Statement of the Problem
The psychological well-being of employees in the workplace is critical to avoid stress and improve employees’ performance (Vainio, 2015). According to Hiriyappa (2013), stress is inevitable in the workplace, and the effects of stress are mostly negative. Even though stress can enhance employees’ performance at the workplace (Britt & Jex, 2015), 75% of American workers report experiencing significant stress every month resulting in health damages (American Psychological Association, 2015), leading to reduced performance, increased turnover and absenteeism (O’Keefe, Brown, & Christian, 2014).
O’Keefe et al. (2014) found that work-related stress leads to performance decrease in 20 % of employees, increased turnover in 65 % of workers who demonstrate dissatisfaction with their stress-related work, and 9% absenteeism caused by tension at work. Work-related stress causes 5-8% of the entire US healthcare costs each year with companies spending more than $150 billion dollars in healthcare expenses (White, 2015). In addition to companies spending more on healthcare cost, work-related stress also causes higher turnover adding greater losses on recruiting and preparation of new workers (O’Keefe et al., 2014). The cost of hiring a new employee in place of one who left and made less than $50,000 a year may cost 20% of his or her salary while the replacement of an executive worker may require up to 200% of his or her annual salary (Patel, 2013).
The general problem is that work-related stress affects people emotionally, mentally, and physiologically, resulting in aggravated job performance, increased turnovers, and absenteeism (Patel, 2013).Occupational stress can also lead to the development of cardiovascular diseases, disturbances of mood, psychological and emotional disorders, and injuries at the workplace (O’Keefe et al., 2014). Leon and Halbesleben (2013) noted that work-related stress is directly related to the worsening of employees’ working performance and cooperation with other colleagues.
Therefore, workplace stress adversely affects an organization. In particular, the main dangers of stress for the workplace are such problems as burnout, depersonalization, and low job satisfaction, because they cause higher rates of turnover (Aftab & Javeed, 2014). The loss of human resources is extremely undesirable for a workplace because upon quitting the jobs, the employees take experience and knowledge with them (Aftab & Javeed, 2014; Griffiths, Baxter, & Townley-Jones, 2011). Being forced to hire new people, the managers expose the workplace to such risks as the loss of quality, time, and productivity as well as additional expenditures to cover selection, hiring, and training practices. As a result, it is vital for the organizations to know how to cope with the stressors that cause turnover and job dissatisfaction in order to preserve the most valuable resource a company may have – its people.
Also, the specific problem that can be encountered in the ship-repairing industry is that ship-repair managers lack the skills and understanding that are necessary to reduce occupational stress, absenteeism, and turnover as well as to increase employee performance. The backbone to ship-repair leaders should be strategies to deal with and prevent work-related stress so as to attain successful performance outcomes and also to implement preventive measures that are meant to neutralize the stressful environment (Sherridan & Ashcroft, 2015).
Purpose of the Study
The purpose of this qualitative exploratory case study is to discover the strategies that managers in a ship-repair company, in the maritime industry, can use to reduce occupational stress, absenteeism, turnover, and increase employee performance. The participants will be employees from one ship-repair Service Company located within the Hampton Roads area in Virginia. A group of 5 helpers, 5 trade persons, and 7 managers will be interviewed using open-ended questions to gain an in-depth understanding regarding occupational stress, absenteeism, turnover, and employee performance. The employee’s personal perspectives might shed some light on strategies for managers to address the aforementioned issues.
The following section contains the research questions for this study.
- RQ1. What are the primary aspects of the work that may lead to the occupational stress?
- RQ2. What are the occupational consequences of work-related stress?
- RQ3. How does work-related stress affect employees, employee performance, turnover, and absenteeism?
- RQ4: What are the strategies used by managers in ship-repair company to reduce work-related stress?
- RQ5: What strategies are most effective in reducing work-related stress and improving overall performance?
Definition of Key Terms
- Stress: Stress refers to an interaction between individuals and the source of demands within their environment (Naqvi, Khan, Kant, & Khan, 2013).
- Job satisfaction: Job satisfaction refers to the positive and pleasurable emotional feeling that emanates from an individual’s job experience (Gupta, Kumar, & Singh, 2014).
