Strategies for Managing Stress in Organizations

Subject: Employee Management
Pages: 8
Words: 2227
Reading time:
9 min
Study level: PhD


Stress is an inevitable phenomenon in human lives that is caused by a wide spectrum of disturbing factors. Its effects can be either beneficial or undesirable. In the wake of industrialization, technological advancement, and globalization, the workplace has been characterized by a complexity of distressing factors. As a result, managers, employees, and other stakeholders often find themselves in nerve-wracking conditions, which have tremendous effects on organizational activities that involve the formulation of decisions. This situation has raised a need to formulate pertinent stress management strategies in organizations. This essay presents a review of various scholarly resources with a view of addressing the strategies of alleviating the negative impacts of stress on managerial responsibilities.

Making Decision under Duress

Stress can negatively influence one’s intelligence and the quality of decision-making processes. Anxious decision-makers often end up considering wrong choices that can lead to organizational failure. Matin, Razavi, and Emamgholizadeh (2014) reported that stress (perceived as time pressure), low self-esteem, and punishment threats for poor performance resulted in more errors in cognitive tasks, use of judgmental stereotypes, and a greater tendency to ignore situational norms. Matin et al. (2014) found that the quality of group decisions declined under fretfulness. Decisions that are formulated under stressful conditions usually bring about impaired performance (Matin et al., 2014; Bednarz, 2011). As a result, they generate fewer alternatives because they appear less attractive. Various studies have revealed that such decisions have detrimental effects on both employee and organizational performance. The level of stress amplifies or lessens depending on the number of demands that are placed upon the leaders of the organization. Relationship strengthening, conflict resolution, decision-making, and managerial responsibilities are the most frequent demands that contribute to increased levels of stress amongst bosses. Furthermore, leadership obligations such as employee development and management of limited resources also create distress in the workplace. Other physical demands such as travel, work hours, and organizational environment also augment stress levels amongst leaders (Bednarz, 2011).

Different explanations have been put forward to demonstrate deleterious behavior under stressful circumstances. Decision-makers seek lucid solutions that are not applicable under the prevailing work conditions (Morten & Karlsen, 2013). Usually, they ignore vital information. This situation leads to the use of cheap and unsuitable strategies. Nguyen, Boehmer, & Mujtaba (2012) posit that managers should use the decision conflict theory to develop coping behaviors with a view of alleviating stressful conditions. In this state of affairs, they frantically seek solutions without considering viable alternatives. They also process information in a disorganized manner, a situation that leads to rapid shifts among possible solutions. In addition, stress can interfere with the neutral evaluation of responses (Nguyen et al. 2012). Since rationality is governed by the ability of the human mind to process complex circumstances, typifying the availability bias under stressful conditions compels most decision-makers to adopt familiar responses from experiences that may be inadequate for the challenge at hand.

In his book ‘The Stress Effect’, Dr. Henry L Thompson asks, “Why do great leaders make catastrophic errors?” He hypothesizes that too much stress is usually the cause. Thompson (2010) reveals that the effects of extreme pressure can shut down a leader’s emotional and cognitive intelligence.

Effects of Stress on Organizational Operations

Numerous studies reveal that stress costs industrial firms approximately 300 billion dollars per annum in the United States. Thompson (2010) points out that it also results in absenteeism, productivity loss, accidents, and increased medical insurance claims. Between 75 and 85 percent of all industrial accidents are caused by stress. Indeed, it is listed as one of the six leading causes of death in the United States (Thompson, 2010).

Presenting the latest neuroscience on the causes of stress, Thompson (2010) shows how the human brain responds to pressure. He explains that stress results in increased levels of cortisol in the human brain. This situation shuts down the brain’s cognitive abilities. Since an increase in cortisol interferes with people’s neurotransmitters, the ability to remember past memories and produce new one’s declines. He says that the worst time to make important decisions is when our minds are preoccupied with the effects of too much stress. Managerial jobs have been identified as potentially high stressors (Selart & Johansen, 2011). Lack of resources, insufficient time, pressure to make urgent decisions without adequate information, and interpersonal conflicts represent a few examples of the factors that provoke managerial stress.

