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Organisational stressors and job stress among managers: the moderating role of neuroticism.

Abstract

The purpose of this paper is to determine the influence of organisational variables (conflict, blocked career, alienation, work overload, and unfavourable work environment) on job stress among managers and to examine whether this relationship varies according to the individual's level of neuroticism. Analysis of 285 responses using hierarchical regression revealed that three of the five organisational variables (conflict, blocked career, and alienation) had significant positive effects on job stress. Neuroticism was found to moderate the effects of the three organisational stressors (alienation, work overload, and unfavourable work environment) on job stress. Implications for managerial practice and future research are discussed.

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The many challenges in the work environments, characterised by heightened competition, lack of time, more uncontrollable factors, lack of space, continuous technological development, conflicting demands from organisational stakeholders (Hall and Savery, 1986), increased use of participatory management and computerisation (Murray and Forbes, 1986), greater uncertainty, and others have resulted in higher job stress. In the pursuit for organisational excellence, managers need to work under highly stressful circumstances. Managers in the manufacturing sector have been found to be experiencing high stress (Jestin and Gampel, 2002). The weakening of the global economy in the past few years has resulted in substantial downsizing and retrenchments. Such events among employees in local and foreign firms are inevitable given Malaysia's reliance on the industrial sectors particularly electronics, which account for 60 per cent of its total exports (Bank Negara Malaysia, 2001).

Although there have been several studies on job stress within the Malaysian context (for instance, Kuan, 1994; Bat, 1995; Aun, 1998; Yahya, 1998), these studies have been somewhat fragmented. Thus, the objectives of this study are: (1) to gauge the extent to which organisational variables (conflict, blocked career, alienation, work overload, and unfavourable work environment) affect job stress and, (2) to examine whether neuroticism moderates the relationship between these organisational variables and job stress.

Literature Review Organisational Factors as Sources of Stress

Job stress has been defined as the non-specific response of the body to any demands made upon it (Selye, 1976). It is considered to be an internal state or reaction to anything we consciously or unconsciously perceive as a threat, either real or imagined (Clarke and Watson, 1991). Robbins (2001) defines stress as a dynamic condition in which the individual is confronted with an opportunity, constraint, or demand related to what he or she desires and for which the outcome is perceived to be both uncertain and important. Stress can be caused by environmental, organisational, and individual variables (Matteson and Ivancevich, 1999; Cook and Hunsaker, 2001). Organisational-based factors have been known to induce job stress for employees at the workplace (Greenhaus and Beutell, 1985). These factors are commonly termed as organisational stressors since they serve as agents that trigger the various stress reactions (Von Onciul, 1996). Among the numerous organisational sources of stress, only five variables were investigated in this study namely conflict, blocked career, alienation, work overload, and unfavourable work environment.

Role conflict has been found to have a positive relationship with job stress (Roberts et al, 1997). When individuals are required to play two or more role requirements that work against each other, they are likely to experience job stress. This is because role conflicts create expectations that may be hard to reconcile. Foot and Venne (1990) discovered a positive relationship between barriers to career advancement and job stress. When employees perceived a lack of career opportunities, they are likely to feel uncertain about their future in the organisation, which in turn, are likely to induce stress. Alienation at the work place can also lead to stress. Thoits (1995) in his study discovered that alienation has a positive effect on job stress. Feelings of alienation are likely to result when employees are required to work alone. According to Kanungo (1981), when workers believe there is a separation between their own job and other work related contexts, a sense of frustration that finally manifested in a behavioral state of apathy is likely to occur. This is particularly intense for employees with high social needs. Working alone on one's job without social support from one's peers and supervisors would lead to job stress (Mirovisky and Ross, 1986; Eugene, 1999). Work overload both quantitatively and qualitatively has been empirically linked to a variety of physiological, psychological, and behavioral strain symptoms (Beehr and Newman, 1978; Roberts et al, 1997; Miller and Ellis, 1990). According to Greenhaus et al (1987), heavy workload lowers one's psychological well-being resulting in job stress. Additionally, a work environment associated with unpleasant organisational climate, lack of privacy, a lot of hassle in conducting work, and distractions can result in higher stress (Miller and Ellis, 1990; Eugene, 1999). Thus, the first hypothesis of the study is as follows:

[H.sub.1]: Organisational stressors (conflict, blocked career, alienation, work overload, and unfavourable work environment) will be positively related to job stress.

