Research in the area of occupational stress and coping is entering a new phase marked by changing work environment and job characteristics as a result of globalisation, information technology advancement and socio-political developments of the 21st century. There is a need to ensure that theories on occupational stress and coping remain relevant to the modem day organizations and their employees. This prompted experts to propose new theoretical perspectives and research methodologies to better understand occupational stress and coping of today's work place. An example was Cooper, Dewe & O'Driscoll's (2001) recent call for research to focus on the role of moderators within the context of the dynamic transaction between the individual and the environment. This essentially meant that one needs to take on a more holistic and integrated approach to examine not only the patterns of interaction between elements of an identified ecology, which includes both personal and environmental factors, but also how they impact on the etiological process of occupational stress and coping. In view of the rapid changing work environment that one faces in modem organisations and the rising cost of stress at work, new approaches to researching this area are ever more urgent if any breakthrough were to be achieved in the effective prevention and management of occupational stress.
This thesis is a response to the call for a more integrated and holistic approach to investigating and understanding occupational stress and coping. With supports from a set of highly integrated and complex system of statistics, it analyses the occupational stress and coping from a multi-dimension ecological approach which examines the aetiological process of occupational stress and coping in relation to the personal and environmental factors that are found within a specific ecology. This is an ecology that reflects the modem day globalised work environment. The factors that were identified as important to a modem work place included personal factors such as personality of employees and their cultural values, and environmental factor such as the climate of the work environment. These were examined closely across Australian, Singaporean and Sri Lankan samples with their differences and similarities documented. The basic process of stress and coping across the three countries' sample was also charted and compared. The various interactions between personal factors, environmental factor and components within the etiological process were tested across three different countries (i.e., Australia, Singapore and Sri Lanka) to determine their cross-cultural validity. The result is a set of multi-dimension ecological models that depict detailed and specific patterns of interaction that various personal and environmental factors have with components in the etiological process from both culture specific and cross cultural perspectives. Finally, the clinical implications of these etiological models of occupational stress and coping were investigated with results indicating their aetiological relations with depression, anxiety and clinical stress.
A total of five hypotheses are set up for this research; they are:
H1: Paths within the etiological process of occupational stress and coping will differ from one country to another.
H2: Cultural values, organisational climate and personality types (IVs) each has significant impact on the variables (DVs) within the occupational stress and coping process (process variables).
H3: The interactions between cultural values, organisational climates and personality traits will significantly impact on the process variables.
H4: A multi-dimension ecological model that represents the etiological process of occupational stress and coping as well as its relationship with the key factors can be found in both nation/culture specific and cross national/cultural contexts.
H5: The cross culturally robust multi-dimension ecological model is significant in predicting clinical distress in employee.
Data from 511 Australian, Singaporean and Sri Lankan participants was analysed via a number of statistical methods (e.g., ANOV A, Factor Analyses, Multiple & Hierarchical Regressions, Moderated Multiple Regressions, Simple Slope Analyses, & Structural Equation Modelling). These participants are full time working adults recruited from different organisations in both the private and public sectors. Results indicated that:
1) The etiological process of occupational stress and coping has a dualistic quality, which enables it to remain relevant in both culture specific and cross-cultural contexts.
2) This dualistic quality is also found in some of the personal and environmental factors that impact on specific components of the etiological process.
3) A set of multi-dimension ecological models is developed that show specific pattern of pathways or interactions between personal factors, environmental factors and components in the etiological process based on the country that the models represent.
4) A set of cross culturally valid multi-dimension ecological models is also developed to demonstrate the dualistic property of occupational stress and coping under a specific ecology.
5) The multi-dimension ecological models are shown to have direct link to the development of psychological distresses that may require clinical treatment such as depression, anxiety and acute stress.
Implications of the above findings were discussed in relation to future research directions and stress management interventions. Specifically, it is of value to examine further the dualistic nature of the processes and some of the independent variables in occupational stress and coping. This will assist in more precise and effective development of stress management interventions that are sensitive to the unique nature of individual's cognitive and coping behaviours. It will also enrich existing theoretical constructs and principles of stress and coping by giving them the flexibility to be applied across different socio-cultural settings while retaining their relevance to specific cultural and social context. The various models have also provided a general road map of the aetiology of clinical distresses such as depression, anxiety and clinical stress that relates to occupational stress. Clinicians are encouraged to explore further the pathways within these multi-dimension ecological models to determine how work related distresses can be better prevented and treated. Weaknesses of the research were also identified; such as the need to use more stringent and culturally sensitive scales to measure the processes and the cultural variables of individualism and collectivism. These are important steps to further strengthen the cross cultural validity of the thesis's findings.
In conclusion, this research project has successfully applied the transactional theory of stress and coping on to the unique characteristics of today's highly complex and culturally diverse work environment. The multi-dimension ecological models of occupational stress and coping provide important insight into the manner in which an individual of a particular combination of background appraised, coped and experienced work-based stressors as well as the eventual psychological distresses that he/she will experience after prolonged exposure. Such knowledge will facilitate our future research, enriched our understanding of stress and coping and clarify inconsistencies of current research findings.