unsuccessful task completion

The relationship between occupational stressors (job demands, discretion and interpersonal conflicts) and a variable of work motivation, intrinsic or extrinsic, was examined by Lu (1999). Intrinsic motivation for workplace behaviours was indicated to be positively related to overall job satisfaction with extrinsic motivation found to be positively related to depression (Lu, 1999). These results indicate the significance of the findings of Gagne & Deci (2005) in the development of autonomous extrinsic motivation through SDT. This further provides a guide in which organisations can apply to their occupational settings to encourage intrinsic workplace motivation and assist in the development of autonomous extrinsic motivation among their employees in an effort to reduce negative impacts on the organisation such as turnover. Furthermore the application of these findings can also be found to benefit the employee's overall wellbeing and reduce risk of disease and infection resulting from chronic stress including that often encountered within the workplace.

Quiz[edit | edit source]

Choose the correct answers and click "Submit":

1 What was NOT a component used within the job stress model to determine severity of perceived stress?

Job demands
Job control
Organisational justice
Job satisfaction

2 Which theory suggests extrinsic motivation can become autonomous through the correct process?

Social Cognitive Theory
Self-determination Theory
Self-efficacy Theory
Psychoanalytic Theory

Stress and physiology[edit | edit source]

[Provide more detail]

Cortisol[edit | edit source]

Cortisol plays a large role in a stress response within the human body. See Motivation and emotion/Book/2015/Cortisol and stress (Wikiversity) for further information.

Figure 2. Some physical manifestations of stress in the human body

Physical manifestations of stress[edit | edit source]

Psychological stress is defined by Cohen, Janiki-Deverts & Miller (2007) as "when an individual perceives that environmental demands tax or exceed his or her adaptive capacity". Stress is suggested to influence physical disease through the generation of negative affective states such as feelings of anxiety and depression (Cohen, Janiki-Deverts & Miller, 2007). These negative affective states result in direct effects on biological processes within the human body (see Figure 2), as well as behavioural patterns which both influence risk of disease (Cohen, Janiki-Deverts & Miller, 2007). Chronic stress includes stressful events that persist over an extended duration of time, such as those often experienced within organisational environments. Exposures to chronic stress are suggested to be the most toxic as they are suggested to result in permanent changes in physiological and behavioural responses which increase susceptibility to and the course of diseases (Cohen, Janiki-Deverts & Miller, 2007).

Cardiovascular Disease (CVD)[edit | edit source]

There has been strong support in animal studies for stress-elicited increases in coronary artery disease as suggested by Cohen, Janiki-Deverts & Miller (2007). Research conducted with human participants has also provided support for a relationship between psychological stress and CVD morbidity with an estimated increase of 50% in CVD risk associated with high levels of work stress (Cohen, Janiki-Deverts & Miller, 2007). This organisational stress was measured through the individuals[grammar?] perception of workplace control, demands, compensation and organisational injustice (Cohen, Janiki-Deverts & Miller, 2007). Whist there is further research required in order to establish a more solid correlational relationship between workplace stress and CVD, the importance of the current research in this area must not be ignored and organisational measures put in place to assist in the reduction of CVD morbidity within our communities.

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and AIDS[edit | edit source]

Within the research conducted by Cohen, Janiki-Deverts & Miller (2007), the influence of stressors on HIV and AIDS was also examined with findings indicating harmful effects. A difference in regards to rate of progression through phases of HIV infection was noted among individuals with stress indicated to be a factor influencing this variability in progression among sufferers (Cohen, Janiki-Deverts & Miller, 2007). An accumulation of stressful negative life events including those often experienced in occupational environments are suggested to predict worse AIDS related outcomes (Cohen, Janiki-Deverts & Miller, 2007). This further displays the implications of stress on physiology and the human body with many detrimental effects examined.

Cancer[edit | edit source]

Some studies have indicated that stress is a contributing factor to the initiation and growth of particular cancerous tumours in the human body (Cohen, Janiki-Deverts & Miller, 2007). These findings linking stress to cancer are said however to be mixed, with a limitation and cause of inconsistencies among this research being due to cancers being most commonly diagnosed after years of growth (Cohen, Janiki-Deverts & Miller, 2007). This results in the stress-cancer association being difficult to demonstrate. Whilst this association isn't fully supported in current research, it is still relevant in determining how workplace stress has a wider physiological influence on the human body.

