Critique of a research study by Ongori and Agolla (2008), ‘Occupational Stress in Organizations and its effects on Organizational Performance’.
The following presents a critique of a research study by Ongori and Agolla (2008), ‘Occupational Stress in Organizations and its effects on Organizational Performance’.
There is great interest in the area, as “occupational stress affects employee turnover, productivity and firm performance” (Ongori and Agolla 2008). The authors carry out a study in Botswana amongst public sector workers, showing how stress impacts upon employees.
This critique will first present a short summary of the paper, then look at all aspects critically including structure and style, methodology, literature review, results and discussion.
Occupational stress can have a number of detrimental effects on the workforce, including illness, and can cost “up to 10% of a country’s GNP” (Midgley, 1996).There are different views on its definitions and causes, with popular usages confounded with academic ones, which lead to ambiguity in research. Similarly, the literature identifies many different causes in stress, however there is general agreement that “the main cause of occupational stress is work overload” (Topper 2007; Buchanan and Kaczynski 2004). The literature also identifies a wide area of outcomes of occupational stress, including poor motivation, poor performance, raised turnover and sickness levels and low morale, and this is complicated by the fact that stress can manifest in different ways including emotional, physical, behavioural, mental and health wise (Cohen and Single 2001)
Stress interventions can help minimise its effects including developing skills to cope (Johnson 2001). Other suggest addressing work overload, or opening communication channels (Tehrani 2002). The authors categories interventions as primary secondary or tertiary:
Primary – pre-emptive action on stress causes
Secondary – as stress develops, for example training programmes to help recognise symptoms
Tertiary – action taking place to remedy effects of stress
They also suggest the need for a ‘paradigm shift’ in order to better manage stress in the workplace, by shifting responsibility onto management.
The literature review forms a framework for the authors primary study, carried out in five public organizations. Demographic information and detailed information about stress was collected using a measurement tool developed from one proposed by McCarty, Zhao and Garland (2007). They received 75 completed questionnaires, and analysed the quantitative data using SPSS. The authors discuss their results extensively, both in writing and tables Their results cover four key areas – how employees perceive stressors in the working environment, how employees perceive symptoms of stress, how employees perceive the effects of their stress, and how they perceive possible stress management interventions. They relate their results to other research.
The authors finally draw conclusions from their study, suggesting it confirms the existence of stress, and also highlighting the need for a new approach to manage stress, using the ‘paradigm shift’ they discussed in the literature review. They also suggest that workload is primary cause of stress together with uncertainty, communication issues and conflict. They also point out that stress effects the entire organization through increased absenteeism, turnover and so on.. They suggest, as a result of their research, that interventions, particularly at the primary level can help reduce stress if implemented from management level, holistically and with regular audits.
In terms of structure and style, both are generally good: the article follows the accepted format, and the abstract provides a good summary. While the introduction sets the context for research well, it might have been structurally better to have a separate literature review, with the introduction giving a brief overview of the area, the reasons why it is important and what the study consists of. There is, however, good explanation of the key terms, and the authors point out those definitions of stress, for example, can be ambiguous. However, there are a number of grammatical mistakes which mar the overall paper. For example, the authors write “this research adopted quantitative method” rather than “the” quantitative method; elsewhere they have “primary interventions emphasize on identifying the possible causes”, which should be, perhaps “primary interventions emphasise identification of possible causes” or “primary interventions place emphasis upon identifying the possible causes”
The literature review is comprehensive, covering all aspects of stress from definitions, through causes, side effects, impact upon organisations and possible interventions. The authors reference a good number of existing researches, and provide an excellent, clear overview of the area. They cover definitions in depth, pointing out where these are debated or ambiguous. The review is also structured well. An overview of the nature of stress is followed by the presentation, by the authors, of a model to categorise stress interventions into primary, secondary and tertiary. They also introduce their notion that there needs to be a ‘paradigm shift’ towards greater management involvement in order to fully tackle the issues raised by occupational stress.On the negative side, there could have been more detailed discussion of the extensive literature linking stress, job satisfaction, intension to leave and employee turnover (see for example Griffith and Horn 2004). Also, the authors tend not to take a critical perspective on any of the author’s works discussed, rather summarising what they have to say about stress.
In terms of the study methodology, there are some negative points here, some of which are recognised by the authors at the end of the study, for example the sample size (75) is not large enough for the results to be generalisable. In addition, the authors give very few details about the research methods. There are no further details about the organizations selected, nor about the existing levels of stress in the organisations. Further, why were public, rather than private, sector organisations chosenAdditionally, they give no information about how potential respondents were approached. It is possible that methods used meant that the respondents who took part were particularly prone to stress, which would have biased the results. The information about distribution and collection of questionnaires is also scant. It is not clear if they were electronically distributed or otherwise, nor how long respondents had to complete them. There is also no discussion of whether ethical issues were considered. Finally, there could be more information on the data analysis. Why, for example, were descriptive statistics not backed up with inferential statisticsSPSS is a very powerful tool, with the capacity to produce very complex analyses of data (Collier 2009).
On the positive side, the authors carried out a pilot study, which allowed them to test their questionnaire, but it is not clear how carrying out the pilot also allowed them to ‘test the reliability and validity of the instrument’. More information is needed here. By using a development of an existing scale, the authors are also able to capitalise on the work done by McCarty et al (2007). However, a discussion of alternative scales which might have been used would have added to this paper.
In terms of the author’s discussion and the conclusions they draw from their results, there are a number of positives and negatives. Positively, they present the results very clearly. They provide tables to show responses for each of the four main question groups, and in addition they highlight particularly significant findings from the results, for instance that supervisors treat employees well. They also point out whether the results are consistent or inconsistent with work by previous researchers. One possible critique of this section is that it seems to list result after result, rather than summarising the key concepts. Had the authors provided a summary it might have made their findings clearer. For example, the section where they discuss symptoms of employee experience simply lists the percentages for each of the items asked about. The ‘conclusions and implications’ section does go some way towards redressing this balance, as it provides some summaries of the findings. However, it is unclear how some of the authors suggestions follow from the data. For example, they state that “this paper has demonstrated that… the traditional approach … is not enough to manage stress”. To show this, they would have to carry out a study amongst organisations using this method, and compare them with organisations which use other methods, for example. There is more evidence for their suggestion that stress is “mainly caused by the increase of work load”, but what they have really shown is that employees perceive work load as a major cause of stress, which is a slightly different thing. It is also unclear how they can conclude, on the basis of data collected that “managers… stand to gain if they can identify the signs of occupational stress among.. employees at their infancy stage”. The study did not investigate different stages in stress, nor in its treatment. On a positive note, they reintroduce ideas discussed in the literature review, concerning primary, secondary and tertiary data and the need for a paradigm change into their conclusion well, as with the notion of a paradigm change. They use these to introduce some interesting conclusions about changes that should be made to the management of stress, particularly the idea that change needs to be implemented throughout the whole organisation. However, it can be argued that they do not adequately back up these ideas through the results of the research they have presented.
This paper has presented a short critique of a paper looking at occupational stress. A brief summary was followed by a critical analysis of different aspects of the paper, from style and structure through to discussion and conclusions. While the paper has many positive aspects, the author’s conclusions seem only inadequately based in their primary research findings.
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