Thursday, 13 September 2012

How Type As cope with stress – for better and worse

You might be familiar with the term 'Type A personality': someone highly strung, organised, proactive, and tackling all - sometimes more - than they can handle. There has been much attention on its long-term effects on health, notably heart disease (it turns out to have a low prognostic power), but we have a less complete picture of how it influences how we feel in specific stressful work environments. A study by Amanda Allisey, John Rodwell and Andrew Noblet reveals more, including some surprising effects.

Allisey's team surveyed 897 operational police officers, mostly male, based in Australia. They wanted to investigate a specific account - Siegrist's Effort-Reward Imbalance (ERI) model - which states that stress occurs when we put in effort and receive little reward, particularly when we are personally overcommitted to the work. Taking it beyond its medical roots, the researchers were interested in work outcomes, specifically affective commitment and psychological distress, and in the effect of Type A personality. They surveyed these features, along with measures of effort and various type of occupational reward, and used regression to see what factors were driving the work outcomes. A separate measure of overcommitment was taken and entered early into the regression to ensure that any effects of Type A were over and above the individual difference already known to influence the ERI.

They found that multiple components of Type A influenced the workplace outcomes, but for both good and ill. As predicted, under conditions of high levels of effort, the presence of impatience-irritability lead to greater psychological distress, and further exacerbated things when the job rewards of security and mobility were absent. Conversely, the presence of the achievement striving component seemed to act as a buffer when the individual received little in the way of status, protecting them from psychological distress. Possibly for such individuals, the intrinsic meaning of getting the work done means that organisational awards matter less.

Finally, the component of hostility was overall linked to increased strain. But there was a twist: under conditions of low security and esteem rewards, which would ordinarily lead to lower affective commitment, individuals expressing high hostility were shielded. The researchers conjecture, along the lines of recent research on negative work behaviour, that 'acting-out', for instance by sounding-off vocally, can provide employees with emotional coping benefits. This seems plausible given that both security and esteem showed the strongest overall relationships with psychological distress and affective commitment: these are the things whose absence appears to truly pile on the pressure, calling for some kind of escape valve.

This research suggests that the association of Type A personality with stress susceptibility is oversimplistic. The cluster of traits that sit within the type can help or hinder stress levels, depending on the nature of the stress environment. The study also calls attention to the fact that different rewards may matter much more when it comes to balancing efforts. In particular, the importance of self esteem suggests that maintaining a 'culture of respect' within organisations may be critical not just for employee relations but by protecting them from stress.


ResearchBlogging.orgAmanda Allisey, John Rodwell, & Andrew Noblet (2012). Personality and the effort-reward imbalance model of stress: Individual differences in reward sensitivity Work & Stress: An International Journal of Work, Health & Organisations , 26 (3), 230-251 DOI: 10.1080/02678373.2012.714535

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