Various industries face the challenge of occupational stress having a significantly negative impact on job satisfaction, employee performance, absenteeism, and turnover rates (Campbell, 2015; Leon & Halbesleben, 2013; Meško et al., 2013; Prater & Smith, 2011). Compared to other industries, however, the ship-repair industry has higher levels of professional stress (Aftab & Javeed, 2012), high risks of work-related accidents (Bakotić & Babić, 2013), a large number of overtime shifts (Cardoso et al., 2014), and heavy overloads (Cezar-Vaz et al., 2014)—all of which are supplemented by a managerial lack of knowledge and skill in terms of reducing workplace stress (Sheridan & Ashcroft, 2015). The purpose of the present qualitative exploratory case study, therefore, is to evaluate the approaches employed by management in the ship-repair industry in relation to work-related stress. The author of the study will seek to understand management’s strategies for minimizing the negative effects of work-related stress and reducing staff turnover while ensuring that employees retain a high level of productivity. Another objective of the study is to evaluate these approaches in light of the existing literature to determine the most effective methods for managing work-related stress. The author of the study will use interviews as the method of data collection, and the participants will be master tradesmen and managers of a ship-repair company in the Hampton Roads area in Virginia.
To explore the knowledge gap that exists in the current literature regarding occupational stress in the ship-repair industry, this qualitative case study will seek to answer the following questions:
- Which strategies do the employees (both master tradesmen and managers) of a ship-repair company use to reduce work-related stress?
- From the perspective of the employees (both managers and master tradesmen), which strategies are most effective in reducing turnover rates in the ship-repair industry?
- From the perspective of the employees (both managers and master tradesmen), what are the primary aspects of work that lead to occupational stress in the ship-repair industry?
- From the perspective of the employees (both managers and master tradesmen), how does work-related stress affect employee performance?
Research Method and Design
Finding accurate and relevant answers to this study’s questions requires the selection of an appropriate research method. Because the study focuses on analyzing personal experiences, behaviors, and social contexts, the qualitative research method is most suitable (O’Sullivan et al., 2008). There are several motivations for choosing this method instead of others. Unlike the quantitative research design based on cause-and-effect relationships, qualitative research does not require testing hypotheses or making generalizations (Caruth, 2013; Frels & Onwuegbuzie, 2013). Unlike a mixed research method that combines aspects of both qualitative and quantitative research methods and provides both exploratory and explanatory perspectives on the subject under investigation, the proposed study’s focus is on feelings and perceptions (Caruth, 2013). Moreover, the qualitative research method is the only one that allows for an in-depth understanding of a chosen phenomenon and focuses on different aspects of a research subject (Lund, 2012). It is also the only method that justifies the use of small sample sizes because they are valuable for obtaining a deeper understanding of the matter of interest (Dworkin, 2012). Because the focus of the proposed research is on employees’ perceptions of occupational stress and their related personal experiences, the qualitative research method is the best choice. The design of the study’s four research questions further points to the suitability of the qualitative research method because they underline the importance of the interviewees’ personal histories while also hinting at the research objectives (Agee, 2009). Interviews will be carried out with each of the participants individually and recorded by means of a voice recorder. To avoid any possibility for bias, each of the interviews will be typed and analyzed by different researchers. Coding will be the instrument used to detect patterns and themes in the participants’ responses and then group them together for future analysis.
The selected research design is a case study. This particular design has been chosen instead of others for two primary reasons: first, it is useful for drawing accurate conclusions and making recommendations based on personal experiences and a comprehension of the research subject; second, it is appropriate for analyzing situations and behaviors affected by the external environment instead of the researcher (Yin, 2013). In addition, Crowe et al. (2011) specified that the case study design is the best choice for research that entails an analysis of the respondents’ natural environment and issues dynamically changing over time under the influence of external factors, such as alterations in strategies for reducing occupational stress or changes in working conditions or schedules. In other words, since the primary goal of the present exploratory study is to explore specific strategies used by the employees (both managers and master tradesmen) of a ship-repair company to minimize occupational stress, absenteeism, turnover rates, and poor employee performance, the case study design is the most relevant approach. This research design is appropriate for reaching the given research objectives because it is perfect for assessing work-related stress in the ship-repair industry from several different perspectives, as the opinions of employees (both master tradesmen and managers) will provide the necessary background for drawing accurate conclusions. The main focus of the case study design is to evaluate certain environments and search for specific patterns in order to confirm or disprove a hypothesis. The intention of the study is to collect data about employees’ perspectives and strategies for addressing occupational stress. The approach is replicable in any other organization whose employees face work-related stress and need ways to prevent it.
