In the modern workplace, managers are dealing with challenges that arise as a result of occupational stress which hurts employee job satisfaction and overall performance while increasing absenteeism and turnover among the staff (Meško et al., 2013; Prater & Smith, 2011). As a result, it is paramount for managers to design and implement strategies to reduce work-related stress to avoid its undesirable effects on organizational outcomes and the future of the company (Ave, Luthans, & Jensen, 2009). In particular, the ship-repair industry has higher levels of professional stress compared to other industries (Rystedt & Lundh, 2010). The higher levels of stress in the industry result from the elevated risk for work-related accidents, overtime shifts, and heavy overloads coupled with a managerial lack of knowledge and skills to reduce workplace stress (Bakotić & Babić, 2013; Sherridan & Ashcroft, 2015). This qualitative exploratory case study, therefore, seeks to evaluate the approaches employed by the management in the ship-repair industry about work-related stress. The study will seek to determine the strategies undertaken by the managers to minimize the negative effects of work-related stress and reduce staff turnover while ensuring that the staff remains productive in their areas of work. The study will evaluate the approaches used in light of the existing literature to determine the most effective methods. The study data will be from the interviews with the staff employees and managers in Hampton Roads in the area of Virginia.
In order to explore the techniques used by the managers working within the ship-repair industry in managing work-related stress and determine the effectiveness of the strategies, this qualitative exploratory case study will seek to answer the following questions:
- RQ1. What are the primary aspects of the work that may lead to occupational stress in the ship-repair industry?
- RQ2. What are the occupational consequences of work-related stress in the ship-repair industry?
- RQ3. How does work-related stress affect employees, employee performance, turnover, and absenteeism?
- RQ4. What strategies are most effective in reducing work-related stress and improving overall performance in the ship-repair industry?
Research Method and Design
Finding accurate and relevant answers to the questions of this research project requires the selection of an appropriate research method. The suitability of the qualitative research method emanates from the fact that it will facilitate the author to analyze personal experiences, behaviors, and social contexts. There are several motivations for choosing this method instead of others. Unlike a quantitative research design based on cause-and-effect relationships, a qualitative research method 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, a qualitative research method enables the author to capture both feelings and perceptions (Caruth, 2013). Moreover, it is the only research method that allows for an in-depth understanding of a chosen phenomenon and focuses on different aspects of a research subject (Lund, 2012). Qualitative research is the only method justifying the use of small samples because they are valuable for obtaining an in-depth understanding of the matter of research interest (Dworkin, 2012). Because the focus of the proposed research is on the perceptions of occupational stress and personal experiences related to it, the qualitative research method is the best choice. The design of the four research questions provides further support for the study as they underline the magnitude of interviewer’s personal histories while hinting at the research objectives (Agee, 2009).
The selected research design for this research is a case study. Its usefulness for drawing accurate conclusions and making recommendations based on personal experiences and comprehension of the research subject, together with its appropriateness for analyzing situations and behaviors affected by the external environment instead of a researcher, are the reasons for choosing the case study from among other research designs (Yin, 2013). In addition, it is the most suitable design for this research that entails an analysis of the respondents’ natural environment and issues that dynamically change over time under the influence of external factors such as alterations in strategies for reducing occupational stress or any changes in working conditions or schedules (Crowe et al., 2011). This research design is appropriate for reaching the given research objectives because it is perfect for assessing the challenge of work-related stress in the ship-repair industry from several different perspectives, as the opinions of employees and managers will provide the necessary background for drawing accurate conclusions. The research design is effective as it will allow the respondents to provide the necessary answers without being limited in their responses.
Roller and Lavrakas (2015) stated population is a group of individuals possessing equal or nearly the same experience and knowledge necessary for obtaining a better understanding of the problem of research interest. According to Patton (2014), it is critical to guarantee the representativeness of the selected population, ( i.e., assure that they meet particular research criteria so that generalizing findings is possible). Moreover, it is essential to focus on the geographical range of the target population and choose whether respondents will 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 would add enough heterogeneity (Patton, 2014).
The target population for this study is made up of employees of companies operating in the ship-repair industry. For this research, the Hampton Roads area in Virginia will serve as the primary location. The rationale for choosing this area is the number of ship-repair companies operating within the territory (Virginia Ship Repair Association, n.d.). This would increase the opportunity for choosing people with enough knowledge and expertise to achieve the research objectives, collect the appropriate data, and reach accurate conclusions as well as reduce the risks of excessive heterogeneity (Roller & Lavrakas, 2014; Patton, 2014). Today, more than 250 companies are employing more than 60,000 people in this region (Virginia Ship Repair Association, n.d.). To fully answer the research questions, several stratifications will be employed to guide the selection of the most appropriate respondents, those who have enough professional competence and experience to give adequate and trustworthy information regarding issues of interest (Johnson & Christensen, 2014). The idea is to involve those employed by one company to generalize findings for one organization. These findings will serve as the foundation for making recommendations for future research.