Personality Traits as Sources of Stress

Past studies have indicated the potential impact of personality traits on job stress (Goldberg, 1993; Deary and Blenkin, 1996; Snyder and Ickes, 1985). Five personality dimensions that have been identified are neuroticism, extraversion, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness (Costa and McCrae, 1985; McCrae and Costa, 1991; Costa and McCrae, 1992; McCrae, 1992). The neuroticism domain reflects one's degree of emotional stability and adjustment. Extraversion assesses the extent to which individuals are assertive, active, and talkative. Openness measures the extent to which persons are open to new experiences, are creative and imaginative, and prefer variety. Agreeableness reflects the extent to which one is altruistic and cooperative. Conscientiousness measures one's self-control and purposefulness and is associated with academic and occupational achievement. Of these five personality dimensions, neuroticism has been found to have a positive relationship with job stress (Deary and Blenkin, 1996; Tellegen, 1985; Birch and Kamali, 2001).

Neuroticism reflects one's tendency to experience negative affects such as fear, sadness, embarrassment, anger, guilt, and disgust (Costa and McCrae, 1992). According to previous scholars (Costa and McCrae, 1985, 1992), a higher level of neuroticism implies a higher level of psychological distress, emotional instability and maladjustment. Hence, people with neuroticism traits are those who experience more negative emotions, which would be reflected in poor job attitudes, and high levels of job stress. Tellegen (1985) suggested that neuroticism functions as a warning system, activated by perceptions of environmental uncertainty, and tends to interfere with one's ability to adapt. Thus, individuals high in neuroticism are thought to be less able to both control their impulses and cope effectively with stress.

In work settings, individuals high in neuroticism are emotionally unstable and experience negative affect (Costa and McCrae, 1985). Such information seem to suggest that these individuals are likely to perceive greater organisational stressors, which in turn, lead to higher job stress. Thus, one would expect the effects of organisational stressors on job stress among these individuals to be greater compared to those who are low in neuroticism. Therefore, the second hypothesis of the study is as follows:

[H.sub.2]: The positive effects of organisational stressors (conflict, blocked career, alienation, work overload, and unfavourable work environment) on job stress will be stronger for people with high neuroticism than low neuroticism.

Based on the above-mentioned discussion, the theoretical framework for this study is shown in Figure 1.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

Methodology Subjects

Participants in the study consisted of managers attached to 20 randomly selected electronic firms (both local and foreign) located on the island of Penang, Malaysia. A total of 400 questionnaires were distributed in proportion to the population of managers in these firms. Respondents were given three weeks to answer the questionnaires.

Measurements

The predictor variables in this study were represented by five organisational variables namely conflict, blocked career, alienation, work overload, and unfavourable work environment. These variables were measured using a 25-item questionnaire (Davis et al, 2000). A five-point response format ranging from (1) "Strongly Disagree" to (5) "Strongly Agree" was utilised. The mean scores were computed by averaging the scores for all the items associated with a particular stressor. The moderating variable in this study relates to the personality dimension of neuroticism. This trait was assessed using 12-items derived from the NEO Five Factor Inventory (Costa and McCrae, 1992). A five-point response format ranging from (1) "Strongly Disagree" to (5) "Strongly Agree" was utilised. The mean score for neuroticism was obtained by averaging the scores for all the 12 items.

