This article broadly addresses job-related stress and burnout with emphasis in the area of education. However, a comprehensive review of the literature on job-related stress and burnout is beyond the scope of this article (Lopez, 2000). Conversely, science and scientific practice that predates 2000 is used as a baseline and the article builds upon that groundwork from leading research in the past 10 years. The past decade has brought a host of new developments in job-related stress, burnout research and scientific practice. These new developments have also confirmed many aspects of earlier research and findings in the field.
Extensive research has been conducted and published related to occupational or job-related stress and job burnout (Toppinen-Tanner, 2002). While the literature may be characterized by with disagreement and confusion over the definition and measurement of stress and burnout, most investigators often agree that burnout is a negative reaction to occupational stress.
Stress, an adaptive response, is often defined as the relationship between the person and the environment that is appraised by the person as taxing or exceeding one’s resources and endangering one’s well-being (Demerouti, 2010). Continued stress over time can not only have a depressing effect on an individual’s job satisfaction and performance, it can also negatively affect many areas of one’s personal life as well. The longer the stress process is sustained over a prolonged period of time the more harmful it becomes. Unending and unmitigated stress also acts as a breeding ground for burnout.
While stress is considered an adaptive response, burnout is a psychological syndrome of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced personal accomplishment that can occur among individuals who work with other people in some capacity. It is characterized by physical and psychological fatigue resulting from pro- longed exposure to job-related stress (Melamed, 2006). Burned out employees are fatigued, depressed, irritable, and bored. They have become indifferent to the world around them—their work responsibilities, family, friends and colleagues alike.
Occupational stress is not always negative. Eustress represents a low level of work stress that is good or produces a positive outcome, such as enhanced drive and increased self-motivation. Depending on an individual’s tolerance for stress, referred to as ‘hardiness’ in the stress and burnout literature, a certain level of stress is needed for individuals to function at their peak. It is the unmitigated high levels of stress that cause individuals to burnout and dissociate themselves from their specific responsibilities.
Many sources of stress have been linked to a variety of occupations, i.e., health care and emergency room professionals, firefighters, police officers, librarians, lawyers, and even blue-collar workers but particularly to education (Barkhuisen, 2008). Researchers have identified job dissatisfaction, diminished professional performance and health concerns as manifestations directly associated with stress and burnout (Biron, 2008).
The experience of stressors at work created by job demands or job strain, such as excessive work demands or unrelieved work overload, lack of support from immediate supervisor, performance and time management anxiety, misunderstanding of communications, and rapid personal and work environment changes often results in depressed mood, exhaustion, poor performance, attitudes and personality changes. The personal costs of burnout include divorce, substance abuse, emotional disruption and loss of health (Pandey, 2011). A significant portion of the cost of burnout for employers, estimated in the billions of dollars, is the monetary cost of medical expenses resulting from job stress and burnout-related disorders—e.g. absenteeism, lower productivity, over-utilized health benefits, turnover and workers compensation claims due to occupational accidents (Ongori, 2008). It is estimated that organizations, profit and non-profit, underwrite an average cost of $75,000 per employee due to stress and burnout-induced disorders.
STRESS IN ACADEMIA
Many studies conducted in different countries have shown that education is generally accepted as being a highly stressful profession and of specific relevance in the teaching profession today. In addition, they must deal with career development, stress arising from attempts to cope with ever increasing job demands and expectations of superiors. Furthermore, widespread criticism of our educational system, fiscal constraints, heightened job pressures and reduced professional satisfaction has contributed to the prevalence of stress and burnout (Schaufeli, 2009). Studies examining the effects of job-related stress and burnout on faculty single out their intention to ultimately or voluntarily leave the teaching profession (voluntary turnover or premature retirement), or look for alternative sources of satisfaction and explore other career possibilities (Houston, 2006).
According to a 1998 study (Hunter, 2007), fifty percent of America’s beginning school teachers leave the classroom within their first seven years of experience and never return. Their pre-teaching ideals fade quickly when they are faced with the realities and hassles of the everyday classroom environment. Additionally, many public colleges and universities insist that marginally prepared students be allowed in the classroom. Faculty finds that dealing with these unmotivated, underprepared students is a consistent source of stress.
Faculty is expected to perform complex work in an increasingly demanding environment. Traditionally, higher education have defined the role of faculty according to the three domains of teaching, research, and service, with primary emphasis placed upon the teaching and research aspects and secondary emphasis upon service or administration. Add to this the impact on the workloads of faculty given increased expectations for measurable outputs, responsiveness to student and community needs, and overall performance accountability.
The growing literature on faculty work-life has come in response to a series of highly critical public criticisms of higher education and faculty performance, i.e., graduates from post-secondary programs lacking adequate reading, writing, and critical thinking skills. There is the general feeling in American society that schools are not doing as well as in the past in educating students. In the eyes of the public teachers and faculty share some of the blame. The great majority of studies on faculty work-life describe a high degree of satisfaction among faculty; however, they also describe faculty as dispirited, fragmented, and devalued.
