Bellberry Scholarship Essays

1. Introduction

At an international level, “strong university sectors are associated with stronger economies and higher standards of living” as they contribute markedly to national economic and social prosperity [1] (p. vi). As Australia’s university sector delivers approximately $25 billion to the economy per annum [1], it is crucial that the university sector and its workforce thrive in order to continue to deliver high quality research and teaching outcomes to students. Yet, work stress has increased in the sector, hand in hand with increased competition among universities, technological changes and casualization of the workforce. Job-related stress, defined as “the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressure or other types of demand placed on them” [2] (p. 7), is one of the largest issues in workplaces globally [3]. Due to its adverse impact on worker health and organizational performance [4], it is important to investigate the management of work stress.

A stress management intervention has been defined as “any activity, program, or opportunity initiated by an organization, which focuses on reducing the presence of work-related stressors or on assisting individuals to minimize the negative outcomes of exposure to these stressors” [5] (p. 252). Despite the wide variety of programs to manage stress and improve employee well-being and morale, little evaluative research on organizational stress interventions has been reported in the literature [6]. Reasons for this relate primarily to the methodological and conceptual challenges inherent in stress-intervention research [7,8], the high cost and complexity of organizational interventions [9], and the mixed results of reviews and research on the effectiveness of organizational health interventions [10]. Indeed, Karanika-Murray, Biron, and Saksvik [10] (p. 255) assert that “there is still a great divide between what organizations do to promote workplace health and well-being, on one hand, and what researchers know in terms of what causes ill-health at work, on the other”. Similarly, Cox, Taris and Nielsen [11] call for researchers to examine innovative approaches to improving employee health and well-being. In order to provide solutions to the causes of work-related stress, there is a need for applied researchers to investigate what types of interventions work, when are they effective, and why and how organizational level stress interventions work [12]. We address the underlying question of what university management thinks will work (i.e., their implicit theories of the causes of stress and what will be effective in reducing stress) by examining the types of organizational stress initiatives that were implemented in the specific context of Australian universities, an area experiencing high levels of work stress.

Empirical research suggests that for stress interventions to be effective: (1) the development of interventions should include a participatory approach and involve, and be supported by, employees, unions, and senior management [13]; (2) interventions should publicly detail the process involved in their implementation as doing so can play a salient role in their effectiveness; (3) the intervention strategies should include multilevel approaches that combine individual- and organizational-directed stress management and reduction strategies [14]; (4) interventions should have clearly defined assessment/monitoring policies; and (5) the evaluations of interventions should use multiple self-report and objective measures [12]. However, there are difficulties in evaluating organizational interventions, as the few published successful intervention studies are often methodologically unsound [15]. The goal of this study therefore is to understand the implicit theories of stress management demonstrated by university management. Using a qualitative method, the study identifies the processes and measures to reduce or manage stress undertaken by Human Resource (HR) Directors at five Australian universities across two time-points.

Work stress interventions are delineated into the classifications of primary, secondary, or tertiary approaches that may target the individual, the organization, or both the individual, and the organization. LaMontagne, Keegel, Louie, Ostry, and Landsbergis [16] assert that comprehensive interventions that encompass primary, secondary, and tertiary approaches are more effective on individual and organizational outcomes than other programs, as they address the causes and the consequences of stress by targeting the organization’s and individuals’ needs. Person-directed (individual) interventions, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy and employee assistance programs (EAPs) [17], focus on the employee, or group, to improve their coping resources; the aim is to assist them to deal more effectively with demanding situations, or to modify their appraisal of specific work-related stressors to reduce the perception of threat and its associated aversive emotional responses [18]. Other strategies include organizational (work-directed) interventions that focus on the work environment, and are often referred to as stressor reduction processes, and include job redesign, selection, placement, training, and education programs [17].

