Integrating P-E Fit & Demand Induced Strain Compensation Models of Work Stress.

Date01 January 2018
AuthorBathini, Dharma Raju


Stress is a frequently used term, especially at work. The individual consequences of work stress are extensive and range from psychological distress (Revicki & Gershon, 1996) to cancer (Dettenborn et al., as cited in Carston & Gardner, 2009: 26). On the organizational front, it leads to loss of productivity (Cooper, Liukkonen & Cartwright as cited in Cooper, Dewe & Michael, 2001: 1), wellbeing and increased health costs (Cooper et al., 2001). Consequently, in order to eliminate it or to mitigate its negative effects, organizational literature has extensively studied stress.

Person-environment fit models are widely discussed in stress literature. These models capture the specific effects of the fit between the characteristics of the individual and those of the environment (Edwards, 2008). Similarly, various match models, which describe the relationship between job characteristics (job demands, resources and strain), are also prevalent in stress literature (Daniel & de Jonge, 2008). These models are universal in nature as they describe the relationships between various job characteristics and do not emphasize on the individual effects. This paper reviews both person-environment and match models and then develops an integrated model of person-environment and one of the match models viz. demand induced strain compensation.

Work Stress

Contemporary approach to stress, which is transactional in nature, endeavors to encapsulate the dynamic transactions between all variables of the stress process (Vollrath, 2001).The transactional view of the stress process focuses on the appraisal and coping mechanisms (Cooper et al., 2001). Primary appraisal involves the individual perceiving a stressful encounter as either challenging or as a threat to his/her well-being. Threat appraisals arise when the person evaluates the demands of the situation to exceed the available coping resources. Subsequently, secondary appraisal includes evaluation of the resources available for dealing with the identified situation and selection of a coping response. Coping involves the attempts made by the individual to manage stress.

Accordingly, stress is defined as the process where an individual constantly transacts with the environment, makes meaning out of it, and attempts to cope with the issues that arise. Strain arises when the individuals perceive that the demands of an encounter significantly exceed the available resources. This threatens wellbeing and necessitates a change in functioning of the individual to manage the encounter (Cooper et al., 2001).

Several theoretical models have been proposed for investigating work related stress. Significant among these models are the stress cycle, the person-environment (P-E) fit, job demands-control, general systems, and cybernetics (see Cooper et al., 2001 for a review). According to Edwards (2008), P-E fit is common to most models of stress either implicitly or explicitly. In interaction models, the emphasis is on the interaction between the characteristics of the individual and those of the environment. The two sets of characteristics are considered as distinct entities for statistical analysis. In transactional models, person and environment entities combine to form a new relational meaning (Vollrath, 2001). Central to most transaction models are the evaluative processes through the individual perceives environmental demands as significant and exceeding the available resources. Strain occurs when the demands from the environment are perceived to not match the resources available at the individual's disposal. This mismatch is the central tenet of the P-E fit approach.

Person-Environment Fit Model

P-E fit stress model is the most widely discussed one in stress literature (Edwards, 2008). There are several variations of the P-E fit model, which can be categorized along two dichotomies. One dichotomy is between supplementary versus complementary fit. Value congruence models, such as the theory of vocational choice proposed by Holland, which deal with the congruence between job characteristics and person's values, cognitive style and skills, belong to supplementary fit category. In supplementary fit, the individual has the same characteristics as the environment (most individuals in the environment). Some studies (Furnham & Schaeffer, 1984; Furnham & Walsh, 1991) found that incongruence as per Holland's model resulted in work stress. In another interesting study done on bus drivers, physical illness was reported higher for those drivers whose preferences were incongruent with work environment (Searle & Bright, 2003). The authors conclude that people might actually prefer to work in high strain jobs like bus driving. They experience less strain as their preferences match with the work environment. While a few researchers have discussed the supplementary fit, the complementary fit received wide attention from stress scholars.

The complementary fit models can broadly be classified into two types based on the nature of the fit; Demands-Abilities fit (D-A) and Supplies-Values fit (S-V) (Edwards, 1996). As per D-A model, strain arises as a result of a misfit between the demands from the environment and the abilities of the individual to cope with these demands. According to S-V fit models, a misfit between individual needs or values and the environment reinforcements (supplies) leads to strain.

There is also a debate on which model, D-A fit or S-V, best explains the strain process. Some researchers contend that D-A fit has an effect through the S-V fit (Harrison, 1978 as cited in Edwards & Cooper, 1990). According to this line of thinking, the consequences of not meeting the environment demands lead to strain. The individual recognizes that his/her needs will not be met by the organization, if he/she falls short of meeting the demands of the organization. Thus, a gap in D-A will result in a gap between individual values and organizational supplies. Therefore, S-V fit is considered to have a direct effect on stress while D-A fit is expected to have a mediating role through S-V fit. However, Edwards (1996) found that both S-V fit and the D-A fit are linked to strain, though S-V fit is primarily linked to satisfaction, while D-A fit is primarily linked to tension.

Misfit between the characteristics of both the person and the environment can either be subjective or objective (Caplan, 1987). While the objective misfit can also result in stress, most stress models emphasize on the subjective misfit. As per transactional models, it is the evaluation or appraisal of the individual that the environment demands exceed his/her abilities, which is considered central to the stress process, rather than the actual misfit (Vollrath, 2001). The transactional nature of stress is best captured by the notion of subjective fit rather than by objective fit. Further, it is difficult to assess the environment and person characteristics objectively. These constructs regarding the environment and person are mostly defined in a subjective manner. However, capturing both the subjective and objective misfits enables a better understanding of the role of the...

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