Roller and Lavrakas (2015) stated that a population is a group of individuals possessing equal, or nearly equal, experience and knowledge necessary to provide a better understanding of the research topic. According to Patton (2014), it is critical to guarantee the representativeness of the selected population (i.e., to ensure that they meet particular research criteria so that it is possible to generalize findings). Moreover, it is essential to focus on the geographical range of the target population and choose whether respondents should reside in one city or across the state (Roller & Lavrakas, 2014). In the case of small samples, it is recommended to minimize the risks of heterogeneity because diverse experiences add enough heterogeneity (Patton, 2014).
The target population for the proposed study is employees (both master tradesmen and managers) of a ship-repair company. The primary location for data collection is the Hampton Roads area in Virginia. The rationale for choosing the area is the number of ship-repair companies operating there (Virginia Ship Repair Association, 2016). The given location increases the opportunity to choose people with enough knowledge and expertise to achieve the research objectives, collect the appropriate data, and reach accurate conclusions, as well as to reduce the risks of excessive heterogeneity (Patton, 2014; Roller & Lavrakas, 2014). Today, there are more than 250 companies employing more than 60,000 people in the region (Virginia Ship Repair Association, 2016). To fully answer the research questions, several stratifications will guide the selection of the most appropriate respondents, meaning those individuals who have enough professional competence and experience to give adequate and trustworthy information regarding the issues of interest (Johnson & Christensen, 2014).
Patton (2014) stated that a sample is a group of people chosen among the target population based on the researcher’s belief that they are representative and their experience is generalizable. To identify appropriate people for the sample, the author of the proposed study will rely on purposeful and stratified sampling techniques. The basis of purposeful sampling is the assumption that only those with an adequate background and level of knowledge about the issue under consideration should become respondents, as they are the only people able to provide the required information and level of detail (Miles et al., 2014). The purposeful sampling technique is one of the most frequently used in qualitative research owing to the specific attention it pays to respondents’ personal experiences and their roles in drawing conclusions (Palinkas et al., 2015). The professional background of each potential interviewee will be reviewed to ensure that he or she is knowledgeable and experienced enough to answer the research questions; in this manner, the researcher will purposely choose appropriate participants.
Stratified sampling is a useful supplement to purposeful sampling, allowing the researcher to gather more accurate data. The foundation of purposeful sampling is the selection of people who belong to a particular group or population or who meet particular selection criteria or strata (Johnson & Christensen, 2014). For this study, several criteria for selecting respondents are appropriate: occupying a particular position within the company, having a lengthy tenure (at least five years), and working within one department. The motivation for including the last stratum is the researcher’s desire to mitigate the risks of respondent heterogeneity (Patton, 2014).
The sample will comprise 12 people: five master tradesmen and seven managers of a ship-repair service company located within the Hampton Roads area in Virginia. A small sample is beneficial for obtaining an in-depth understanding of the issue under consideration, and it is the only way to conduct the individual interviews necessary to collect enough information to achieve the research objectives (Crouch & McKenzie, 2006; Hesse-Biber, 2016). Moreover, it is necessary to include different employment positions in the sample to obtain different perspectives of the same problem of occupational stress in the workplace. This approach is the only way to draw comprehensive conclusions because it considers multiple perceptions and worldviews (Patton, 2014).
In the proposed study, interviews will be the primary tool for data collection. As a tool, interviews require the use of different materials such as an interview guide, which contains the interview questions and directs the collection of data. Even though the interview questions will be open-ended, making them adaptable and easy to change in the course of an interview, it is imperative to use the interview guide to ensure that the same questions are asked and the same topics are discussed with all respondents (Roller & Lavrakas, 2015). According to Roller and Lavrakas (2015), interview guides should include the list of interview questions constructed in such a way as to cover all topics significant to the issue of occupational stress, including strategies for reducing it and mitigating its negative consequences on both organizational and human resource performance. Organized and purposeful interviews allow for data accuracy while preventing unplanned detours from the main topic (Rubin & Babbie, 2010). In addition, prior to the interviews, it is important to carry out a pilot interview using a test sample in order to ensure that the interview questions are appropriate for the collection of meaningful data. Based on this trial run, the author of the study will finalize the interview guide to better direct the respondents and avoid inconclusive or irrelevant answers.