Interventions directed at the individual-organization interface focus on the interplay between individual employees and the organization; they include management initiatives such as co-worker support groups to improve relationships at work, improving person-environment fit, addressing role issues, and increasing workers’ participation and autonomy [19]. Giga, Noblet et al. [17] assert that a combination of multilevel organizational and individual intervention strategies is most effective in reducing stress as such an approach addresses the organizational environment, the individual and the individual-organization interface. This view is supported by reviews by Richardson and Rothstein [20], and Tetrick and Winslow [21].

To determine the level at which the HR intervention strategies investigated in the present study were targeted, we categorized them as individual (person-directed), organizational (work-directed), and individual-organization interface-directed, in accordance with the DeFrank and Cooper [22] classification of occupational stress management programs. This classification approach assists in the evaluation of the intervention strategies and their application in university workplaces. To understand the nature of the work-stress process, and gain an insight into the relation between psychosocial risk factors (any organizational factors and interpersonal relationships in the work setting that may affect the health of workers), occupational stress and stress-reduction strategies, it is necessary to examine them within the framework of work-stress models. As Schaufeli and Taris [23] (p. 59) assert that the job demands-resources (JD-R) model “is perfectly suited to guide the integration of occupational health and human resources policies in organizations”, the conceptual framework of the JD-R model [24] will be employed in the present study.

The tenet of the JD-R model is that high job demands lead to strain and health impairments, and that abundant job resources are instrumental in achieving work goals as they lead to increased motivation and higher productivity [23]. The model is an open heuristic model that provides a parsimonious description of the way that two key factors (demands, resources) within the work environment can contribute to job strain or conversely, to improving employee morale and engagement [25]. Job demands are the physical, psychological, social, or organizational aspects of the job (i.e., workload, time pressure, role conflict) that require sustained physical, and/or cognitive and emotional effort associated with physiological and/or psychological costs [24]. Alternatively, job resources are the physical, psychological, social, or organizational aspects of the job (i.e., feedback, recognition, job control, social support) that may: reduce job demands and the associated physiological and psychological costs; aid in achieving work goals; meet intrinsic needs for relatedness; or stimulate personal growth, work engagement, learning and development (the motivation process) [26]. Hence, increased opportunities for personal growth, learning, and development (the motivational hypothesis) link job resources to beneficial individual and/or organizational outcomes through improved morale and positive work attitudes (job satisfaction, work engagement, organizational commitment). For example, Dollard and Bakker [27] present longitudinal evidence that an organization’s policies, practices and procedures to protect workers’ psychosocial health and safety (termed Psychosocial Safety Climate: PSC) are an organizational resource that influences the work context. As job resources are negatively related to stress [24] and are assumed to reduce job demands, work environments that offer many resources can reduce stress and foster morale. Thus, we argue that the stress interventions implemented by university management are an organizational resource component within the JD-R model. The new PSC theory [27] taps the issue of management priority for worker psychological health versus productivity imperatives. The theory proposes that PSC is influenced by senior management and their values, and is a precursor to working conditions.

Research on university staff has shown that work-related stress in universities has risen internationally due to the external pressures facing universities and their workforce including increased competitiveness, the implementation of policies to measure research performance, broader technological advances, demand-driven funding [28] and reduced government financial support [29,30,31,32,33,34,35]. Specific to the Australian context, the adverse impact of economic and management imperatives on the well-being of staff in Australian universities has been well documented [36,37].

The present research emerged from a qualitative focus group study of 15 universities which showed that both academic and non-academic staff experienced high levels of stress associated with: “(1) a lack of funding, resources and support services; (2) task overload; (3) poor leadership and management; (4) a lack of promotion, recognition and reward; and (5) job insecurity” [37] (p. 68). Consequently, a two-wave longitudinal study of occupational stress was undertaken in which the first phase involved surveying all contract and tenured staff at 17 universities (the responding sample of 8732 participants provided a 25% response rate). The study found that reduced staffing levels and job security, and increased student numbers were related to high levels of strain and low levels of perceived control in staff [36]. Based on those findings and empirical research on work stress, the researchers made recommendations to enable the participating universities to introduce multilevel stress-reduction interventions that included raising staff awareness of EAPs, increasing the fairness of university procedures (promotion, redundancy, performance appraisal), enhancing communication and consultation processes, reducing academics’ job demands, and increasing job security [36]. Three years later, a follow-up survey was undertaken at 13 universities with responses from 6321 participants (a 26% response rate).

