Stress is an inevitable part of working life within any organization. Every employee encounters different types of stressful situations, which ultimately shape our attitudes towards, and perceptions of, the organization we work for. The authors of this study (Zhang, Lepine, Buckman, & Wei, 2014) proposed that people encounter two types of stress in the workplace, challenge stressors and hindrance stressors.
TYPES OF WORKPLACE STRESS
Challenge stressors consist of stress related to workload, the levels of complexity of a job, and time constraints. These stressors are common in most jobs and are a normal part of any work environment. Employees know that burdensome challenge stressors will typically lead to some sort of reward.
Hindrance stressors consist of stress related to workplace ambiguity, which involves roles and responsibilities not being clearly defined. Hindrance stressors also include office politics and unnecessary red tape within the organization. In essence, hindrance stressors are unnecessarily burdensome to employees and provide no perceived benefit.
The researchers acknowledged that both forms of stress can cause an employee to experience mental fatigue and decreased job performance. But employees generally accept challenge stressors because, in the long term, this type of stress can be beneficial for developing coping skills that may help employees navigate continued stressful work environments. The study found that different leadership styles within an organization can also have an impact on an employee’s stress level.
Transactional leadership focuses on an exchange between the organization’s leader and its employees. Generally, leadership will provide employees with specific deadlines, goals and objectives to complete. Employees can usually expect a system of rewards or punishment in response to completion of their tasks under specified criteria.
Transformational leadership focuses on communicating the vision, mission, and direction of the company to those within the organization. It can also include getting “buy in” from employees regarding the direction of the organization and allowing them to have an invested stake in the company. In short, it is effective for empowering employees.
THE ROLE OF ORGANIZATIONAL JUSTICE
The types of stress and leadership we encounter within the workplace can shape whether we perceive the actions of the organization’s leadership as being fair or not. This concept of fairness is described as organizational justice. In other words, do we feel that we are being properly compensated for the work stress we endure? If we do not feel that the stress we encounter is fair, then it is bound to negatively impact our overall job performance. As a result, employees who feels that stress is unwarranted will take steps to avoid unnecessary mental fatigue.
To examine the connection between leadership styles, fairness, and job performance, researchers conducted a study consisting of 339 employees and 88 supervisors.
The study led to some interesting findings, which included:
- Organizational justice (fairness) reduces the impact of hindrance stressors on job performance.
- Greater exposure to transactional leadership can indirectly reduce the impact of negative hindrance stressors on job performance.
- Greater exposure to transformational leadership can indirectly increase the positive impact of challenge stressors on job performance. This occurs because of improved organizational justice.
BIG PICTURE TAKEAWAYS
The study found that transactional leadership affects an employee’s view of fairness, which indirectly lessens the negative impact of hindrance stressors, but does not do the same for challenge stressors. Basically, transactional leaders provide a clearly defined set of rewards and punishment regarding tasks, which allows employees to know precisely where they stand.
The study also found that transformational leadership affects an employee’s view of fairness, which lessens the stress associated with challenge stressors, but does not do the same for hindrance stressors. A transformational leader helps employees take ownership of their work, and the employee, in turn, sees challenge stressors as opportunities for growth and improvement. Transformational leaders are not as effective with hindrance stressors because employees may view these leaders as “out of touch.” They do not address the bureaucracy, as they are more focused on big picture objectives.
In the end, the article makes a case that transformational and transactional leaders both have their place. This supports previous research suggesting that the best leaders have aspects that are both transactional and transformational. Leaders who inspire employees and also provide adequate structure can provide a sense of organizational balance. By offering a more balanced work environment, these leaders can help reduce the negative impact that stress has on an organization. This ultimately helps to increase job performance among employees.
Zhang, Y., Lepine, J. A., Buckman, B. R., & Wei, F. (2014). It’s Not Fair … Or Is It? The Role of Justice and Leadership in Explaining Work Stressor–Job Performance Relationships. Academy of Management Journal, 57(3), 675-697.