After conducting the interviews, it is necessary to ensure the validity of data using triangulation of analyses to guarantee accurate conclusions that can be generalized for the company under investigation and to deal with the threat of an inadequate representation of reality (Flick, 2014). Finally, Microsoft Excel software will be used for data processing and analysis because this program helps avoid the errors common to manual processing, increases the possibility of drawing accurate conclusions, and reduces the time required for data processing and recommendations (Shaw & Holland, 2014). Although there exist individual stress-level tests and tests for assessing one’s stress-management skills, there are no instruments that assess the stress-coping strategies that are the focus of the present study. The strategies are unique to each individual and vary depending on the employees’ preferences, habits, personalities, and other factors.
Data Collection, Processing, and Analysis
Interviews are a common tool for data collection. According to Patton (2014), an interview is the exchange of worldviews between two people: the interviewer and the interviewee. Developing interview questions is the first step in the data collection process. The motivation for selecting interviews over other data collection tools is their usefulness for estimating and analyzing different perspectives on a single issue and the opportunity they provide for the examination of numerous aspects of reality and working conditions within one environment (King & Horrocks, 2010). Moreover, interviews are the best option for obtaining an in-depth understanding of a particular phenomenon without missing any significant details or facts (Grbich, 2013). The designed interviews will include only open-ended questions that do not limit the respondents’ reflections and do not hint at the correctness of an answer (Seidman, 2013). Open-ended questions will represent the research objectives and questions, hint at the subjectivity of answers, and focus on obtaining information about personal experiences and perceptions related to occupational stress and its consequences (Agee, 2009; King & Horrocks, 2010).
The process of data collection will begin with the recruitment of appropriate people to include in the sample; the next steps are the development of the instrument (interviews and guides) and pilot-testing. After the testing, a further evaluation of the instrument will take place by means of a request of approval from the IRB (MEERA, n.d.). Once the training for the data collection is complete, the scheduling of interviews will begin; obtaining the informed consent of participants is a necessary part of this step (MEERA, n.d.). Next, each of the participants will attend an interview; a follow-up procedure will include those who for some reason did not sit through an interview (MEERA, n.d.). Then, the researcher will organize the data and code, group, and interpret it, reporting the findings in the appropriate section of the study report (MEERA, n.d.). The classification of responses by similarities in perceptions and experiences will help the researcher analyze the data and draw accurate conclusions (Shaw & Holland, 2014). Professional competence, position within the company, and number of years working with the company are the focus of the selection criteria as these factors serve to confirm that potential participants have enough experience to become an interviewee (Johnson & Christensen, 2014; Palinkas et al., 2015).
Interviews are the tool for collecting primary data that will form the foundation for future recommendations. However, it is paramount to refer to other sources of data because a focus only on the lived experiences of people in the research sample is not sufficient to draw accurate conclusions (Flick, 2014). The secondary sources of interest for the proposed research include company statistics and investigations of employee performance and turnover rates, if provided; studies on work-related stress and its causes; and studies on strategies for reducing the risks of stress in the workplace and mitigating the negative consequences (Flick, 2014). These sources should be analyzed because of their value for drawing accurate conclusions and making comprehensive recommendations, together with their usefulness for generalizing the findings of the proposed qualitative case study, checking the findings’ reliability, and integrating them within the broader frame of research (Flick, 2014; Hesse-Biber, 2016).
After collecting the required data from both primary and secondary sources, the processing stage will begin. The purpose of data processing is to make sense of the obtained facts and use them to find answers to the research questions (Roller & Lavrakas, 2015). Data processing involves the fractionalizing and conceptualization of answers, a step that is completed by identifying the most frequently occurring concepts and topics in the interviews (Miles et al., 2014). The first step of data processing will include the transcription of collected data and a request that the respondents check the accuracy of transcripts (Shaw & Holland, 2014). This check is necessary to ensure data validity and reliability as well as to enhance ethical assurances. The next step includes coding responses to interview questions to organize them and simplify the analysis of trends and patterns in responses (Rubin & Babbie, 2010).
Flick (2014) pointed to some specific threats to data validity posed by small sample sizes. Although they are the best option for qualitative research, small samples require extra attention on behalf of the researcher to ensure validity (Flick, 2014). To cope with this problem, the researcher must implement both member checking and triangulation of analyses. Member checking is the simplest tool for guaranteeing the reliability of the obtained information, and it includes sending interviewees’ transcripts to them to ensure that what was said is accurate and reflects what they truly intended to convey (Harper & Cole, 2012). Though time-consuming, this technique is valuable for minimizing the risks of error when taking notes or of missing any important details (Harper & Cole, 2012).