Patton (2014) states that a sample is a group of people chosen among the target population because a researcher believes they are representative and their experience is generalizable. The sample size will be seventeen people: five helpers, five tradespersons, and seven managers of a ship-repair service company located within the Hampton Roads area in Virginia. A small sample is beneficial for obtaining in-depth understanding of the issue under consideration, and it is the only way to conduct individual interviews with each respondent, which is necessary to collect enough information and address the research objective (Crouch & McKenzie, 2006; Hesse-Biber, 2016). Moreover, including different employment positions in the sample is necessary for obtaining different perspectives on 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).
To identify appropriate people and include them in the sample under investigation, purposeful and stratified sampling techniques have been chosen. The basis of purposeful sampling is the assumption that only those having 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). This sampling technique is one of the most frequently used in qualitative research due to the specific attention it pays to the personal experiences of the respondents and their roles in drawing conclusions (Palinkas et al., 2015). This sampling technique will serve the purpose of emphasizing the professional background of each interviewee.
Stratified sampling is a supplement to purposeful sampling to gather more accurate data. The foundation of this method is adding people belonging to a particular group or population or meeting particular selection criteria to a sample. The motivation for identifying the last stratum is the desire to mitigate the risks of heterogeneity of respondents (Patton, 2014). These criteria constitute a stratum (Johnson & Christensen, 2014). For this research, there will be several criteria for selecting respondents: occupying a particular position within a company, lengthy tenure (at least five years), and working within one department.
Interviews are the primary tool for data collection. This step requires different tools and materials such as interview guides and interview questions. Interview guides will direct the collection of data. Even though interview questions will be designed as open-ended, making them adaptable and easy to change in the course of an interview, it is imperative to use interview guides to ensure discussing the same topics with all respondents and asking them the same questions (Roller & Lavrakas, 2015). According to Roller and Lavrakas, interview guides should include the list of interview questions constructed in such a way as to cover all topics significant for analyzing the issue of occupational stress and strategies for reducing it and mitigating its negative consequences on both organizational and human resource performance. For qualitative research, interviews should take place based on a predetermined schedule, and unplanned ones should be avoided because they pose a threat to data accuracy (Rubin & Babbie, 2010).
The researcher will develop the survey questions for the research interviews. Given the sensitive nature of the study, the document will require approval from the Institutional Review Board before use. The research will also be required to carry out a pilot study to enhance the quality of the tool and ensure that it will serve to be effective in collecting the data during the study. Upon completion of the interviews, it is necessary to ensure that the data is valid using triangulation and member checking to guarantee accurate conclusions that might be generalized for the company under investigation and to deal with the threat of inadequate representation of reality (Flick, 2014; Harper & Cole, 2012). Finally, the software will be used for data processing and analysis because it is helpful regarding avoiding errors common to manual processing and increases the possibility of drawing accurate conclusions as well as reduces the time required for data processing and recommendations (Shaw & Holland, 2014).
Data Collection, Processing, and Analysis
Interviews are a tool for data collection. According to Patton (2014), an interview is the interchange of world views between two persons—interviewer and interviewee. Developing interview questions is the first step in the data collection process. The motivation for selecting interviews from other data collection tools is their usefulness for estimating and analyzing different perspectives on the issue under consideration and the opportunity for the examination of numerous aspects of reality and the working conditions within one environment (King & Horrock, 2010). Moreover, interviews are the best option for obtaining an in-depth understanding of the selected 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, which builds up the limitations of the response (Seidman, 2013). The interview questions will represent the research objectives and research questions and hint at the subjectivity of answers and focus on obtaining information about personal experiences relating to occupational stress and the perceptions of its consequences (Agee, 2009; King & Horrocks, 2010). The study will not need to use any secondary data apart from the documentations that exist within the human resources of the target organization. The documents will include minutes of the meeting containing information on management of work-related stress and situations when the staff had documented their experiences.