A Canadian study that involved 236 managers revealed that 60-percent of the respondents were type A1 (Selart & Johansen, 2011). A separate study that was conducted by Darling and Heller (2011) showed that over 80-percent of the managers were classified as type A. In addition, numerous researchers have asserted that the tyrannical boss is the most frequently mentioned source of stress (Darling & Heller, 2011). Batool (2013) identified stress from superiors, workload, and home versus work conflict as the most salient factors. On the other hand, numerous researchers have revealed that managers who perceived their superiors as untrustworthy and unfriendly reported more job pressure. In comprehensive research to investigate stressful cases at the workplace, Batool (2013) revealed that most employees spend a good deal of their time worrying about what their superiors think about them. In addition, self-esteem was a determinant of stress to a large degree upon the sanction of one’s superior. This situation did not necessarily yield poor performance as most leaders learned how to deal with various forms of stress. Moreover, perceived superior’s anxiety has a stronger impact on performance than job stress.

Dealing with Stress

Various ways can be used to alleviate stressful conditions in the workplace with a view of avoiding the adverse consequences on organizational responsibilities such as crucial decision-making. Thompson (2010) suggests a dominant response hierarchy that provides one-layered choices of reactions to situations that are characterized by intense stress.

Another strategy is the creation of “the relaxation response”, which puts the body into a deep state of rest. By developing the ability to relax on demand, people are able to counter times of intense stress. This practice involves slowing the heartbeat, relaxing the muscles, slowing metabolic processes, and decreasing blood pressure. Thompson (2010) provides a valuable leadership program as a framework for finding better ways of handling too much stress. This stress control program comprises three crucial subjects namely management capacity, cognitive resilience, and stress-resilient emotional intelligence. Thompson (2010) explains how organizational leaders can use the three personal resources to deal with stressful scenarios in the workplace. This practice can be an important part of developing stress management capacity that makes up the first part of Thompson’s resilient system.

The second part of the system involves the development of cognitive resilience to face extreme stress better. Beyond getting enough sleep and working to recognize any stressors that can be particularly destructive, Thompson (2010) explains that maintaining a constant awareness of anxiety levels, respecting the rest and recovery cycle, and practicing the skills repeatedly is paramount to the development of cognitive resilience.

Stress resilient emotional intelligence is the third element in Thompson’s stress system. Developing this antidote to stress begins with the recognition of warning signs. When individuals understand the feelings and effects of stress during its onset, they can begin to use the aforementioned tools to cope with the condition. Stress patients can monitor their emotional sensations and physiological responses by reviewing the feelings of other people. This situation serves as a basis for evaluating their stress levels; hence, they stand a better chance of coming up with better decisions. Therefore, people should remain aware of the stress symptoms. This situation enables them to review their feelings before jumping into inappropriate emotional responses (Thompson, 2010).

Effects of Stress on Ethical Decisions

Yao, Fan, Guo, & Li (2014) define an ethical decision as a legitimate and moral choice that abides by the norms of the community in which it prevails. On the other hand, an unethical decision can be regarded as an illegitimate choice that does not meet the morals of the community. Yao et al. (2014) emphasize that stress is strongly linked to the formulation of either ethical or unethical decisions. Behavioral ethics describes an individual in a context that is governed by certain societal judgments that are morally acceptable. However, this subtopic focuses on explaining individual behavior (ethical decision-making) in the context of the larger social prescriptions.