The present study examines information supplied by HR Directors at five of those 13 universities. The assumption motivating this qualitative examination is that a more specific and in-depth examination of the five individual universities will reveal details of the specific and/or customized intervention strategies that were implemented in the period between the initial and the follow-up study, and how the interventions were targeted. Investigating these characteristics may provide an insight into how university management perceives psychosocial risk factors in university employees, and how management attempts to address those risk factors. The present study contributes to the applied stress intervention literature by examining the following research questions from the perspective of university management: (a) the types of HR/OHS interventions and strategies that were implemented by the universities that were designed to reduce employee-levels of work stress and increase morale and well-being; (b) the types of individual-, organization-, and individual/organization interface-directed interventions that were implemented; and (c) the key intervention strategy that was implemented at each university that best exemplified the university’s commitment to improving staff well-being and morale. Accordingly, we investigated the following research questions using a qualitative method in real-life university settings.

  • Research Question 1 (RQ1): What intervention strategies were employed by university management?

  • Research Question 2 (RQ2): At what level were the interventions directed?

  • Research Question 3 (RQ3): What initiatives were implemented as a priority?

2. Materials and Methods

In 2007, the Vice-Chancellors of the 13 universities who participated in the follow-up survey were contacted and invited to participate in the present study. Five Vice-Chancellors agreed to participate whilst eight Vice-Chancellors declined the invitation. The five participating universities located in three Australian States comprised: two “Old” universities, two “New” universities, and one “Australian Technology Network (ATN)” university. The eight non-participating universities constituted one “Old”, two “New”, two “ATN” and three “Middle” universities. In Australia, “Old” universities are those established between 1853 and 1911, and “Middle” universities refer to those established between 1954 and 1974. “New” universities are those established between 1988 and 1992 [36], and “ATN” universities are former Institutes of Technology that are now focused on industry collaboration and applied research [38].

Each Vice-Chancellor nominated a Senior HR Director to participate in the research. The five nominated Directors were contacted via email and each agreed to participate in the study and complete an Intervention Evaluation Survey (IES) in 2008. Ethical approval (protocol P019/08) was granted on 4 April 2008 by the University of South Australia’s Human Research Ethics Committee.

The IES was based on empirical evidence and research by Pignata and Winefield [39], that identified the specific HR/OHS stress management and reduction interventions that were undertaken at one Australian university. Using a participative/collaborative approach, a preliminary draft of the IES was circulated to all of the nominated university representatives in order to obtain their feedback and to develop the survey further. After including their feedback, the survey was then examined by an independent university HR Director who provided feedback on the survey content only, and did not participate in the study. This feedback was also incorporated into the IES.

The IES comprised two sections. Section 1 consisted of a checklist of 11 intervention targets and listed multiple intervention options. The intervention targets and examples of their respective options included: (1) increase awareness of stress and its management—eight options (e.g., promoted employee assistance program to staff); (2) enhance job design and reduce job pressure—13 options (e.g., streamlined administrative procedures); (3) improve work-life balance in staff—10 options (e.g., established/promoted family-friendly provisions); (4) improve communication and consultation with staff—eight options (e.g., improved all communication processes from management to staff); (5) address tenure concerns—four options (e.g., established/reviewed vocational counselling for redeployees); (6) enhance workplace interpersonal relations—six options (e.g., implemented/reviewed workplace bullying and violence policy); (7) enhance the fairness of policies and procedures—11 options (e.g., increased transparency of performance appraisal procedures); (8) increase staff levels of trust in senior management—eight options (e.g., developed leadership capabilities in staff); (9) enhance training, career development and promotional opportunities—15 options (e.g., established mentoring/coaching program); (10) improve remuneration and recognition practices—13 options (e.g., implemented/reviewed performance planning and review systems); and (11) improve health and lifestyle in staff—seven options (e.g., established/reviewed fitness and exercise program).