- Job performance: Job performance refers to all the behaviors employees engage in while at work (Gupta et al., 2014).
- Productivity: Productivity refers to the ratio of output to inputs and the real output per unit of labor (Naqvi et al., 2013).
- Motivation: Motivation is the inner force that individuals pursue and accomplish predetermined organizational and personal goals (Naqvi et al., 2013).
The job demands-resources model (JD-R model) is employed in the study; the researchers use it to predict the effect of increased job demands on employees’ stress levels. Using the JD-R model as the theoretical framework, the employee health and well-being, are explored by analyzing how various aspects of the job may affect an employee’s well-being and their behaviors at the workplace (Demerouti, Bakker, Nachreiner, & Schaufeli, 2001). The revised version of the JD-R model includes work engagement and burnout as two key factors that influence job demands and the well-being of employees (Demerouti et al., 2001). The employees’ high levels of dedication, vigor, and absorption towards their job can positively influence the work engagement. On the other hand, burnout stems from a negative perspective of the working environment and is associated with health problems of employees (Xanthopoulou, Bakker, Demerouti, & Schaufeli, 2007).
High job demands lead to building up of stress among employees, while resources represent the positive aspects that promote their good health (Xanthopoulou et al., 2007). According to Demerouti et al. (2001), the job characteristics include physical, social, or organizational characteristics of the work environment that command restricted physical and psychological commitment of employees. Job resources create enthusiasm, reducing the adverse effects of job demands (costs) (Xanthopoulou et al., 2007). Additionally, job resources are in correlation with the personal growth and development of workers; if the correlation is positive, then the outcomes are positive as well; however, if there exists an imbalance between the resources and the needs of workers, the outcomes may be adverse (Bakker & Demerouti, 2007). JD-R model is an appropriate model to serve as the theoretical framework in this study; according to this model, providing the necessary and supportive resources leads to positive employee outcomes (Xanthopoulou et al., 2007). A high demand job can lead to unhealthy employees resulting in work-related stress.
However, the effectiveness with which a stress-free environment in the workplace is developed in organizations depends on the extent to which organizational managers understand occupational stress. While making an attempt to reduce occupational stress, it is also essential to discover strategies that managers can use to address its consequences, such as workplace absenteeism, turnover, and loss of productivity as well as to increase employee performance. In order to ensure a better understanding and a more effective utilization of the mechanisms by which it is possible to reduce the levels of workplace stress, the managers ought to explore the occupational environment and the duties that the workers face on a daily basis.
Due to the differences in requirements and tasks that the managers and the workers perform, the managers often have a rather vague idea of the challenges experienced by the employees (Chen et al., 2014). In order to create a better understanding between the two parties, it would be productive for the managers to engage in communication with the employees so as to discuss the factors that lead to stress and job dissatisfaction. Doing a general research could help as well; however, it is better to collect information from the workplace directly so as to enable the managers to find out what particular problems the employees of their firm are faced with (Cevenini, Fratini, & Gambassi, 2012). After the list of the primary contributing factors is made, the managers may start working on the interventions and preventions strategies in order to improve the workplace environment and make sure that the workers are content and have no intention to leave the jobs (Britt & Jex, 2015).
Brief Review of the Literature
A thorough online research has been conducted for this paper. The sources suitable for the review were found by utilizing a number of a different keywords and word combinations such as “workplace stress,” “occupational stress,” “causes of work stress,” workplace stress outcomes,” “job dissatisfaction causes,” “turnover causes,” “depression,” “stress coping mechanisms,” and other similar phrases. The search was not limited to any particular databases or countries of origin. It was conducted using Google as well as the databases that can be accessed through the library. The main conditions for the search were the topics covered in the studies, the time when the works were published (only the recent sources were included), and the types of the sources (mostly scholarly peer-reviewed journal articles). Even though the main focus of the research is workplace stress in ship-repairing, the studies with versatile subjects and from different career fields were included. The inclusion was based mainly on the fact that the causes of work-related stress, turnover intention, and job dissatisfaction are rather similar throughout most professional spheres (Britt & Jex, 2015). The sources that matched the search terms were grouped based on the issues discussed in them (job satisfaction, workplace absenteeism, workplace productivity, and workplace stress in ship-repairing).