There also appears to be an erosion of the morale of faculty as a result of the attack on their professional priorities, time pressures, publish or perish syndrome, excessive administrative paperwork, faculty workload and what tasks faculty should work on, working with inadequately prepared students, poor reward systems, lack of confidence in their institutions in terms of administrative and professional sup- port, and the erosion of their quality of life (Byrne, 1998). Teachers and faculty are expected to teach, counsel, research, lecture, publish, participate in community service, serve on committees, and prepare new curricula. Equally important is the impact of continuous fiscal constraints of funds for education. Overall, this has created a situation with significant potential for stress and burnout among educators.
In order to alleviate the negative consequences of workplace stress, and its ultimate manifestation, burnout, administration need to play a more central role in helping employees achieve higher performance levels. Once stress has been identified, there is a need to introduce workplace stress management interventions and successful individual techniques for coping with stress. These efforts should be directed at buffering the effects of stress, humanizing a work climate that maximizes employee performance and minimizes the negative aspects of job stress and burnout present in the work environment.
INTERVENTION STRATEGIES AND COPING WITH STRESS
There is a need to increase awareness of the stress and burnout syndrome, and describe and recommend effective methods of preventing and reducing the negative effects of burnout. This can be achieved through a joint initiative between administration, chairpersons and faculty.
Individuals must develop effective personal strategies to regain control and reduce their level of stress. Similarly, organizations must help their employees by using organizational strategies to reduce work stress and restructure the effects of burnout in the work environment (Sidle, 2008). Awareness and behavioral efforts to master, reduce or tolerate the internal/external demands that are created by stress must be introduced and made readily available in the immediate work environment.
Coping strategies and styles refer to consistent and stable preferences for par- ticular strategies for dealing with stress. Coping behaviors (or processes) represent efforts to effectively deal with demands that are created by a stressful situation.
Whatever coping strategies, styles or processes are used as the stress response and coping mechanism, by successfully coping with a stressor, individuals are able to re-establish control over their life. Additionally, these individuals are able to more effectively manage a situation and protect or enhance their well-being (Brunel, 2010).
Personal and job stress intervention techniques abound in stress literature. Of interest is that the particular intervention technique(s) used by an individual in a stressful situation are themselves modified by the individual and subsequently evaluated by the individual as to the efficacy or outcome of the stress response: What triggered the stressful situation? What stress response or coping strategy did I use? Did it lead to a healthy or unhealthy consequence?
The following personal four-step approach may help individuals initially cope with the negative effects of a stressful situation:
Being aware of the problem.
Taking active responsibility for doing something about it.
Achieving some degree of clarity on those factors or situations that trigger personal stressors.
Developing new tools for coping with and improving the range and quality of tools for adapting positively to the pressures stress generates rather than attempting to completely eliminate it.
Though there are no easy solutions for handling stress, there are some preventative and/or remedial efforts that help to ‘buffer’ the negative effects of stressful personal and/or job demands on health and psychological strain. Effective coping techniques or skills can be developed, and existing styles reconstructed to fit a particular situation. Critical is what works best in workplace stress management interventions and works best for the individual.
Other specific examples of intervention strategies, intervention techniques and stress management training programs are discussed below.
INDIVIDUAL TECHNIQUES FOR MANAGING WORK STRESS
Planning—Planning is a central skill for managing the stress of one’s personal work environment, commonly referred to as person-environment fit (P-E) (Liu-Qin, 2008). In the work setting, personal planning involves looking into the future, identifying goals and possible job stressors, and developing a strategy to achieve goals, while avoiding the negative impact of anticipated stressors. Individuals should plan ahead to avoid distressful mismatches between job demands and personal skills and interests and between their values and those of the organization. The goal is to man- age your workload—work smarter, not harder.
Overload Avoidance—Because work overload (having to do too much in too little time) triggers physiological reactions with related adverse health effects for the individual, managing one’s total workload to avoid overload is desirable. This may be accomplished in a variety of ways, such as identifying and eliminating busywork and learning to delegate tasks, declining whenever possible requests that are unreasonable or overwhelming, and renegotiating obligations that are no longer feasible. Considerable skills and experience may be required to control one’s obligations in a demanding or insensitive environment.
Social Support—Refers to the overall levels of helpful social interaction avail- able from both co-workers and supervisors, family and friends. It also includes a variety of behaviors by which an individual shows consideration, acceptance, and concern for the needs and feelings of other people in the context of demanding and stressful jobs. Active social support may help a person in managing the personal work environment in at least two ways: first, through dialogue with colleagues and coworkers, the person is able to reframe how a stressor is experienced and second, colleagues and coworkers may provide instrumental support by sharing demands, which helps ease the stress load on the individual. The role of social support is one of the most frequently mentioned mediators in stress and burnout research (Beehr, 2010). Research generally supports the notion that social support can help with coping and that it can have beneficial effects on various health outcomes, problem- solving efforts and personal accomplishment (Kahn, 2006).