Section 2 of the IES was an open-ended questionnaire in which senior HR Directors were asked to describe a key strategy (program, policy or procedure) that best exemplified their university’s commitment to improving staff well-being and morale. They were also asked to provide details of the strategy’s aim, the extent of its coverage, the target group(s), how the at-risk group(s) were identified, and which groups were involved in planning and implementing the strategy.

To investigate the research questions, data analyses were conducted independently for each university, both to relate back to the objectives and to draw out policy implications. A detailed investigation of each case allowed us to draw out any trends and provided the basis for cross-case comparison [40]. Microsoft Excel was used to chart the data. Following the techniques proposed by Yin [41], once each case was completed, the results were checked to see if they replicated the findings in the previous cases. Once all the cases were entered into the data set, cross-case conclusions were then drawn.

Their appearance is similar to Teddy Grahams of North America. The names Happy, Hungry Cheeky Grumpy, Silly and Sleepy are used to identify the various facial expressions (Arnotts.com nd). 1.0 Situation Analysis/Current Marketing Mix 1.1 Current Product The main benefits that consumers get by purchasing Tiny Teddy biscuits are their flavors, shapes and sweetness (Ibisworld, 2009). A pack of tiny teddy biscuits contains biscuits that are bite sized hence they are most convenient to eat them almost everywhere. This brand of biscuits is available in five flavors namely honey, chocolate, chocolate chip and 100s and 1000s. The distinctive feature about the packaging of this product is that they are packaged in quantities that help consumers control their portions. The muti-packs enable consumers to limit what they consume. The product is labeled using descriptions of various facial expressions. These are Happy, Hungry Cheeky Grumpy, Silly and Sleepy (Arnotts.com, nd). Each Tiny Teddy biscuit is small and is teddy bear-shaped. Their appearance is similar to Teddy Grahams of North America. The shapes and the use of names denoting facial expressions are the main features that make this product unique and different from competing brands. All the tiny teddies are half-coated in milk chocolate. Arnott's Biscuits Holdings have an online shop through which customers can make their purchases and where possible, the company delivers the product to them (Boag, 1993). The main users of this product are consumers. Due to their great tastes and funny shapes, consumers are wiling to spend an average of 2 hours looking for the product. Most of those who cannot find this product go for substitute product. These mainly include other brands of biscuits from the same company (Boag, 1993). 1.2 Current Pricing Tiny teddy biscuits exist in a very competitive market environment. The market is highly competitive die to the availability of a large number of similar brands of sweet biscuits from various manufactures. These include Yamazaki Baking Company Ltd, Associated British Foods PLC; Morinaga Milk Industry Company Ltd.; United Biscuits UK Ltd, Nabisco Biscuit, Co Goodman Fielder Proprietary Ltd, and The Belberry Biscuit Company (Startlocal, 2011). If there is a change in the price of this product, consumer demand will change due to the wide range of choice available to the consumers. The current price of tiny teddy is lower than that of its competitors. A 325 gm pack goes for $5.85 as compared to $5.0 or more for its main competitors (Aussie Food Shop, nd). Although their prices are attractive, the consumers of tiny teddies mainly base their purchases on the product’s uniqueness like their features and shapes. The business’s costs are very important when determining the price of tiny teddy. This is because the company has to factor in all the expenses incurred in terms of resource utilization and external expenses. These include the total cost of ingredients, labor, energy, government taxation, packaging, advertisements among others. After considering all expenses incurred in the production process, the company comes up with an average figure on which it will add its desired profit so as to come up with a consumer price. 1.3 Current Distribution In Australia, there are as many as 50 locations where consumers can buy tiny teddy. These distribution points are mainly located in urban areas where they can be reached by many people. Before 2004, ...Show more

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