Given the detrimental consequences of unsound organizational practices, there is a constant need of understanding how leaders make ethical decisions. It is also important to analyze the factors that influence such decisions. Empirical studies have looked into the effects of both individual and organizational variables on ethical decision-making through analysis of factors such as education, job satisfaction, and work experience (Yao et al. (2014). However, such studies tend to include general measures and theoretical mechanisms. Therefore, understanding how stress influences ethical decision-making becomes an important aspect of organizational leadership. To intervene and reduce possible negative effects of stress on ethical decision-making, people need to think beyond the generalization of behaviors. There is a need to explore how and when stress influences the ethical decision-making process (Agboola, 2012). Depending on how stress affects the process of making choices, it can impair the attention or reduce pro-social attitudes towards different contexts. These situations can either make the process more or less effective. If negative effects of stress stem from the leaders’ ability to recognize ethical dilemmas, they can collectively raise awareness of moral issues. On the other hand, if the effect is on a leader’s willingness to prioritize moral concerns and others’ interests over egocentricity, it reminds them about the existence of ethical dilemmas in decision-making (Selart, 2010; Northouse, 2013).

How to go about Stress

Stress management is an essential undertaking in contemporary business societies. Managers are charged with a responsibility to devise appropriate strategies with a view of reducing the adverse effects of stress on both the employee and organizational performance. One way of dealing with pressure in the workplace is coping with different sources of stress (Meško et al., 2013). This practice is referred to as the cognitive-behavioral approach. Nerve-racking circumstances are inevitable in day-to-day leadership errands. It is a better approach than meditation since the latter can result in time wastage and reduced productivity. Stressful situations, especially in the modern cooperate world, will always prevail. Therefore, leaders need to train on establishing anticipated causes of stress. They should also prepare the best ways to confront them in advance (Meško et al., 2013).

Emotional regulation involves coping efforts that are aimed at adjusting emotional distress and maintaining a moderate level of arousal. An example of emotional regulation involves learning relaxation techniques or aerobic exercise with the intent of reducing the heightened levels of physiological arousal that are associated with the stress response. Northouse (2013) reveals various methods of coping with stress that include information seeking, direct action, inhibition of action, cognitive processes, and seeking support. Meško et al. (2013) assert that the inclusion of different stress management packages depends on the desired intervention level. From the above-mentioned context, five levels of stress management that include awareness building, assessment focused, skill-building, therapeutic counseling, and organizational environmental change emerge (Northouse, 2013).

Engaging in regular exercise is recommended for managers whose duties are defined by the white-collar job system (Northouse, 2013). Their roles involve non-strenuous activities such as issuing of commands through a vertical system, whose implementation is executed by the subordinates. Exercise leads to stress relief. Health scholars assert that it should be a part of everyday activities regardless of the status of the individuals. Keeping fit leads to a healthy condition, which boosts both mental and physical performance in turn.

Stress can create various problems that have significant effects on people of different classes. These hitches can assume a physical, psychological, and/or behavioral nature (Waraich & Bhardwaj, 2011; Northouse, 2013). Response to stress is contingent not only on the personality of the affected person but also on the nature of the stressors. Coping with distressing environments can take many forms because stress and its responses are multifaceted concepts. If stress is seen as a lack of fit between the person’s circumstances and reaction, training can fill the gap. According to Northouse (2013), enabling people to master their immediate environment to a reasonable extent can underpin alleviation of stress, especially in cases where it is believed that control is ineffective. Training programs for managers should include a plan to educate them on stress coping methods. It should also show them ways to exploit stressful situations to motivate their subordinates (Northouse, 2013).


The essay reveals that the existence of stress at the top organizational leadership positions is an accepted fact. Different scholars have provided an insight into the different causes of stress and possible detrimental effects that it can pose to the organization and leaders themselves. Pertinent managerial decisions have been proved inevitable when leaders execute their responsibilities under stressful circumstances. This paper has also examined the various strategies that managers need to employ to alleviate the adverse effects of stress on contemporary organizations. Although stress in the workplace has been deemed inescapable, the way leaders approach such scenarios should remain their major concern. The development of training programs that motivate employees should be the first step towards stress alleviation. Managers are also bound to apply appropriate stress management theories to address challenges that can result in the unsuccessful or delayed realization of organizational goals.


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