The criterion variable in this study is job stress. Job stress was measured using a 20-item screening inventory (Goldberg and Hillier, 1978) based on a fivepoint response format ranging from (0) "Never" to (4) "Almost Always". The job stress level for each respondent was computed by summing the total scores for all the 20 items. Subsequently, the total scores obtained were averaged in order to gauge the overall job stress level for the sample in accordance to Davis et al's (2000) categorisation as follows: 0-25 (coping adequately with job stress), 26-40 (suffering from job stress), 41-55 (suffering from high job stress), 56-80 (experiencing very high job stress or burnout).

Methods of Analyses

Job stress can be influenced by personal factors (Matteson and Ivancevich, 1999). Six personal variables (age, gender, marital status, number of children, working experience, and job tenure) were controlled in the statistical analysis following previous researchers (Roberts et al, 1997; Smith et al, 1998; Rashed, 2001; Cooper et al, 1994).

Since gender and marital status were categorical in nature, these variables were initially dummy coded. The first and second hypotheses were tested using a four-step hierarchical regression (Cohen and Cohen, 1975) where the control variables were entered in the first step, followed by the main effects of the five organisational variables (conflict, blocked career, alienation, work overload, and unfavourable work environment) in the second step. Neuroticism was added into the equation in the third step. In the final step, the five interaction terms were entered into the regression equation. The change in the F-value and the significance of the individual parameter was observed. If an interaction term is found to be significant, neuroticism is said to moderate the relationship between the relevant organisational stressor and job stress.

Results

Response and Profile of Respondents

Of the 400 questionnaires sent out, 285 useable responses were obtained representing a response rate of 71.25 per cent. The sample profile is shown in Table 1.

In terms of gender, more than half (56.8 per cent) of the sample consisted of males with the remaining 43.2 per cent being females. As for age, almost all the respondents (96.5 per cent) were 40 years old and below. Of this, the largest proportion of respondents (37.9 per cent) was less than 30 years old. Regarding marital status, a majority (52.3 per cent) of respondents were married with the remaining 47.7 per cent being singles.

In terms of the number of children, a majority (50.5 per cent) of the sample had no children. As for working experience, 54 per cent of the sample had been working for more than six years. In terms of job tenure, 67.7 per cent of the respondents had been in their current job for five years or less.

Table 2 depicts the reliabilities of the survey instruments.

As seen from Table 2, the instruments used in this study were reliable, with coefficients ranging from 0.80 to 0.96, which exceeded the minimum acceptance level of 0.70 (Nunnally, 1978).

The mean score and standard deviations for each study variable can be observed from Table 3.

From Table 3, it can be seen that the mean value for each of the organisational variables ranges from 2.51 to 3.01, with a standard deviation of 0.66 to 0.84. The mean score computed for job stress was 45.38 with a standard deviation score of 10.72. Based on Davis et al's (2000) interpretation, this score indicates that respondents in this study, on the average, experience high job stress.

The results of the four-step hierarchical regression undertaken to test the first and second hypotheses of this study is shown in Table 4.

As seen in Table 4, when the six personal variables were entered into the regression equation in the first step, the coefficient of determination ([R.sup.2]) was found to be 0.344 indicating that 34.4 per cent of job stress is explained by the demographic variables. In step 2, by adding the five independent variables, [R.sup.2] increased to 64.8 per cent. This [R.sup.2] change (0.304) is significant. This implies that the additional 30.4 per cent of the variation in job stress is explained by the organisational variables (conflict, blocked career, alienation, work overload, and unfavourable work environment).

From the second regression model, it can be observed that control variables (working experience and job tenure) did have significant influence on job stress. Working experience showed a significant and negative relationship with job stress at the 0.01 level. Job tenure also had a significant and negative relationship with job stress at the 0.05 level. As for the independent variables, only three of the five organisational stressors were found to have a positive influence on job stress. Specifically, blocked career (b = 0.426), alienation (b = 0.403), and conflict (b = 0.232) were all found to have significant and positive relationships with job stress at the 0.01 level. These results provided partial support for the first hypothesis of the study.

