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Theories of Organizational Stress by Cary L. Cooper Review by: Elaine Wethington Administrative Science Quarterly, Vol. 45, No.

3 (Sep., 2000), pp. 640-642 Published by: Sage Publications, Inc. on behalf of the Johnson Graduate School of Management,
Cornell University

Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2667119 . Accessed: 10/04/2014 14:42

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Takenas a whole, Using Conflictshould be widely read by in manscholars in the field. It will be useful to practitioners agement, organizational behavior,and organizational psychology as a source book of ideas about the positive uses of conflict in organizations.Finally, it will serve as an important point of departurefor pushing beyond currentconventions in the study of organizational conflict. Calvin Morrill Professor of Sociology Universityof Arizona Tucson,AZ85721

Theories of Organizational Stress. CaryL. Cooper,ed. Oxford:OxfordUniversityPress, 1998.

268 pp. $65.00. Theories of Organizational Stress addresses a problem with

serious economic and social stakes. Organizational stress underminesworker moraleand physicalhealth,which in turn reduces productivity and increases disabilityamong the working population. The chapters in this edited collection are conceptual reviews and updates of theories of organizational stress. Majortheorists and researchers, includingT. Beehr, R. D. Caplan,C. Maslach,J. Siegrist, P. Spector,T. Theorell, and the editor of the book, authorchapters in this collection. The book is aimed at organizational researchers, both basic and applied.The book most successfully addresses the needs of appliedresearchers, particularly those who are charged with conductinginterventionresearch. The editor states in the preface that the book makes no attempt to integratethe contrastingtheoreticalperspectives presented in the variouschapters. The chapters draw on four majortheoreticalorientationstoward organizational stress, namely,the social-ecologicalapproach,person-environment fit, the demand-control-support model, and the effort-rewardimbalanceperspective. Each chapter provides some guidance, based on relevantresearch, for future interventionin the workplaceto relieve or prevent organizational stress. Despite the editor'sclaim that no integration was attempted, a numberof similarthemes emerge from the separate chapters. The first theme is the failureof many interventionsto reduce workers' strainand increase positive organizational and higheroverallmorale. outcomes, such as productivity Manychapterauthorsacknowledge that interventionsbased on theories of organizational stress have not worked very well and requiresubstantialmodification. The second theme is that there are considerableuncertainties about what conditionsof work actuallycause strain.A recurrentobservationin these chapters is that the designers of interventionsaimed at reducingworker stress have concentrated on moderatingexposure to stressors and have underestimatedthe personalfactors in the generationof job stress. Researchers have applieda numberof differentmodels of the stress process-demand-control, effort-reward,
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Book Reviews

and uncertainty-but their mixed success implies that the insights of differentmodels are useful in some settings ratherthan all or with selected groups of workers. of the perAnothermajortheme relates to the contribution son, as opposed to the environment,in creatingorganizational stress. Interventions tend to be one-size-fits-all,recommending strategies that may or may not serve the needs of individuals. Forexample, generic interventionsto particular increase coping resources or to encourage differenttypes of coping behaviorsunderstress may not work for every individual in the interventiongroup. Manyauthors in this book recommend incorporating insights from psychologicalstress research on the cogniresearch into interventions,primarily tive appraisalof stressors and individual personalitydifferences that affect psychologicaladaptationto stressors. The fourththeme concerns the criticalroles that control, degree of self-directedness, and personal initiativeplay in the stress. A compligenerationand experience of organizational cating factor for both theory and interventionsis that control is a complex, multilevelphenomenon. Some models of orgalevel, as a nizational stress locate controlat the organizational factor inherentin the job, such as controlover the pace of work demands. Other models define it as an individual difference, or socialized motivation(e.g., the need for control), even a stable personalityfactor,such as "hardiness."Several chapters point out how workers often seek organizational roles and tasks that expose them to more stressors. Cummingsand Cooper'schapter, "A CyberneticModel of the the many Stress Process," comes closest to integrating themes of the book. Cyberneticsimplies a dynamicview of the stress process, incorporating both organizational and personal factors. The cybernetics model assumes that individuals are active and purposivemanagers of stress and that knowledge can help them anticipateand manage stress. The cybernetics model also entails a more concrete differentiation between the differentcomponents of the stress process: proactiveavoidance or controlof exposure to stressors, different degrees of exposure to stressors, cognitive appraisal of the stressor, coping with stressors, and psychological adaptation. As a whole, the book has considerablerelevance to organizationaltheory, althoughthe readermust dig to discover many of the most importantimplications.Manyof the authors theory with personal attempt to integrateorganizational stress theory, specifying clear linkages between the environment and the person (e.g., chapters by Siegrist, Beehr, and stress to larger Cummings).Others connect organizational issues of hierarchyin society (e.g., the chapter by Theorell).I would have preferredthat more chapters make these explicit connections between the organizational level and the individual experience of stress. Perhapsthe most importantmesstress sage of the book is that the field of organizational research is in considerableflux. Althoughmany of the authors are fairlypessimistic about the prospects for alleviatstress using currenttheory,they are optiing organizational mistic that future progress can take place. Allthe authors lay
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out explicitideas for new research and interventions,and many of these ideas are sharp and original. There are several weaknesses in the book. The chapters are reviews of theory and research, but the majority of them are not explicitabout specific ways to measure exposure to A relativenewstress and stress processes in organizations. comer to the field of organizational stress would have difficulty findingspecific guidance for testing alternativemodels of the organizational stress process. I was struckby the apparent inconsistencies among research programsand paradigms in the way exposure to stressors and psychologicalreactions to stressors ("stress" in everyday language)are distinguished. Specifically,it is not always easy to figure how different research programsmeasure exposure to stressors, in contrast to measuringvulnerability to stressors, cognitive appraisal,and buffers against stress. Forexample, is a nonsupportivesupervisora component of exposure to stressors or a source of vulnerability when organizations are in flux? It is also not always possible to glean what each theoretical approachrecommends in terms of measuringstressors, stress buffers, and adaptation; specifically,whether it recommends using self-reportmeasures or investigatorobservation. The organizational stress area has tended to rely heavily on self-reportmeasures of chronicstressors at work, and this measurement technology has not moved much beyond the self-reportinventory. Yet the general field of research on psychologicalstress is increasinglyemphasizingthat researchers should make carefuldistinctionswhen measuringsituational and personalaspects of the stress process. A majormeasurement problemidentifiedin the psychologicalstress literature is that measures of chronicstressors confoundthe stress-exposure predictorswith psychologicaloutcomes such as morale,throughcognitive appraisalprocesses. Manyof the chapters recommend a further"psychologizing" of organizational stress theory, a recommendationthat may lead to less precise differentiation of situationaland personal aspects of the stress process. Anotherquestion the book raises, but does not resolve, is whether alleviating the level of individual workers' exposure to stress will solve majororganizational problems. Inthe face of varyingwork demands, organizationsmay lack commitment to foster positive mental health, encourage cooperation among members of work groups, or encourage loyaltyand a sense of purpose in everydayactivities.This book proposes a numberof interventionpossibilitiesthat underscore its contributors'commitment to humane treatment for workers, althoughit stops short of proposinga new synthesis to guide level. interventionsat the organizational Elaine Wethington Departmentof HumanDevelopment and Departmentof Sociology CornellUniversity Ithaca,NY 14850

642/ASQ, September 2000

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