The recruitment of participants for the data collection process is the selection of appropriate people to include in the sample for the research. Competence, the positions occupied within the company, and the number of years working with the company are the focus of the recruitment process. These factors serve to confirm that they have enough experience to become an interviewee (Johnson & Christensen, 2014; Palinkas et al., 2015). Data collection process will constitute through conducting interviews with the selected respondents within their natural environment will constitute the final stage. By doing so, the researcher can increase the accuracy of the collection process by making some notes about working conditions and observing any team interactions that might be valuable for the research objectives, as they might add to the risks of occupational stress (Agee, 2009).
Interviews are the tool for collecting primary data that will make up the foundation for future recommendations. Still, it is paramount to point to the significance of other sources of data, as the focus on the lived experiences of people in the research sample is not sufficient to draw accurate conclusions (Flick, 2014). Preference will be given to the findings of previous qualitative studies in the area of research interest and the data collected by other authors (Roller & Lavrakas, 2015). Secondary sources of interest for this research include company statistics and investigations of employee performance and turnover rates if provided, and studies on work-related stress and its causes, as well as studies on strategies for reducing the risks of its emergence 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 by juxtaposing these results with those of previous studies (Flick, 2014; Hesse-Biber, 2016).
Once the process of collecting the required data is complete 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 the answers to the research questions (Roller & Lavrakas, 2015). It involves fractionalizing and conceptualization of answers, a step that is completed by identifying the most frequently occurring concepts and topics in the course of an interview (Miles et al., 2014). The first step of data processing will include the transcription of collected data and asking respondents to check the accuracy of transcripts (Shaw & Holland, 2014). It is necessary for ensuring data validity and reliability as well as enhancing ethical assurances. The next step includes coding responses to interview questions to organize them and simplify the analysis of trends and consistent patterns in responses (Rubin & Babbie, 2010). Once coded, responses will be classified by similarities in perceptions and experiences so that it is possible to analyze the data and draw accurate conclusions (Shaw & Holland, 2014).
Flick (2014) points to the 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 regarding checking the collected data for validity (Flick, 2014). To cope with this problem, member checking and triangulation will be implemented. Member checking is the simplest tool for guaranteeing the reliability of the obtained information. It includes restating the central ideas and concepts mentioned by an interviewee in the course of communication (Harper & Cole, 2012). Even though it is time-consuming, this technique is valuable for minimizing the risk of making errors when taking notes or missing any important details (Harper & Cole, 2012).
The central goal is to obtain identical results through different methods and tools for data processing because achieving this mark will highlight the reliability of the collected information and the credibility of the research (Johnson & Christensen, 2014). The study will, therefore, employ triangulation and conduct the interview within the respondent’s environment. Triangulation is important as it enhances the reliability and validity of collected data due to its use of different methods for data analysis (Flick, 2014; Grbich, 2013). For example, methodological triangulation entails comparing the current findings with the results of research in the area of interest or using various tools for analyzing perceptions, e.g. both software and manual estimations (Hesse-Biber, 2016; Miles et al., 2014). Another technique that this study incorporates to increase the accuracy of the collected data is conducting interviews within the respondents’ natural environment. The interviews conducted in the participant’s environments will ensure that the answers to interview questions could be supplemented by observing work conditions and interactions between team members, both of which might reveal some crucial factors leading to the emergence of 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 are true and basic, which make up the foundation of the study. This study also has several assumptions. One assumption is that people included in the sample of the research 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 is relevant, accurate, and generalizable, reflecting the matters of concern currently existing in the maritime industry. The third assumption is the belief in the competence and professionalism of the people chosen as the sample; in other words, the participants should not only reflect the whole ship-repair worker population but should also possess valuable knowledge and information relevant to answering the research questions and achieving the research objectives (Yin, 2013). Furthermore, the assumption is 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 and gather more data. In addition, the design of the interview questions is proper and complies with the purposes of the research, promoting openness and trustworthiness as well as the desire to share personal experiences and perceptions about occupational stress as well as reduce it. The final assumption is that there will be enough time to obtain necessary information during the planned duration of an interview and the interviews will be conducted in-person to record all significant details and facts to avoid missing or losing valuable information. Still, there are some limitations and delimitations of the proposed research design.
