Individually oriented strategies for coping with occupational stress and reducing its health consequences are reviewed. Two sets of research studies are examined: those attempting to identify coping behaviors and determine the degree to which the use of those behaviors reduces the effects of work stressors on health, and those evaluating prescriptive strategies for helping workers manage or control responses to stress. It is pointed out that socially censored coping behaviors such as physical violence and industrial sabotage, and maladaptive behaviors such as increased alcohol use, have not been examined in the literature. Problem focused coping behaviors appear to be valued more highly by researchers than emotion focused behaviors, although the latter appear to be used more frequently in everyday life situations. In general, the available literature associates stress management strategies with health promotion and disease prevention orientation, an emphasis which may widen the gap between sources of occupational stress and stress management methods. It is noted that the lack of worker controls over organizational attributes and the way work is designed may explain the ineffectiveness of individual coping strategies in handling such stress. Studies do show that when workers learn skills aimed at managing distress via stress management techniques, reductions in anxiety, depression, muscle tension, and perhaps blood pressure result, although these benefits deteriorate over time. A literature review suggests that stress management techniques do not produce impressive changes in productivity or absenteeism. In addition, individual change has minimal effects on social structures. The author concludes that studies of stress management techniques in organizational settings should acknowledge that these programs do not take place in a social/political vacuum nor against a backdrop of stable work and life stress, and these factors must be taken into account in any stress management study.
Division of Biomedical and Behavioral Science, NIOSH, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Cincinnati, Ohio, 33 pages, 38 references