Nowadays, workplace stress is one of the primary challenges that managers and leaders of modern organizations have to face (Aftab & Javeed, 2014). Workplace environments are highly competitive and intense; as a result, many employees may start having health problems that occur due to workplace stress (Dwamena, 2012). In addition, occupational stress may influence multiple aspects of a workers’ life and affect their physical and mental health, family relationships, professional performance, and relationships with coworkers (The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, 2014). Apart from harming workers, stress produces adverse effects on organizations in terms of human resources and capitals, causes problems with reputation and brand image, and harms the workplace climate (The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, 2014). In the following review of the literature, such manifestations of the workplace stress as low levels of job satisfaction, employee absenteeism, productivity, and health effects will be explored.
Low Job Satisfaction
Numerous studies were conducted in order to explore the correlation between workplace stress and the level of employees’ satisfaction with their work. It was found that high workplace stress is strongly correlated with low levels of employee job satisfaction (Griffiths et al., 2011). It might be stated that workers who experience high levels of stress in their workplace, for instance, while being overloaded with work or due to pressure from the management, conflicts with co-workers, or lack of career opportunities, lose their feeling of control over events (Griffiths et al., 2011; Trivellas, Reklitis, & Platis, 2013), which may lead to a constant feeling of anxiety and helplessness combined with the persistent accumulation of fatigue. When employees facing such a situation simultaneously have no access to social support from their peers or managers, it is hard for them to find relief, and their negative feelings are further exacerbated and continue to accumulate (Griffiths et al., 2011). It appears to be clear that the persistence of these negative feelings has a strong adverse effect on the job satisfaction levels of the employees, which decreases their performance; furthermore, it is stated to be capable of harming their psychological well-being, leading to burnout and depression (Griffiths et al., 2011; Hakanen & Schaufeli, 2012).
In addition, many researchers cover the issue of correlation between workplace stress and job satisfaction in a variety of spheres. For instance, healthcare is one of the career fields with heavy workloads and high level of pressure on employees; as a result, the medical workers often experience low job satisfaction and turnover intentions (Trivellas et al., 2013). Researchers recognized that conflicts with coworkers, lack of access to information, heavy workloads, the absence of career opportunities, benefits, and rewards, and overall negative environments are the primary factors contributing to the decrease in employees’ job satisfaction and the increase in workplace stress levels (Trivellas et al., 2013). The studies also emphasized the common ground of job satisfaction and turnover intention. As the researches show, workplace stress is an outcome of a multitude of determiner working in a combination. At the same time, there are factors that oppose the negative influences and minimize levels of stress or turnover intention; such factors are age and experience of the employees, and their marital status; in addition, employment under a contract also decreases turnover intentions (Chen et al., 2014), but it is possible to assume that such a decrease is related to factors other than lower workplace stress.
Another field with a high level of job dissatisfaction is public service known for the heavy and unevenly allocated workloads and lack of the individual appreciation of the employees’ contribution. Obiora and Iwuoha (2013) present a study that identifies the main contributors to the low satisfaction of public service employees in Nigeria. Kula and Sahin (2015) cover the same problem exploring the sphere of law enforcement specifically. Both groups of researchers emphasize that overtime hours and low payments are the primary contributors to high rates of dissatisfaction in public service careers; also, the authors conclude that workplace stress leads to the loss of human resources in the form of turnover (Kula & Sahin, 2015; Obiora & Iwuoha, 2013).
Another issue pertaining to the topic is employee absenteeism. Absenteeism is defined as the customary failure of an employee to attend work (Prater & Smith, 2011). It is known that workplace stress is one of the major factors that increase the likelihood of employees’ absenteeism (Daniel, 2015). There are a number of mechanisms of absenteeism induction due to occupational stress, burnout and depression being the most notable of them.
