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Theoretical Models Focusing on the Stress Process

nese models aim at a detailed description of what happens nng the stress process. Major models in the area are the


Theories on Organizational Stress 457

transactional stress model (Lazarus, 1966; Lazarus & Folkman, 1984) and (other) cybernetic models (Edwards, 1992).

The Transactional Stress Model

One the most prominent stress models is the transactional model by Lazarus (1966; Lazarus & Folkman, 1984). Lazarus and Folkman define psychological stress as "a particular rela­tionship between the person and the environment that is appraised by the person as taxing or exceeding his or her resources and endangering his or her well-being" (p. 19). Thus, Lazarus and Folkman assume that cognitive appraisals play a crucial role in the stress process. Appraisal processes refer to an individual's categorization and evaluation of an encounter with respect to this individual's well-being. Specifically, primary and secondary appraisal can be differentiated. By pri­mary appraisal, encounters are categorized as irrelevant, benign-positive, or stressful. Stress appraisals comprise harm-loss, threat, and challenge. By secondary appraisals, individu­als evaluate what can be done in the face of the stressful encounter—that is, they tax their coping options. On the basis of primary and secondary appraisals, individuals start their coping processes that can stimulate reappraisal processes.

To arrive at a better understanding of the stress process and how it develops over time, Lazarus (1991) suggested putting more emphasis on an intra-individual analysis of the stress phenomenon—for example, by studying the same persons in different contexts over time. A few studies followed such an approach (Folkman, Lazarus, Dunkel-Schetter, DeLongis, & Gruen, 1986); the majority of empirical studies in the area of organizational stress, however, did not adopt such a process perspective, but rather treated stressful situations and individ­uals' reactions to the situations as stable. Moreover, it has been questioned whether a focus on individual processes offers much to the understanding of workplace stress (Brief & George, 1995).

Cybernetic Model

Edwards (1992) proposed a cybernetic model of organiza­tional stress (for a related model, cf. Cummings & Cooper, 1979, 1998). Edwards summarized earlier approaches to stress that implicitly assumed cybernetic principles (e.g., Kahn, Wolfe, Quinn, Snoek, & Rosenthal, 1964; McGrath, 1976) and explicitly built on Carver and Scheier's (1982) work on cybernetics as a general theory of human behavior. Crucial components in Carver and Scheier's model are an input function, a reference value, a comparator, and an output function. The input function refers to perceptions of one's own state or of situational features in the environment. The


458 Stress in Organizations

reference value comprises the individual's desires, values, or goals. The comparator compares the input function with the reference value. The output function refers to behavior that is activated when a discrepancy between the input function and the reference value is detected.



Edwards (1992) defines stress as "a discrepancy between an employee's perceived state and desired state, provided that the presense of this discrepancy is considered important by the employee" (p. 245). Thus, stress occurs when the com­parison between an individual's perception and his or her desire results in a discrepancy. The perception is assumed to be influenced by the physical and social environment, personal characteristics of the individual, the individual's cognitive construction of reality, and social information. The discrep­ancy between perception and desires (i.e., stress), affects two outcomes: the individual's well-being and his or her coping ef­forts. Additionally, reciprocal effects between well-being and coping are assumed. Moreover, coping may have an effect on the person and the situation, the individual's desires, and the duration of the stressful situation and the importance attached to it. The effects of the discrepancy on well-being and coping efforts are moderated by additional factors such as the impor­tance of the discrepancy and its duration.

Although there is empirical research on isolated aspects of the cybernetic model (e.g., on the effects of discrepancies be­tween perceptions and desires on well-being (cf. Edwards, 1991), to our knowledge, no study on organizational stress has yet examined the cybernetic framework as a whole. One reason is that it is difficult to examine the crucial assumptions of this model in one single study. Such a study must include separate measures of perceptions, desires, importance, duration, well-being, and coping. The greatest challenge will be to design nonconfounded measures of individual perception, objective characteristics of the environment, the individual's cognitive construction of reality, and social information processes.


Date: 2016-03-03; view: 180


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