In the third step, neuroticism was entered into the equation in order to gauge its impact as an independent predictor. The [R.sup.2] increased from 64.8 per cent to 81.1 per cent indicating a change of 16.3 per cent, which is significant (p < 0.01).

In the fourth and final step, the five interaction terms were entered into the model. From Table 5, it can be seen that the additional variance explained by the interaction terms (7.8 per cent) was significant (p < 0.01), indicating that there is a moderation effect. From the final regression equation, it can be observed that only three of the five interaction terms (Neuroticism * Alienation, Neuroticism * Work Overload, and Neuroticism * Unfavourable Work Environment) were significant at the 0.01 level. The results derived from the final step provided partial support for the second hypothesis of the study.

Moderating Effects of Neuroticism

Based on the information gathered from Table 4, only three interaction terms (Neuroticism * Alienation, Neuroticism * Work Overload, and Neuroticism * Unfavourable Work Environment) were significant at the 0.01 level. To portray the interactions between neuroticism and each facet of organisational variable more clearly, graphs were drawn. To draw the graphs, the facets were first recoded into three categories: Low, Moderate, and High by dividing the respondents into three approximately equal group using percentile (0-33 per cent = Low, 33.1-66 per cent = Medium and 66.1-100 per cent = High) for the organisational variables whereas median was used to recode the neuroticism variable into two categories (below median = low neuroticism, above median = high neuroticism). The results of the significant interactions are presented in Figures 2, 3 and 4 respectively.

As can be observed from Figure 2, the stress level of employees with low levels of neuroticism shows an increasing trend when the alienation level is low to moderate and a decreasing one when the alienation level moves from moderate to high. For employees with high level of neuroticism, their job stress level decreases with low to moderate alienation level and increases as the alienation level moves from moderate to high.

[FIGURE 2 OMITTED]

As shown in Figure 3, the stress level of employees with low levels of neuroticism shows an increasing trend when the work overload level ranges from low to moderate and increases but at a decreasing rate when the level of work overload moves from moderate to high. For employees with high level of neuroticism, their job stress level decreases with low to moderate level of work overload and increases albeit slowly as the work overload level moves from moderate to high.

[FIGURE 3 OMITTED]

From Figure 4, generally, the stress level of employees with low levels of neuroticism shows an increasing trend when the unfavourable work environment level increases from low to high. Specifically, increase in job stress is at an increasing rate when the level of unfavourable work environment is perceived to range from moderate to high as opposed to when the level of unfavourable work environment is perceived to range from low to moderate. For employees with high level of neuroticism, their job stress level seems to remain constant when the level of unfavourable work environment is between low to moderate. However, the job stress level experienced by employees who have high neuroticism tend to decrease when the level of unfavourable work environment ranges from moderate to high.

[FIGURE 4 OMITTED]

Discussion and Implications

The purpose of the current study was two fold: first, to determine the effects of organisational stressors (conflict, blocked career, alienation, work overload, and unfavourable work environment) on job stress among managers within the electronics sector of Malaysia and, second, to test whether these relationships vary according to their level of neuroticism. The regression results from this investigation indicated that three out of five organisational variables namely conflict, blocked career, and alienation had positive relationships with job stress.

The finding on the positive relationship between conflict and job stress is consistent with those obtained by Roberts et al (1997). When employees are required to fulfill conflicting role requirements, they are likely to experience job stress. This is because role conflicts create expectations that may be hard to satisfy. The finding pertaining to the positive relationship between blocked career and job stress supports those by previous researchers (Foot and Venne, 1990; Rahim, 1996). Seeing one's opportunities for career advancement being diminished is perceived as a threat, which in turn, leads to increased job stress.

The finding on the relationship between alienation and job stress is also consistent with those discovered by prior scholars (Kornhauser, 1965; Sashkin, 1984; Thoits, 1995). Alienation at the workplace suggests that employees may not be able to fulfill their social needs. Thus, this sense of isolation is likely to be viewed as a threat to the individual resulting in stress.