Immune competence[edit | edit source]

Although the physiological effects of stress, particularly of the chronic variety, indicate the harmful biological effects on the human body, considering the impacts of low levels and severity of stress must also be considered. Research has indicated that low levels and severity of stress can have a desired effect on physiology with enhanced immune competence and protection (Yada & Tort, 2016). The opposite was also found to be true with more severe levels of stress suppressing elements of the immune system, increasing vulnerability to infection and disease further supporting the findings by Cohen, Janiki-Deverts & Miller (2007) above. While further research is essential in fully understanding the applicability of this research to humans, it remains valuable in examining the influence of stressors including that seen in organisational environments on biological systems and physiology.

Quiz[edit | edit source]

Choose the correct answers and click "Submit":

1 Has a causal relationship been found between stress and Cardiovascular Disease?


2 How does stress influence immune competence?

It increases white blood cell count
Stress manipulates gut flora
It damages neuronal structures within the brain
It suppresses immune system elements

Implications of stress on motivation[edit | edit source]

Wani (2013) examined work stress as an emerging focal area for research in modern organisations with the effects of stress impacting upon employee behaviour, motivation and satisfaction. Whilst much research exists examining the effects of stress on psychology such as depression, anger and anxiety, understanding the implications of these in an organisational space is important to identify. An association between an increased risk of stress and lowered motivation of employees within a workplace was identified by Wani (2013), revealing a need to manage and moderate stress. Research examining stress and burnout within an occupational setting was also conducted by Farber (1982), with three major factors emerging as a result of an increased perception of workplace stress, one of which included 'general feelings of burnout' (Farber, 1982). It is clear that a relationship between workplace stress and motivation exists, with harmful effects resulting of this for both the individual and organisation. It is suggested that in order to increase the motivation of employees and to prevent harmful outcomes to both the individual and workplace, stress levels must be managed (Wani, 2013). Strategies to implement on both individual and organisational levels are outlined below.

Stress management techniques[edit | edit source]

[Provide more detail]

Individual[edit | edit source]

Figure 3. Squeezing a stress ball is an example of a stress management technique

Grossman, Niemann, Schmidt & Walach (2004) examined the effects Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) in alleviating suffering of different forms through a meta-analysis. MBSR is a group program which draws upon mindfulness meditation in a structured program to assist in the reduction of symptoms associated with physical and psychiatric illnesses including stress (Grossman, Niemann, Schmidt & Walach, 2004). MBSR is said to be effective in its aims through an increase in awareness, reduction of negative affect and improvement in coping ability with a large number of studies supportive of these claims (Grossman, Niemann, Schmidt & Walach, 2004). The employment of MBSR and other mindfulness techniques (See Mindfulness) may prove beneficial to allowing individuals to manage and reduce stress, improving their wellbeing and increasing their contribution and motivation to their workplace.

A cognitive approach to stress management is also suggested by Hobfall & Freedy (2017) in enhancing an individual's sense personality hardiness, allowing for the ability of an individual to better manage and navigate stressful situations and environments. This may also be adapted to consider the implementation of workplace boundaries in establishing a work-life balance through the development of perceived hardiness. Work-life balance is considered by Grawitch, Ballard & Erb (2015) to be a psychologically healthy workplace practice impacting upon the individuals control to manage conflict between work and non-work life, as well as the acquirement of greater resources required by non-work related life demands.

Many other individual stress management techniques exist (see Figure 3. for an example of this), and it is important for individuals to consider which would be best implemented into their daily lives in order to be beneficial in many facets of their lives including their occupation, health and wellbeing.

Workplace[edit | edit source]

A number[vague] of factors are identified by Grawitch, Ballard & Erb (2015) that may be implemented within a workplace to develop a comprehensive approach to stress management. Health and safety practices are suggested to be specific to physical and mental health improvement, such as exercise, and aids in recovery from burnout and other chronic health problems resulting from stress (Grawitch, Ballard & Erb, 2015). In addition to this, employee involvement is also indicated to impact upon a greater sense of autonomy and control over work commitments (Grawitch, Ballard & Erb, 2015).

Work-life balance is often indicated to be a practice influencing upon stress management with Grawitch, Ballard & Erb (2015) suggesting this assists in managing work and non-work conflicts, reducing stress within these environments. This is also assisted though agile working arrangements, allowing for individuals to have more control over their hours, location and days of work (see Flexible work arrangements and work motivation) whilst reducing stress and increasing motivation.

Considering employee growth and development is also suggested to be a beneficial workplace practice to implement in managing stress. Employing this practice is suggested to impact upon the development of stress management skills such as time management, the development of resiliency including adaptability as well as improved work environment through a wider competency of stress management including within leadership (Grawitch, Ballard & Erb, 2015).

Lastly, Grawitch, Ballard & Erb (2015) also recommend the implementation of employee recognition practices[for example?], with improvements seen in motivation, engagement, job security and financial resources. These effects were seen within organisations implementing these practices, benefiting both the individual employees through their greater wellbeing both physiologically and psychologically but further benefiting the organisation as a whole through increased productivity, competence and motivation (Grawitch, Ballard & Erb, 2015).