STRESS MANAGEMENT TRAINING PROGRAMS
Organizations can also introduce stress management training, also referred to as Stress Management Interventions (SMIs), for preventing job strain and channeling job stress into healthy and productive outcomes. The following activities are widely used in organizations today:
Time Management Training—Deadlines, productivity objectives, and project timetables bring individuals face to face with time and time urgency. This confrontation can create significant level of stress. Time management represents a set of skills and attitudes that can be highly effective in reducing time stress and improving productivity. While there are many approaches presented in time management literature (Hafner, 2010), strategies are often associated with the recommendation to set personal goals and prioritizing importance over time urgency. The wide scope of activities include planning, allocating time, setting goals, delegation, analysis of time spent on activities or projects, monitoring work activities, scheduling, and prioritizing job demands (Morgenstern, 2004). Increased job satisfaction and peace of mind and organizations that are more efficient are important consequences of effective time management. In addition, time management training can lead to an increase in perceived control of time and a decrease in perceived stress.
Knowledge Acquisition Programs—These programs provide techniques that help individuals in the work environment deal with such stressors as work overload, uncertainty, role demands, ambiguity of organization changes, introduction of new programs and cutting edge education technologies, and workplace incivility (Sidle, 2009); i.e., co-workers with abrasive and offensive personalities, rude interruptions and discourteous behavior, sarcastic teasing, personal insults, humiliation and public shaming, and a lack of regard for others. Workplace incivility can have a negative effect on employee morale and productivity and can lead to stress, distraction, and low job satisfaction. Administrators need not wait for employee complaints, but should install mechanisms that will prevent uncivil conduct or behavior in the work environment (Andersson, 1999).
Comprehensive Health Promotion Programs—These are increasingly being set up as health promotion and skill-based programs or ‘Wellness Programs.’ Examples at Hostos CC include: Balance—The Newsletter for Health and Wellness, Wellness Yoga Classes, Wellness Tai Chi Classes, Stress Reduction Sessions, Mindfulness Meditation Sessions, and the Hostos Walk/Stairs Group Campaign coordinated by Professor Iris Mercado, Health Education Unit. These programs/activities teach individuals how to enhance their lifestyle, including techniques aimed primarily at smoking and weight control. While these programs may get short-term attention, greater awareness and consideration to health promotion programs or preventative management actions may be instrumental in coping with the debilitating effects of job-related stress.
IMPLICATIONS FOR EDUCATIONAL PRACTICE
Successful stress and burnout awareness, prevention and treatment efforts of- ten require both individual and organizational changes (Sutton, 2007). Similarly, organizations must help their employees by using coping strategies to reduce work stress and diminish the effects of burnout in the work environment. Review of the literature on stress and burnout clearly point out the following implications for faculty and administrators as essential.
Administrators should play a critical role in recognizing, diagnosing and reducing the organizational factors that produce stressors and the associated effects of work stress and burnout.
Administrators should be aware of the stress, and its ultimate manifestation burnout, that faculty experience in academia. An understanding of the nature of faculty stress can assist administrators in their efforts to minimize the levels of stress and burnout experienced in the academic environment.
Administrators who are responsible for hiring and evaluating the job productivity of faculty and other teaching-staff should be mindful of those factors associated with job-related stress among faculty and chairpersons. By understanding these factors, administrators can develop mechanisms to minimize the stress for faculty and chairpersons in the academic environment.
Administrators need to introduce successful organization intervention efforts. These efforts should be directed at humanizing a work climate that maximizes faculty performance and minimizes the negative aspects of faculty stress and burnout.
Finally, administrators should encourage faculty members, chairpersons and other administrators to attend stress management seminars. By attending stress management seminars, these organization members can develop coping strategies and coping styles for handling stressful situations.
The effects of stress and burnout are varied and have received extensive attention in recent years. As educators progress through the first and second decade of the twenty-first century, organizational change will continue to be a major source of stress for organization members in terms of work overload, lack of control, insufficient reward, absence of fairness or equity, and work-home demands. Stressed and burned out employees are less productive, less energetic, and less interested in their jobs. They are fatigued, depressed, irritable, and bored.
There is a need to increase awareness of the stress and burnout syndrome, and to describe and recommend assessment and effective methods of preventing and reducing the negative effects of stress and its ultimate manifestation burnout—an umitigating health impairment process. Finally, administrators need to increase awareness of the impact of job stressors on well-being from the perspective of job satisfaction, commitment, and job performance. This can be achieved through a joint initiative between administration, chairpersons and faculty.
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