It was already mentioned that workplace stress has a profound adverse effect on the employees’ psychological well-being; it is no wonder that it often may lead to burnout. Burnout is a state in which an employee feels completely exhausted and frustrated and finds it difficult to continue working; the feeling of ineffectiveness, the mental fatigue, the loss of motivation, and the accumulating amounts of work to be done further impair their ability to work and may cause absenteeism (Hakanen & Schaufeli, 2012). In addition, burnout is capable of leading to depression (Hakanen & Schaufeli, 2012). Depression, in turn, may result in such phenomena as despair, crying, angry outbursts, self-destructive behaviors, substance use, and so on (Martin, Neighbors, & Griffith, 2013).
Clearly, employees who find themselves in these situations are more likely to be absent from work. In addition, it is known that the symptoms of depression may include headaches, stomach-aches, nausea, and diarrhea (Prater & Smith, 2011). While employees that are not experiencing such symptoms still may come to work, those who are may be forced to miss their work, which further exacerbates their adverse condition and leads to the additional pressure that they and their families find themselves under due to the fact that apart from suffering from such unpleasant experiences, these workers cannot make money. The employee absenteeism caused by depression is known to be a widespread and costly problem; for instance, according to Martin et al. (2013), approximately one-third of the population of the U.S. suffers from this disorder, and the losses experienced due to depression in workers are stated to be approximately $83 billion annually (Prater & Smith, 2011).
The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (2014) points out that employers have a legal obligation to take care of the well-being of their workers; this obligation covers physical hazards as well as psychosocial threats such as work-related stress. In cases when the managing personnel of organizations fail to accomplish their duties, negative outcomes may turn out to be rather costly (The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, 2014). The mechanisms individuals employ as strategies for coping with work-related stress differ from one person to another (Meško et al., 2013). As explained by Meško et al. (2013), the scholars divide stress coping mechanisms into two main types: focused on emotions and focused on problems. According to Meško et al. (2013), the latter mechanism is more efficient in terms of productivity of employees; it is also stressed that the use of it more effectively helps to reduce their absenteeism rates. Further, the causes of absenteeism related to workplace stress may be either objective (the ones that are difficult to influence for the organization or an individual) or subjective (the ones that refer to the effects that stress may have on the employees’ health) (Meško et al., 2013). In fact, work-related stress can result in such issues as mental and psychological disorders, loss of sleep and focus, eating disorders, substance abuse and addictions, depression, depersonalization, and cardiovascular disease (Meško et al., 2013).
Employee productivity is defined as the employee’s ability to meet or exceed assigned tasks in using the tools, technologies, and procedures given (Campbell, 2015). Productivity is defined as “the increased functional and organizational performance, including quality” (Roelofsen, 2012, p. 248). There is increased performance if there is less absenteeism and higher-quality production.
While employee absenteeism decreases the number of working hours that employees provide for the organizations they work for, there are other ways in which workplace stress experienced by employees may cause losses for an organization. Very often the losses originate from the diminished employee productivity. It was already noted that burnout may lead to depression (Hakanen & Schaufeli, 2012). Before a worker is influenced by the depression, however, burnout among the employees is also capable of harming an organization. For instance, it should not escape one’s attention that burnout may lead not only to frustration and cynicism but also to the negative feelings or views related to clients, which may result in a poor quality of service, decreasing the quantity of a company’s clientele (Hakanen & Schaufeli, 2012).
It was stressed above that depression may cause absenteeism; another negative option is presenteeism, or a situation in which employees come to work in spite of the fact that they are suffering from health problems. It is clear that a worker that is ill, depressed, and tired may find it hard to focus on the task at hand, which adversely affects their capability to do their job properly. Thus, the above-mentioned symptoms of depression, such as despair, angry outbursts, or substance abuse, will further lower the output of an employee’s work (Martin et al., 2013). In addition, the need to work while being ill often causes profound additional damage to the worker’s health.
While discussing productivity, RAND (2015) approached the concept environmentally. Three domains of its determinants are distinguished: work-related factors (workplace conflicts, environments, corporate attitudes, and conditions), personal factors (individual behaviors, habits, and perspectives), and health factors (long-term illnesses and health conditions that may affect one’s professional performance). Further, RAND (2015) added the concepts that helped managers measure the loss of productivity at an organization include daily activity impairment, absenteeism, and presenteeism; the use of these variables allows for calculating the exact number of days or hours that were lost due to the workers’ objective and subjective reasons. Consequently, the working hours can be easily converted into monetary equivalents in order to estimate the loss of capital the company has suffered due to productivity problems (RAND, 2015).