Interventions at different levels are also proposed to impact upon a psychologically healthy organisation (Grawitch, Ballard & Erb, 2015). These are outlined in Table 2.

Table 2.

Interventions at the primary, secondary and tertiary level. Adapted from Grawitch, Ballard & Erb (2015).

Level of intervention Area of Focus Type of intervention Psychologically healthy workplace area
Primary Personal resources Wellness programs, Internal promotions, Financial rewards Health and safety, Recognition
Primary Demands Job sharing, manager support development, stressor reduction programs, leave Work-life balance, growth and development, employee involvement
Primary Fit Motivation/engagement interventions enhancing meaningfulness Recognition
Secondary Resource Allocation Job-related training, job autonomy interventions, remote working and flextime Growth and development, employee involvement, work-life balance
Tertiary Individual outcomes Employee assistance programs, counselling services, return-to-work programs Health and safety

Quiz[edit | edit source]

Choose the correct answers and click "Submit":

1 Which of the following is NOT a benefit of Mindfulness-based stress reduction?

Reduction in negative affect
Improved coping ability
Increased awareness
Increased personality hardiness

2 Which workplace practice assists in the development of stress management skills?

Employee growth and development
Health and safety
Work-life balance

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Workplace stress plays a key role in motivating organisational behaviours with impacts on both the individual and workplace. Stressful occupational environments are suggested to be comprised of a variety of factors including job demands, job control and organisational justice among others. The measurement of stress within current research is employing the use of both biological markers as well as self-report measures providing a holistic understanding to stress and its severity which is crucial in understanding its influence within an organisational setting. Both self-determination theory and social cognitive theory provide a framework in which motivation can be assessed within a workplace, further providing a process in which features of these environments can be manipulated in order to create more beneficial outcomes for both the individual and organisation. The physiological impacts of stress on the human body were also identified, with research suggesting chronic stress, such as that often seen in workplace environments, to be particularly harmful to wellbeing, increasing ones[grammar?] risk of infection and disease. The association between workplace stress and motivation was also identified, with higher levels of stress found to relate to lower levels of motivation within the workplace which further distinguished the need for stress management and reduction strategies to be implemented both at an individual and organisational level. With the implementation of adequate stress management practices by both parties, there is likely to be a shift in employee motivation, engagement and productivity as well as overall health and wellbeing.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Cohen, S., Janicki-Deverts, D., & Miller, G. (2007). Psychological Stress and Disease. JAMA, 298(14), 1685–1687.

De Croon, E., Sluiter, J., Blonk, R., Broersen, J., & Frings-Dresen, M. (2004). Stressful Work, Psychological Job Strain, and Turnover: A 2-Year Prospective Cohort Study of Truck Drivers. Journal of Applied Psychology, 89(3), 442–454.

Elovainio, M., Heponiemi, T., Jokela, M., Hakulinen, C., Presseau, J., Aalto, A., & Kivimäki, M. (2015). Stressful Work Environment and Wellbeing: What Comes First? Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 20(3), 289–300.

Farber, B. A. (1982). Stress and Burnout: Implications for Teacher Motivation.

Gagné, M., & Deci, E. (2005). Self‐determination theory and work motivation. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 26(4), 331–362.

Grawitch, M., Ballard, D., & Erb, K. (2015). To Be or Not to Be (Stressed): The Critical Role of a Psychologically Healthy Workplace in Effective Stress Management. Stress and Health, 31(4), 264–273.

Grossman, P., Niemann, L., Schmidt, S., & Walach, H. (2004). Mindfulness-based stress reduction and health benefits: A meta-analysis. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 57(1), 35–43.

Hobfoll, S. E., & Freedy, J. (2017). Conservation of resources: A general stress theory applied to burnout. In Professional burnout (pp. 115-129). Routledge.

Lu, L. (1999). Work motivation, job stress and employees’ well-being. Journal of Applied Management Studies, 8(1), 61–72. Retrieved from

Paillé, P. (2011). Stressful work, citizenship behaviour and intention to leave the organization in a high turnover environment: examining the mediating role of job satisfaction. Journal of Management Research, 3(1), 1-14.

Steers, R., & Porter, L. (1975). Motivation and work behavior . New York: McGraw-Hill.

Wani, S. K. (2013). Job stress and its impact on employee motivation: a study of a select commercial bank. International journal of business and management invention, 2(3), 13-18.

Yada, T., & Tort, L. (2016). Stress and disease resistance: immune system and immunoendocrine interactions. In Fish Physiology (Vol. 35, pp. 365-403). Academic Press.

External links[edit | edit source]