As for triangulation, this technique enhances the reliability and validity of collected data on account of its use of different methods for data analysis (Flick, 2014; Grbich, 2013). For example, methodological triangulation entails a comparison of the current findings with the results of research in the area of interest or the use of various tools for analyzing perceptions (e.g., both software and manual estimations; Hesse-Biber, 2016; Miles et al., 2014; Roller & Lavrakas, 2015). The central goal is to obtain identical results through different methods and tools for data processing; achieving this mark highlights the reliability of the collected information and the credibility of the research (Johnson & Christensen, 2014). Another technique that the proposed study will incorporate to increase the accuracy of the collected data is conducting interviews within the respondents’ natural environment. By doing so, the researcher can supplement answers to interview questions with observations of work conditions and interactions between team members, both of which might reveal some crucial factors leading to occupational stress in the chosen company (Grbich, 2013; Miles et al., 2014).
According to Patton (2014), assumptions in qualitative research are ideas that a researcher believes to be true and basic, which make up the foundation of the study. In the proposed study, several assumptions are extant. One assumption is that the people included in the sample represent the perceptions of employees and managers working in the ship-repair industry (i.e., reflect the whole population of interest; Yin, 2013). Another is that respondents are open and honest during interviews. According to Miles et al. (2014) and Palinkas et al. (2015), it is necessary to guarantee that all obtained data are relevant, accurate, and generalizable, reflecting the current matters of concern in the maritime industry. The third assumption is in regards to the competence and professionalism of the people chosen for the sample; in other words, the participants should not only reflect the ship-repair worker population as a whole but should also possess knowledge and information relevant to answering the research questions and achieving the research objectives (Yin, 2013). Furthermore, it is assumed that enough data and facts will be collected during interviews to address all significant questions and draw accurate conclusions, without the need to carry out more interviews or gather more data. Another assumption is that the interviewees will give honest answers concerning the strategies they use in order to cope with work-related stress. The final assumption is that those who are chosen based on their positions in the organization are qualified and knowledgeable enough to serve as respondents for the study. In addition to these assumptions, there are some limitations and delimitations of the proposed research design.
The primary challenge in processing data is combating potential threats to data validity and reliability. Patton (2014) stated that is crucial to ensure that the information gathered in the course of research is accurate and does not distort reality because the truth of the data determines the comprehensiveness of the study’s conclusions and recommendations. According to Flick (2014), limitations are structural features of a research study that impose risks of drawing inadequate conclusions or failing to reach research objectives. There are several significant limitations of the proposed research. The central research limitation is the small sample size of 12; it might serve as a threat to the accuracy of conclusions and recommendations as well as to the generalizability of the research findings (Flick, 2014). According to Yin (2013), interview questions should not be too wordy, should leave space for freedom of reflection, and should not hint at any direction of an answer. Moreover, there should not be too many questions in the interview; a sense of hurry and a lack of time for collecting and recording necessary details and facts pose a threat to adequate and accurate information (Yin, 2013). One more limitation involves the professional duties of the respondents; the employees may become unwilling to participate in the research due to some personal or work-related obligations on the day of conducting interviews (Emmel, 2013). A follow-up strategy will be in place to address this limitation and to reach out to the respondents who missed their interviews due to work requirements. The other limitations of this study are the need for manual data input (i.e., the typing of the interview content into text files) and the individual approach to each of the respondents. These measures extend the time required to collect and process data and thus increase the study’s cost. However, the improved quality of the collected data and the thoroughness of its analysis outweigh the increased time and potentially elevated cost.
Patton (2014) stated that delimitation is the process of eliminating repetitive, inaccurate, or overlapping data. Because the primary matter of concern is sample size and the competence of people chosen for the interviews, selecting only people who are currently employed and working within one working environment is the central delimitation helpful for drawing conclusions for the given environment. Reducing the scope of generalizations to the chosen ship-repair company instead of the maritime industry as a whole is the central guarantee of appropriate findings of the research and recommendations. According to Dworkin (2012) and Crouch and McKenzie (2006), small samples are the most appropriate option for obtaining an in-depth understanding of the research subject. Because this is the central research objective, the small sample size is also a delimitation of the proposed research design.