Work overload, on the other hand, was found to have no relationship with job stress. These findings may be related to the sample itself. It is possible that managers in the electronics firms sampled may have attuned themselves to heavy responsibilities. Thus, this variable may not be viewed as an organisational stressor. Similarly, unfavourable work environment had no influence on job stress. One plausible explanation for this may be related to the fact that the mean score associated with unfavourable work environment is the lowest among the five organisational variables. In other words, the work environment perceived by the sample is relatively conducive. Hence, the strength of the relationship between unfavourable work environment and job stress may have been attenuated.

Neuroticism was found to moderate the relationships between three organisational stressors (alienation, work overload, and unfavourable work environment) and job stress. For employees with low neuroticism, when the alienation level is low to moderate, their stress level showed an increasing trend and a decreasing one when the alienation level moves from moderate to high. For employees with high level of neuroticism, their job stress level decreases with low to moderate alienation level and increases as the alienation level moves from moderate to high. This finding suggests that low to moderate levels of work alienation would be more preferable among employees with high neuroticism whilst moderate to high levels of work alienation would be more preferable among employees with low neuroticism.

In terms of work overload, the stress level of employees with low levels of neuroticism shows an increasing trend when the work overload level ranges from low to moderate and increases but at a decreasing rate when the level of work overload moves from moderate to high. For employees with high neuroticism, their job stress level decreases with low to moderate level of work overload and increases at a slow rate as the work overload level moves from moderate to high. This finding suggests that low to moderate levels of work overload would be more preferable among employees with high neuroticism. The stress levels for employees with low neuroticism, however, continue to increase for various levels of work overload.

Additionally, the stress level of employees with low levels of neuroticism shows an increasing trend when the level of unfavourable work environment increases from low to high. Specifically, the increase in job stress is at an increasing rate when the level of unfavourable work environment is perceived to range from moderate to high as opposed to when the level of unfavourable work environment is perceived to range from low to moderate. For employees with high level of neuroticism, their job stress level seems to remain constant when the level of unfavourable work environment i s between low to moderate. In contrast, the job stress level experienced by employees who have high neuroticism tend to decrease when the level of unfavourable work environment ranges from moderate to high. This finding suggests that moderate to high levels of unfavourable work environment would be more preferable among employees with high neuroticism. On the other hand, the stress levels for employees with low neuroticism continue to increase for various levels of unfavourable work environment.

From the managerial point of view, the findings from this research suggest that employing organisations need to attend to organisational factors that are likely to act as job stressors. In order to reduce stress among managers, organisations should communicate clearly its expectations, provide sufficient opportunities for their managers to move to higher positions in the organisational hierarchy, and build cohesive cross-functional work teams. Given that neuroticism did play the role of a moderator in the relationship between certain organisational stressors and job stress, organisations need to be aware: (1) not to place employees who experience high neuroticism in jobs that are highly alienated since this would foster greater stress, (2) to place employees who experience high neuroticism in jobs that have less workload since this would reduce stress, and (3) to allow employees who experience high neuroticism to work under challenging working conditions since this may help reduce their stress level.

Conclusion and Suggestions for Future Research

In conclusion, the contribution of this study tests on the identification of organisational-based stressors and the role played by the personality dimension of neuroticism as a moderator in the relationship between organisational stressors and job stress experienced by Malaysian managers at the workplace. Although several studies on job stress within the Malaysian context have been reported (such as Kuan, 1994; Bat, 1995; Aun, 1998; Yahya, 1998), each of them differs in terms of the variables selected (organisational-based, personal-based, or personality-based), the instruments used, and sample. The present study did not aim to construct a complete model of job stress for Malaysian employees but merely to extend one's knowledge about the influence of organisational-based factors and neuroticism on managerial job stress.

