STRESS, PERSONALITY AND WORK
Individuals belonging to the Type-A group are those more exposed to stress and present a higher chance of suffering from a physical or mental disorder on account of the pressure of stressful events (see also ‘Stress and Illness’). For example, Type-A people are very vulnerable with respect to cardiovascular disease (heart attack, stroke, hypertension etc.). Those in the Type-B category on the other hand reveal a greater capacity to cope with potentially stressful situations, consequently reducing their risk of becoming ill. The difference between the two types does not depend on the fact they present two different and well-defined personality structures but rather on the way in which they organise their responses to stressful situations.
Type A individuals also suffer to a higher degree from work stress. The pressures of work, deadlines, being overburdened with professional activities, conflicts with colleagues and duties or tasks that are difficult to cope with may in fact have a profound effect on the way in which a person perceives and considers his or her work. Feeling under great pressure is a negative outcome, while feeling challenged and feeling capable of responding to such challenges represents a positive result. In other words, the impact of work stressors (see previous page) and one’s personal response are modulated by the way in which an individual perceives stress factors. It is not exactly an easy thing to judge what impact stress may have in a professional or occupational context, however some estimates suggest that about half of the work days lost in the United States on account of absenteeism can be linked to the effects of stress (Elkin and Rosch, 1990). The characteristics of an occupational situation or context most easily associated with states of stress include the following:
The term “mobbing” was coined in the early 1970s by the ethologist Konrad Lorenz to describe a behaviour typical of certain animal species that may form a group and surround and noisily attack an animal so as to expel it from the herd. Two types of mobbing occur in the workplace: hierarchical mobbing and environmental mobbing. In the first case, the abuse is perpetrated by individuals that hold a position of superiority over the victim, who is forced to carry out humiliating tasks and duties. In the second case, the victim’s colleagues themselves will isolate the individual and openly deprive him or her of ordinary forms of collaboration, the customary dialogue and any kind of respect.
Another difficulty that workers may be exposed to is the so-called ‘burnout’ phenomenon, which can affect psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, nurses etc or others working in the helping professions. People suffering from burnout, a state of malaise that derives from a work situation being perceived as stressful, may present a state of apathy and become cynical with their “clients” or indifferent and detached from the working environment. In extreme cases the syndrome can result in quite serious psychopathological damage (e.g., insomnia, marital or family problems, an increase in the use of alcohol or medication) and the quality of the treatment or service provided by those affected worsens, leading to absenteeism and high employee-turnover rates.
Elkin, A., Rosch, P. (1990). Promoting mental health in the workplace: The prevention side of stress management. Occupational Medicine: State of the Art Review, 5, pp. 739-754.
Friedman, M., Rosenman, R.H. (1959). Association of a specific overt behavior pattern with increases in blood cholesterol, blood clotting time, incidence of arcus senilis and clinical coronary artery diseases. Journal of American Medical Association, 2196, pp. 1286-1296.