Flick (2014) stated that the foundation of meaningful research is appropriately addressing ethical issues and fulfilling an obligation to value the human and social rights of respondents. In addition, ethical and methodological choices should come together to protect interviewees and support conclusions and recommendations (Patton, 2014). In other words, researchers need to collect, process, and store data without breaching the privacy and confidentiality of the respondents or exposing them to ethical issues in the workplace. At the same time, ethical assurances have a direct influence on the dissemination of research findings and the recognition of their significance by higher levels of the academy (Roller & Lavrakas, 2015). A study that is ethically conscious and whose author has implemented the measures necessary for the respondents’ confidentiality and safety and the security of data is more likely to be replicated and trusted as a reliable academic source. There are several steps of the research process that require ethical assurances, from the development of the interview questions to the analysis of collected data and the storage and maintenance of information. It is also imperative to obtain the consent of the senior management of the company under investigation. Guaranteeing the confidentiality of employees and managers as well as the anonymity of the company is an appropriate approach for overcoming these ethical challenges (Hoonaard, 2002). Additionally, it is paramount to point to the potential positive consequences of the research for the company in question (Roller & Lavrakas, 2015), as the findings and conclusions might be helpful for reducing occupational stress and improving job satisfaction and employee performance.
Obtaining the informed consent of interviewees is critical as well (Patton, 2014). The central idea is to guarantee the privacy and confidentiality of respondents by defining the frames of the research project and the data that will be gathered, analyzed, and shared (Miller, Mauthner, Birch, & Jessop, 2012). Moreover, it is necessary to guarantee each individual’s right to self-determination (i.e., the right to choose whether he or she wants to become part of the project upon the revelation of all study details or whether he or she would rather not participate; Hennick, Hutter, & Balley, 2011). According to Hennick et al. (2011), guaranteeing the right to self-determination, together with confidentiality and anonymity, is the only option for ensuring the safety of participants in studies similar to the present one where no physical or psychological risks exist. By giving informed consent, the respondents become aware of what kind of data the researchers will collect, for what purposes, and how they intend to use it. Having the given information, the participants will be able to make an informed choice about whether or not they wish to partake in the study and what kind of consequences such participation may entail.
Furthermore, for the proposed study, developing interview questions is an area of ethical concern; it is imperative to design them in an unbiased manner that demonstrates respect for human dignity and avoids gender- or race-based discrimination (Milton, 2013). By conducting interviews in a gender-neutral and race-neutral manner, the researcher can avoid bias and foster the trust and openness of respondents, thereby maximizing the chances of collecting relevant and accurate data (Miller et al., 2012). Finally, ethical assurances are also present in data analysis because this step requires the researcher to remain unbiased and objective in order to draw accurate conclusions and recommendations (Miller et al., 2012; Roller & Lavrakas, 2015).
Three principles apply to any research involving the participation of human subjects: 1) respect for the participants and the provision of anonymity and protection; 2) beneficence that stands for causing no harm and maximizing positive outcomes; and 3) justice that involves taking into consideration the participants’ equality and individual needs (HHS, n.d.). The given principles are a part of the Belmont Report of 1979, the primary objective of which is the protection of human subjects involved in scientific research of any kind. Regardless of the subject matter or research design, the authors of any ethical study must adhere to all of the principles preserving the rights of the participants.
A qualitative exploratory case study is the best choice for achieving the objectives of the proposed research because of the study’s focus on perceptions and worldviews, as well as its need for a comprehensive analysis of one particular environment and different aspects of the chosen phenomenon (Dworkin, 2012; O’Sullivan et al., 2008). Interviews comprising open-ended questions that focus on the respondents’ lived experiences, feelings about occupational stress, and ways to reduce it are the primary tool for data collection. Previous research in the same area, company investigations of workplace stress, and statistics of job performance and turnover rate are the study’s sources of secondary data. The sample for the research is small, made up of 12 people (five master tradesmen and seven managers of a ship-repair service company located within the Hampton Roads area in Virginia). However, the small sample size is the best option for the proposed research on account of the ability to conduct individual interviews and gain detailed information for achieving the research objectives (Crouch & McKenzie, 2006; Hesse-Biber, 2016). The foundation of the data analysis is conceptualization and fractionalizing, which entails the identification of the most frequently mentioned concepts and trends in the responses to the interview questions (Miles et al., 2014). To guarantee the reliability and validity of the collected data, as well as the credibility of the research study as a whole, requires the use of member checking and methodological triangulation.
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