The method for estimation of productivity and the rates of other factors that influence it (job satisfaction, absenteeism, stress levels) are measured with the help of questionnaires, interviews, and feedback (Chen et al., 2014). Cevenini et al. (2012) propose measuring the levels of stress based on six dimensions (role, structure, growth and sensibility, work-life balance, interpersonal relations, and fulfillment) and test their questionnaire measuring workplace stress of the whole working population in Italy. The study had an extremely large sample (over 19 million people) and helped identify the correlation between workplace stress, occupational demotivation, and personal well-being of workers (Cevenini et al., 2012).
The imbalance between the employee and workplace foster the employee’s inability to endure obstacles and meet the demands of the job. Most of the time, employees encounter stressors which tend to accumulate if not well managed or released as waste from the physical and psychological faculties (Roelofsen, 2012). The workplace environment is one major stressor reducing productivity (Daniel, 2015). A survey conducted by the Building Owners and Managers Association International among building owners and managers in the US found that indoor environment is considered a major stressor, which caused a low level of performance among employees in the facility (Roelofsen, 2012).
Workplace Stress in Ship-Repairing
In the sphere of ship-repair, the productivity of employees and their ability to remain focused is crucial for the maintenance of safety (Al-Raqadi, Abdul Rahim, Masrom, & Al-Riyami, 2015). This sphere shares many aspects that induce stress in workers with other industrial domains. However, there are also other factors. For instance, the evaluation of the main causes of stress among the ship-repair workers revealed that in addition to the hazardous working conditions and the frequency of accidents at the workplace, the employees experienced stress due to such reasons as workplace conflicts, inequitable allocation of workloads, overtime shifts, lack of fulfillment, and insufficient work-life balance (Cardoso, Padovani, & Tucci, 2014). Bakotić and Babić (2013) prove the same tendency as they point out that working conditions are crucial for the employees of ship-building sphere as well. In addition, according to the research of Cezar-Vaz et al. (2014), health problems resulting from work-related accidents are one of the most prominent stressors for employees in the ship-repair field and dock workers.
Quality management is one of the most efficient and necessary approaches that could ensure better and safer working conditions at the docks (Al-Raqadi et al., 2015). At the same time, the docks are one of the areas that are extremely sensitive towards reorganization (Cardoso et al., 2014). As the authors demonstrate using the modernization process at the Brazilian port Santos, the changes caused higher levels of stress among the workers (Cardoso et al., 2014). At the same time, the rapidly developing technologies of modern days require that such companies that are involved in the performance of repair work and services increase their quality and efficiency by means of modernizing their operations and technologies (Al-Raqadi et al., 2015). Quality and change management approaches can be rather useful for the field of ship-repair; however, the implementation of change and modernization should rely on smart and far-sighted plans. Otherwise, unorganized transformations may lead to workplace crises in terms of operations, productivity, and employee security and safety (Cardoso et al., 2014); the disruption of well-oiled processes and habitual organization for the purpose of modernization and change might cause additional accidents and hazards to the health of the workers (Cardoso et al., 2014).
As quality and change management directly affects the operations and organization of the working process, the transformations that occur due to its implementation may become the causes of workplace stress and its outcomes such as turnover, low job satisfaction, loss of resources, and absenteeism. This tendency has paradoxical character as a process designed to improve the working conditions has the capacity to make them worse and decrease the efficiency instead of making it better.
Working environments are one of the most significant stressors and management should take it as a precaution. Workplace stress can cost billions of dollars to the industry. The literature provides examples of stressful situations for workers. Construction workers, ship-repair workers, dockworkers, many blue-collar workers, work in dangerous environments which cause workplace stress. Other studies recorded a direct relationship between workplace stress and injuries in the construction industry. Workplace stress is a significant indicator of other symptoms of anxiety and psychological distress (Sunal, Sunal, & Yasin, 2011).
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