An exploration of workplace stressors and employee adjustment: An organisational culture perspective.

Newton, Cameron John (2006). An exploration of workplace stressors and employee adjustment: An organisational culture perspective. PhD Thesis, School of Psychology , University of Queensland.

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Author Newton, Cameron John
Thesis Title An exploration of workplace stressors and employee adjustment: An organisational culture perspective.
School, Centre or Institute School of Psychology
Institution University of Queensland
Publication date 2006
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Dr Nerina Jimmieson
Abstract/Summary Occupational stress research can be characterised as embarking on a new chapter driven by varying work environments and job characteristics that have resulted from increased globalisation, changing socio-political developments, and technological advancement. Consequently, there is a need to ensure that theories of occupational stress remain relevant and current with respect to modern organisations and their employees. This situation has prompted researchers to propose new theoretical perspectives and methodologies in order to facilitate a better understanding of the work stressor-employee adjustment process in organisations. In this respect, researchers have identified the need to investigate the role of broader contextual factors within the dynamic transaction between the individual and the environment in order to more fully understand the occupational stress process (e.g., Cooper, Dewe, & O’Driscoll, 2001). One such potential moderator is organisational culture (i.e., the guiding assumptions, shared values, and artefacts that are representative of an organisation; Schein, 1985). Organisational culture has been referred to as an influential organisational force, pervasive and powerful (Howard, 1998). However, a review of literature reveals caveats in the knowledge of organisational culture and its relative influence on the experience of work stressors and the adjustment of employees. Research has yet to extensively examine the work stressor-employee adjustment relationship as a function of organisational culture. In this thesis, it is posited that different types of organisational culture might be associated with different stressors that influence employee adjustment. Such a proposition adds another dimension to existing occupational stress research. Overall, this thesis sought to investigate the relationships between organisational culture, workplace stressors, and employee adjustment. In order to conduct this research, Study 1 employed primarily qualitative methodology to initially explore potential differences relating to organisational cultures and workplace stressors. To further explore the potential relationships identified within Study 1, quantitative data (combined from three organisations) formed the basis for three separate sets of analyses presented in Chapters 4, 5, and 6. Each study is briefly reviewed below. First, interview data was collected from six organisations representing the four organisational cultures (N = 77) identified by the Competing Values Framework (CVF: Quinn & Rohrbaugh, 1983); a framework that combines two axes (structure - flexibility vs. control, and focus - internal vs. external) to create four organisational culture types. This study aimed to determine whether manifestations and perceptions of work stressors differed as a function of the four organisational cultures. For each culture type, between 13 and 24 employees were interviewed. The results revealed that work stressors within organisational cultures were manifested as a function of the primary organisational values, and that human relations culture stressors were additionally related to others not abiding the primary workplace values. Further, results revealed that several employees (within the flexible-type cultures especially) described workplace events more as a challenge than stressful, and that these employees reported a similarity between themselves and the organisation. These findings suggested that a person’s fit or congruence with the organisational culture might be an important facet of the investigation of organisational culture, perceptions of work stressors, and employee adjustment. This exploratory investigation informed the three separate sets of analyses conducted in Study 2 of this thesis which were all based on combined data collected from three participating organisations (N = 256). First, Study 2a sought to further investigate the relationships between organisational culture, work stressors, and employee adjustment using questionnaire methodology in a sample of employees drawn from three different organisations (N = 256). Employees were grouped based on their dominant perceptions of flexible (i.e., human relations and open systems) and control (i.e., rational goal and internal process) organisational cultures. It was predicted that perceptions of a flexible culture would be associated with more favourable levels of organisational, job, and social stressors, as well as employee adjustment (employee health and job-related attitudes), compared to the group of employees who perceived their workplace to be high on control characteristics. Results of MANCOVA analyses in Study 2a revealed that ratings of organisational stressors (e.g., lack of resources) and social stressors (e.g., interpersonal conflict), and job-related attitudes (e.g., job satisfaction, organisational commitment, intentions to leave) were significantly more favourable for those perceiving flexible- compared to controltype organisational cultures. A significant multivariate effect was not found for job stressors or employee health; however, mean levels for all stressor and employee adjustment outcomes were more favourable in flexible- than control-type organisational cultures, overall. Responding to the themes of Study 1 relating to the notion of person-environment fit, Study 2b investigated the extent that person-organisation value congruence predicted employee adjustment. Drawing on scant research, it was first expected that highendorsement congruence of person and organisational values would be associated with higher levels of job-related attitudes. Extending the scope of existing research, Study 2b also sought to determine the effects of value congruence on psychological health and physiological stress-related symptoms. Providing some support for hypotheses, polynomial regression analyses revealed that congruence effects associated with jobrelated attitudes were generally most favourable for high-value endorsement congruence. This effect was not replicated with respect to psychological health, which was highest for only very high and very low value endorsement congruence. Overall, support for value congruence effects was relatively weak. Lastly, Study 2c further examined the ‘person-organisation match’ theme and investigated the effects of direct perceptions of fit (i.e., subjective fit) with organisational goals and values. It was predicted that higher perceptions of subjective fit with the organisation’s values and goals would mitigate the effect of work stressors on employee adjustment. The results revealed considerable support for the buffering effects of high subjective fit on the negative impacts of work stressors on psychological health, physiological symptoms, job satisfaction, and intentions to leave. Interestingly, results also revealed that the buffering effect favoured those perceiving low subjective fit on psychological health; those perceiving high subjective fit were not protected against the effects of perceived lack of training on their psychological health, suggesting that perceptions related to feeling under-trained had a more deleterious psychological impact on those who perceived themselves to fit within the organisational culture. This unexpected result is discussed in terms of a possible perceived breach of psychological contract for those perceiving high subjective fit with the organisational culture. Overall, the results of this program of research have several significant theoretical implications. First, the results demonstrate the considerable influence of organisational culture on work stressor-adjustment relationship as described by transactional theories of stress and coping (e.g., Lazarus, 1990; Lazarus & Folkman, 1984). Indeed, this thesis provides evidence suggesting that organisational culture can have an influence on both perceptions of work stressors and employee adjustment. Second, whilst supporting the existence of the four CVF organisational cultures, the results also indicated that perceptions of flexible- and control-type cultural values were most influential on the work stressor-adjustment relationship. Lastly, the results of this thesis extend the scope and application of person-environment fit theories relating to value congruence and subjective perceptions of fit. As such, the findings suggest that an important element in the investigation of organisational culture and employee adjustment is the degree to which the individual matches the underlying cultural values and goals.

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