Written By: Michael Kurtagh
Types of Stressors
One of the major individual factors that influence job performance is stress. Stress is a major issue in the workplace, and managers should do all that they can to solve it because “stressful work demands are thought to reduce employee satisfaction, commitment, and retention.” (Lepine, Lepine & Podsakoff, 2007, p.438) This blog post will focus on identifying some of the major stressors one experiences in a work environment. The major workplace stressors are broken down into two categories, hindrance stressors and challenge stressors. Hindrance stressors are stressful demands that are viewed as roadblocks to achieving goals and accomplishments. Challenge stressors are stressful demands that are viewed as potential learning and growth experiences. These two categories are then often split into work and non-work stressors.
When comparing the two types of stressors, hindrance stressors can be considered the worst of the two. While both types can be exhausting and difficult for the person experiencing them, challenge stressors at least offer the potential for personal growth. Hindrance stressors on the other hand are simply obstacles to the person accomplishing whatever it is they are trying to do. Because they have no redeeming qualities like challenge stressors, hindrance stressors can be much more of a burden on a person’s work performance.
Work Related Hindrance Stressors:
As mentioned before, stressors can be further broken down into work and non-work categories. Work related stressors are those that are directly related to your work. One type of work related hindrance stressor is role conflict. Role conflict is the issues that arise when there is differing expectations of the work you are expected to do. For example, if you’re assigned a task that is measured by both speed and quality, it will be difficult to deliver on both measurements. If you focus on quickly completing the task, the quality may suffer or vice versa. This conflict of expectations would be stressful for most everyone. Another type of work related hindrance stressor is role ambiguity. Role ambiguity is when a worker is assigned a role with little direction and/or the way their performance in that role will be measure is also unclear. New employees often suffer this kind of stress because they may not be provided sufficient training or information regarding the job they have been given. Even if an employee is provided with proper amounts of information about the role they have, they may still suffer stress from role ambiguity if they are unsure how their performance will be graded in that role. Role overload is when a person is asked to fill too many roles and cannot perform all or some of the roles effectively. The last work related hindrance stressor is daily hassles. These are simply any little obstacles that get in the way of completing your main goals and objectives. This could be things like having to sit through unnecessary meetings or having to complete paperwork.
Non-Work Related Hindrance Stressors:
Non-work related stressors are events that occur outside of your job but cause stress at work. One type of non-work related hindrance stressor is work-family conflict. Work-family conflict is when a family role interferes with a work role, damaging the person’s ability to fulfill those roles. This conflict can go both ways, with problems at home effecting work performance or problems at work affecting an employee’s family life. An example would be a big argument with a spouse causing a person to be less attentive and focused on their work. Another non-work related hindrance stressor is negative life events. Negative life events are any serious events that cause stress in all facets of the person’s life. Things like the death of a spouse or being diagnosed with a serious illness will cause a great deal of stress for a person and it can reflect in their work. The last type of non-work related hindrance stressor is financial uncertainty. This is when a person is uncertain of or is concerned about their financial stability.
While challenge stressors can be just as difficult as hindrance stressors to cope with, they offer the potential for personal growth. By having some redeeming value, challenge stressors can often be viewed as almost being positive. Research states that “learners who experience stress associated with high workload and difficult learning content will exert more energy trying to learn because they believe that by doing so they will eventually come to understand and master the material.” (Jackson, Lepine & Lepine, 2004, p. 885) A completely stress free environment sounds very nice, but some stress can be good if it helps to motivate a person and bring about their best work. While hindrance stressors may be nothing but a nuisance, challenge stressors can help to bring out the best of a worker.
Work Related Challenge Stressors:
Like hindrance stressors, challenge stressors are broken down into work and non-work related categories. One work related stressor is time pressure. Time pressure is when a person feels that the amount of time they are being given to complete task isn't enough. While this situation can be and is extremely stressful, the strict time constraints can often cause a person to produce their best and most efficient work. Having no deadline may result in much less stress, but it can also result in much less efficient and productive work. Time pressure can be too great though, as evidenced by a Canadian study that showed workers identified time pressure as one of the greatest contributors of stress (Williams, 2003). Another type of work related challenge stressor is work complexity. Work complexity is when an employee is tasked with something that they believe is beyond their knowledge or ability. This can be incredibly stressful but also very rewarding. By placing the worker outside their comfort zone they can grow a great deal and feel lots of satisfaction if they are successful. The last work related challenge stressor is work responsibility. Work responsibility is the scope and importance someone’s job is relative to the responsibility they have to others. If the failure or success of a task only impacts a few people, the stress of that task will be a lot less. If many people are depending on the successful competition of the task, the task will be much more stressful. This added stress isn't necessarily bad though, as it can motivate and inspire the person to give their best effort so that they don’t fail all those counting on them.
Non-Work Related Challenge Stressors:
One type of non-work related challenge stressor is family time demands. Family time demands is the time a person has to commit to familial activities and responsibilities. What makes this different than family-work conflict is that family time demands aren't necessarily negative. Having to attend a child’s school event may create stress if it conflicts with work, but there’s no negative aspect. Another type of non-work related challenge stressor is personal development. Personal development is any actions being taken by an individual to better themselves. This could be things like volunteer work or music lessons. Having to commit time to these events may cause stress, but they result in positive outcomes. The final non-work related challenge stressor is positive life events. This could be things like pregnancy or marriage. While these events can cause a great deal of stress, their positive nature means it’s much easier to deal with.
Being able to understand and identify the major types of stressors is an important skill for both employees and employers. By understanding the types of stressors, an employee can better anticipate stressful situations and prepare themselves to deal with it. They can also differentiate between challenge and hindrance stressors which would allow them to better manage their stress. Knowing that situations that produce challenge stress are beneficial would help an employee be less frustrated because they understand that there is a reward for experiencing that stress. An employer can benefit a great deal by knowing the types of stressors because they can better understand what their employees may be experiencing. If the employer can identify what may cause hindrance stress they can attempt to remedy those situations before employees are affected. Overall, stress is a major influence on the an individual’s job performance and understanding the major types of stressors is an important step in dealing with stress.
LePine, J. A., LePine, M. A., & Saul, J. R. (2007). Relationships among work and non-work challenge and hindrance stressors and non-work and work criteria: A model of cross-domain stressor effects. (pp. 35-72). US: Elsevier Science/JAI Press. Retrieved from Proquest.
LePine, J. A., LePine, M. A., & Jackson, C. L. (2004). Challenge and hindrance stress: Relationships with exhaustion, motivation to learn, and learning performance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 89(5), 883-891. Retrieved from Proquest.
Williams, C. (2003). Sources of workplace stress. Perspectives on Labour and Income, 15(3), 0-n/a. Retrieved from Proquest.