Nevertheless, the contributions of this investigation should be viewed in the light of three limitations. First, this study makes use of cross-sectional data, which limits inferences with regards to causality between the independent variables and the dependent variable. The use of a longitudinal approach would improve the ability to make causal statements. Second, this study is limited to managers within the manufacturing industry of Malaysia. Thus, the validity of the findings cannot be generalised to other job incumbents in other sectors. Future research may be conducted to compare the predictive validity of the model across different jobs and industries. Third, given that there may be other individual, occupational, organisational, and non-work factors that also affect and moderate stress, researchers interested in this area should try to explore these factors in future.
Table 1: Sample Profile of Respondents

Demographic Categories Frequency Percentage
Variables

Gender Male 162 56.8
 Female 123 43.2

Age Less than 30 years 108 37.9
 30 to 35 years 101 35.4
 36 to 40 years 66 23.2
 41 to 45 years 10 3.5

Marital Single 136 47.7
Status Married 149 52.3

Number None 144 50.5
of Children One 42 14.7
 Two 72 25.3
 Three 27 9.5

Working Less than 1 year 48 16.8
Experience 1 to 5 years 83 29.1
 6 to 10 years 91 31.9
 11 to 15 years 53 18.6
 More than 15 years 10 3.5

Job Tenure Less than 1 year 110 38.6
 1 to 5 years 83 29.1
 6 to 10 years 87 30.5
 11 to 15 years 5 1.8

Table 2: Reliability Coefficients of the Instruments

Variable Cronbach's Alpha Value

Conflict 0.8747
Blocked Career 0.8631
Alienation 0.8875
Work Overload 0.8518
Unfavourable Work Environment 0.8026
Neuroticism 0.9580
Job Stress 0.9182

Table 3: Mean Scores and Standard Deviations
of the Study Variables

Variables Mean Standard Deviation

Conflict 2.667 0.716
Blocked Career 2.806 0.647
Alienation 2.652 0.839
Overload 3.011 0.736
Unfavourable Work Environment 2.506 0.663
Job Stress 45.382 10.719

Table 4: Results of Hierarchical Regression Analysis

Independent Std Beta Std Beta Std Beta Std Beta
Variable Step 1 Step 2 Step 3 Step 4

Control Variables
Gender -0.072 -0.033 -0.075 -0.040
Age 0.136 0.089 -0.321 ** -0.394 **
Marital Status 0.016 0.078 0.134 0.409 **
Number of Children 0.164 -0.090 -0.066 -0.463 **
Work Experience -0.117 -0.288 ** -0.038 0.064
Job Tenure -0.602 ** -0.150 ** 0.170 ** -0.153 **

Model Variables
Conflict 0.232 ** 0.095 -0.010
Blocked Career 0.426 ** 0.211 ** 0.074
Alienation 0.403 ** 0.210 ** -2.685 **
Work Overload 0.023 ** 0.069 1.424 **
Unfavourable Work
 Environment 0.092 -0.102 ** 1.958 **

Moderating Variable
Neuroticism 0.750 ** 2.302 **

Interaction Terms
Neuroticism*Conflict -0.040
Neuroticism*Blocked
 Career -0.275
Neuroticism*Alienation 3.312 **
Neuroticism*Work
 Overload -2.149 **
Neuroticism*
 Unfavourable Work
 Environment -3.045 **

Interaction Terms
[R.sup.2] 0.344 0.648 0.811 0.889
Adj [R.sup.2] 0.329 0.633 0.802 0.881
[R.sup.2] Change 0.344 0.304 0.163 0.078
Sig F Change 0.000 0.000 0.000 0.000

Note: * p < 0.05, ** p < 0.01


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Aizzat Mohd Nasurdin

T Ramayah

School of Management

Universiti Sains Malaysia

S Kumaresan

Intel Technology Sdn Bhd
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Measuring on-the-job stress accurately.
Change management in times of economic uncertainty.

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