According to Flick (2014), limitations are structural features of a research study, which impose risks of drawing inadequate conclusions or failing to reach research objectives. There are several significant limitations of the proposed research. The main limitation of the research will be the small sample size of seventeen individuals. The limitation might pose a challenge to the process of drawing conclusions, making recommendations and generalizing the research findings (Flick, 2014). Another potential limitation of the proposed research design is the quantity and wording of questions. 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; if there is a sense of hurry and no time for collecting and recording necessary details and facts, it is a threat to collecting adequate and accurate information (Yin, 2013). Another challenge that will occur during the process of data processing is that of combating potential threats to data validity and reliability. Patton (2014) states that it is crucial to ensure that the information provided in the research is accurate and does not distort reality because the truth of the data determines the comprehensiveness of the conclusions and recommendations. Member checking will be employed by the researcher to enhance the validity and reliability of the data provided. Still, the most significant limitation of the study is the potential for choosing the wrong people for inclusion in the study. These could be individuals who lack competence or knowledge of the issue under investigation, those who do not have enough experience of working in the ship-repair industry to give a detailed and in-depth understanding of occupational stress. The group could also be individuals who are unwilling to participate in the research because of some personal obligations on the day of conducting interviews (Emmel, 2013).
At the same time, there are some significant delimitations. Patton (2014) states that delimitation is the process of eliminating repetitive, inaccurate, or overlapping data. Because the primary matter of concern is sample size and competence of people chosen for the interviews, selecting only people who are currently employed and working within one working environment is the central delimitation because it will help conclude this particular environment. Reducing the scope of generalizations to the chosen ship-repair company instead of the whole maritime industry 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 it is the central research objective, the small sample size is also a delimitation of the proposed research design.
Flick (2014) states that the foundation of meaningful research is appropriate for addressing ethical issues and an obligation to value the human and social rights of respondents. In addition, there should be an intersection between ethics and the methodology adopted to protect interviewees and support conclusions and recommendations (Patton, 2014). At the same time, ethical assurances have a direct influence on the dissemination of research findings and recognize their significance by higher reaches of academic life (Roller & Lavrakas, 2015). Several steps of the research require ethical assurances, starting with the development of the interview questions to the analysis of collected data. It is imperative to obtain the consent from 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 this challenge (Hoonaard, 2002). Additionally, it is paramount to point to potential positive consequences of the research for the company life (Roller & Lavrakas, 2015), as the findings and conclusions might be helpful for reducing occupational stress and improving job satisfaction and employee performance.
Obtaining informed consent of interviewees is critical as well (Patton, 2014). The central idea is to guarantee the privacy and confidentiality of respondents determining the frames of the research project and the research data, analysis process, and sharing of findings (Miller, Mauthner, Birch, & Jessop, 2012). Moreover, it is necessary to guarantee individuals’ right to self-determination, (i.e., the right to choose whether they want to become part of the project once they receive all the or whether they are interested in staying away) (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 like this because they are no physical or psychological risks.
Furthermore, developing interview questions is an area of ethical concern, as it is imperative to design them in an unbiased manner that demonstrates respect for human dignity and avoids discrimination about gender or race (Milton, 2013). Also, it is paramount to conduct interviews in a gender-neutral and race-neutral manner to avoid bias and foster trust and openness of respondents, thereby maximizing the chances of collecting relevant and accurate data (Miller et al., 2012). According to the Belmont Report, it is critical for research to apply the principle of beneficence to minimize risks to the participants while at the same time maximizing the benefits of the research (Milton, 2013). It is also critical to ensure that the participants are provided with all the information concerning the research before they can consent to participate. A researcher also needs to make sure that the burden incurred is distributed among all the parties involved to minimize the damage. Finally, ethical assurances are also present in data analysis because it also requires remaining unbiased and objective to draw accurate conclusions and recommendations (Miller et al., 2012; Roller & Lavrakas, 2015).
A qualitative exploratory case study is the best choice for achieving the objectives of the proposed research due to the focus on perceptions and worldviews and the comprehensive analysis of one particular environment and different aspects of the chosen phenomenon (Dworkin, 2012; O’Sullivan et al., 2008). Conducting interviews with open-ended questions that focus on the respondents’ lived experiences and feelings about occupational stress, and ways to reduce it are the primary data collection tool. Previous research in the same area and company investigations of workplace stress and statistics of job performance and turnover rate are the sources of secondary data. The sample for this research is small, made up of seventeen people (five helpers, five tradespersons, and seven managers of a ship-repair service company located within the Hampton Roads area in Virginia). However, this small sample size is the most beneficial option for the proposed research due to the possibility of conducting individual interviews and gaining detailed information for achieving research objectives (Crouch & McKenzie, 2006; Hesse-Biber, 2016). The foundation of the data analysis is the conceptualization and fractionalizing that entails the identification of the most frequently mentioned concepts and trends in the responses to the interview questions (Miles et al., 2014). The research will employ member checking and triangulation to guarantee the reliability and validity of the collected data and the credibility of the process.
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