Somatic and cognitive stress management techniques: their effect on measures of stress and competency in managers

Le Fevre, Mark
Kolt, Gregory S.
Matheny, Jonathan
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Doctor of Philosophy
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Auckland University of Technology
Stress management interventions (SMIs) are increasingly used by organisations across both private and public settings. Such interventions are employed with the expectation that they will be effective in reducing levels of stress in participants and in turn, will provide a return to the organisation by way of increased productivity through performance improvements of those employees whose stress has been reduced. Despite the increasing popularity of SMIs, there exists a lack of evidence on whether they have any effect on the performance of users, and on the relative effectiveness of the components that often make up SMIs. Although the literature addressing SMIs and their effects is increasing, relatively few studies directly compare different techniques, and even fewer employ randomised controlled designs or follow-up measures. The assumed relationship between the reduction of stress and improvement of managerial performance does not appear to have been tested with a randomised controlled trial. The term “stress” as used in this study specifically denotes the concept of “distress” as defined by Selye (1956; 1987). To support this use of the term, the evolution of current terminology in the field of occupational stress is briefly discussed with specific reference to the development and influence in the wider literature of the Yerkes Dodson Law (Yerkes, 1909). The aims of this thesis were to (1) compare the relative effectiveness of two component techniques often used in SMIs (somatic and cognitive techniques) in the reduction of stress, and (2) to examine the effect of the use of these techniques on the performance of managers in their workplace. Study One was a randomised controlled trial assessing the effect of the use of somatic and cognitive stress management interventions on stress and performance in managers. Participants were 112 corporate managers who were randomly assigned to one of two intervention groups (somatic or cognitive technique training) or to a wait list control group. The intervention groups were trained in their respective techniques over a 4 week period in brief (20-30 minute) face-to-face workshop sessions. Participants were provided with recordings of the techniques to assist practice between training sessions. At baseline, stress was assessed using the Occupational Stress Inventory – Revised Edition (OSI-R, Osipow, 1998), and managerial performance was assessed with the Personal Qualities Competency from the Inventory of Management Competencies (IMC, Saville Holdsworth Ltd., 1993). In the case of the IMC, self, colleague, and subordinate assessments were used. On completion of the 4 week intervention, the OSI-R was readministered, and then at week 12 and week 24, follow-up assessments of stress and managerial performance took place. At the week 12 follow-up, MANOVA for the OSI-R showed no significant difference between the somatic and cognitive interventions in their effect on stress, although both interventions did reduce stress relative to the wait list control group, as measured by the OSI-R. A significant intervention effect was also shown (ηp2 = 0.089, p = 0.002) for the combined intervention groups (cognitive and somatic). MANOVA for the Personal Qualities Competency showed a significant intervention effect for the self (ηp2 = 0.077, p = 0.008) and colleague (ηp2 = 0.064, p = 0.013) assessments, and a no significant effect (ηp2 = 0.032, p = 0.063) for the subordinate assessment at the week 12 follow-up point. Unfortunately, withdrawal and attrition reduced the sample size below that required for analysis at the week 24 follow-up point. Study Two was designed as a follow-up qualitative study that aimed to gather information on participants’ perceptions of the effects of the interventions on their stress and performance, and of their reasons for completion or no completion of the SMI. In this study, 14 participants from Study One took part in semi-structured interviews after the final follow-up assessment (week 24) for that study. The interviews were structured to elicit responses concerning participants’ perceptions of the demands of their workplace and their stress, their experience of using the stress management techniques (including perceived benefits or behavioural changes from that use), their reasons for completion or no completion of the intervention, and their own definitions of stress. Several important findings emerged from this study. First, participants described their workplace as characterised by high pressure and demand with rapid change and a perceived lack of personal control. Second, participants who continued to use the techniques they had learned after the formal intervention was completed did so because they perceived personal benefits in terms of their ability to relax and in terms of their perceptions of workload and demand. For those who did not complete the intervention, the predominant reasons reported for no completion were workplace task demands, lack of top management commitment to an intervention of this nature, and lack of personal gain once the techniques had been learned. In relation to defining stress, participants did not have agreement, but rather reported definitions reflecting a multifaceted complex amalgam of physiological, psychological, and emotional aspects. Research such as this is important in terms of its contribution to the general field of occupational stress and its alleviation. It addresses a long-standing need to assess the relative effectiveness of some of the subcomponents commonly employed as part of more complex multifaceted approaches to SMIs, and the effect of the techniques on both stress and performance. This thesis makes several contributions to existing knowledge. First, this thesis clarifies the origin of the Yerkes Dodson Law and its relevance to current stress management thinking. In management texts distress has come to be regarded as too much stress or pressure. This is coupled with the idea that some stress has a positive impact on performance due to an earlier and erroneous interpretation of the Yerkes Dodson Law. Second, Study One provides evidence of the relative effectiveness of two different SMI components in the reduction of individuals’ occupational stress, as well as evidence for the effectiveness of individual focussed SMIs in the reduction of stress in corporate managers. Third, Study One provides evidence for a positive effect on managers’ performance consequent to their use of stress management techniques. This thesis also sheds light on managers’ definitions of stress, and their reasons for completion or no completion of SMIs. In summary, individual focussed (or secondary) SMIs have the potential to reduce stress and to improve performance in corporate managers as perceived by both the individual and others in the workplace.
Stress , Performance , Occupational stress , Management performance , Stress management , Randomised controlled trial
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