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W M A Wan Hussin

MANAGING STRESS AT THE WORKPLACE:


THE APPLICATION OF WAN HUSSIN
3-DIMENSIONAL STRESS MANAGEMENT
MODEL
W M A Wan Hussin
Abstract

As employees, we need to consider stress


as an inescapable part of modern life. Day
after day, we are faced with a continuous
barrage of stressors. We get some relief at
night when we sleep, but even in our sleep
we might dream about our stressors, again
triggering the physiological mechanism
fight-or-flight response. Managing stress
requires an adaptive response, so all
changes (even positive ones) are stressful.
The more changes in life, the more
vulnerable we are to illnesses, bodily system
breakdown or emotional difficulties.
Stress negatively affects the body in three
dimensions namely the physical,
psychological,
and
occupational
functioning in a variety of ways. But as
technology and way of life change, most
of the stressors we face in modern world
are not physical; thus neither fighting nor
fleeing is an adaptive response. To
understand stress and manage it better, a
3-D model of stress management is
developed. The model outlines a stress
management strategy that can be explained
in 3 stages. Stage I is the Unexpected Stage
whereby the surveying is done to determine
the exact situation. Stage 2 is the Stress
Projection Stage whereby various stress
tests are carried out to determine the exact
level of stress. Stage 3 is the Expected Stage
whereby the mapping of the stress findings
is formulated based on a thorough
understanding of the physical,
physiological
and
occupational
consequences, stress management strategy
and mastery techniques.
Keywords: 3-D stress management
model, stress surveying, stress projection,
stress mapping.
Associate Professor, School of Civil
Engineering, University Sains Malaysia (USM)
Malaysia
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Introduction
When the question of stress was posed to
students, employees, employers and workshop
participants, many typically respond that as
tension, nervousness, headaches, workloads,
deadlines to meet, family problems, and so on.
The list could be endless that could eventually
form the pressure jigsaw (Figure 1) but these are
actually a list of effects of stress or causes of stress,
or stressors (Wan Hussin, 2003).
Stress is a state of physiological imbalance in the
body which has unpleasant emotional and
cognitive components. It is the state the body is
supposed to be in when youre faced with a real
threat, like the approach of a hungry lion. The
body enters this state to prepare us to defend
ourselves (fight) or run away (flight). Every time
the mind interprets something as unusual, exciting
or alarming, the body is instantly primed for
action. This so called fight-or-flight response is
in fact a life-saving function. Staying in this state
long-term can do serious harm to the mood,
health and performance because the physiological
changes that underlie stress are extremely
destructive.
When a person is stressed, the brain releases
powerful hormones called glucocorticoids which
raise the blood pressure and tense the muscles.
The body responds to almost any threat, real or
perceived, using this ancient defence system which
is meant to operate for short periods only or just

Pranjana ? Vol 11, No 2, Jul-Dec, 2008

long enough to get us to safety or defeat our adversary. Left in this state for prolonged
periods, a number of the body systems deteriorate. Eventually, prolonged stress can lead
to death.
Stress, an escapable part of modern life at the workplace is a real thing and is in fact
alarming (Wan Hussin, 2001, 2002, 2007e, 2007f). Employees cannot function effectively
unless stress is dealt with wisely and systematically. Understanding the realities of stress,
exploring how it affects the body and minds, the various levels of stress, some practical
approaches and adaptive response strategies to stress and its management is therefore a
vital part of life. The degree of stress an employee might face in life is in fact the sums of
the potentially stressful events he or she is facing, the manner he or she responds to these
events and how significant is the events (happy, sad or indifferent).
To the organization, one of the employees off sick with stress creates ripples of consequences
like a pebble thrown in a pond. Life is therefore hard for stressed employees and the
impact inevitably spreads to family, friends, colleagues and the organization as a whole.
They can realize their full potential when they are exhausted and unwell. When an
organization recognizes that workers are their most valuable assets, their only rational
response can be to support their workers in managing stress positively.
In the bustling working world today, competition is relentless, demanding constant innovation
and increases in productivity. The success of a brilliant employee is driven by the need to
stay ahead of rivals and peers. They are taught to be resilient and laced with the picture
of success. The norm that employers, themselves stressed and permanently tired, use
phrases such as if you cant stand the heat, get out of the kitchen thats the way it is,
no longer hold unless managing stress at the workplace is taken seriously. A strategic Wan
Hussin 3-D Stress Management Model is presented to make managing stress easily
understandable (Figure 2).

Figure 1. The Pressure Jigsaw (Wan Hussin, 2003, 2007e, 2007f)


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2.0 Consequences of Stress


In stressology, the understanding of the effects of stress and how it overloads the coping
resources as well as dealing with the demands placed on us by circumstances can also be
easily understood by visualising the negative effects of stress in 3 different consequences:
a) the physical consequences
b) the physiological consequences; and
c)
the occupational consequences.
2.0.1 The Physical Consequences
Stress does not automatically cause one to be ill physically. Its impact on health could be
mediated by a combination of personality variables, genetic makeup, upbringing and
environment. Studies have shown that about 80% of visits to the doctors are for stressrelated disorders (Scala, 2000). But the clear physical consequences once under prolonged
stress will make the immune system weakened thereby vulnerable to illnesses.
Glucocorticoids, the stress hormones cause the white blood cells to migrate to the bone
marrow, making them less available for combating diseases. As the immune system
weakens, increased susceptibility to cancer tends to become more prominent as well as
weakening of the muscles and glands. Cardiovascular diseases (heart diseases and stroke)
are some of the common outcomes. Others physical consequences are ulcer, diabetes,
hypertension, cholesterol levels rises, ulcers, spastic colons and other gastrointestinal
disorders such as acidity levels brought on by the elevation of stress hormone cortisol, and
nocturnal bruxism (teeth grinding at night).
2.0.2 The Psychological Consequences
Stress is always directly associated with emotional difficulties and behavioural problems.
As too much demand is placed on the body, the ability to relax and enjoy life is affected.
This in turn creates a host of other effects such as anxiety, phobias, panic attacks,
depression, obsessions, compulsions and other psychiatric disorders. Other common effects
are insomnia, aggression, alcoholism, other habitual addictions and divorce.
2.0.3 The Occupational Consequences
Stress and the inability to function as a result of thoughts, fears, phobias and concentration
failure are always directly related. The inability to cope with life stressors leads to lower
productivity, absenteeism, and increased mistakes on the job as well as accidents.
Occupational consequences are always directly related to both psychological (emotional)
and physical consequences and in turn create major financial losses to the individual and
the organization. Even insurance companies are plagued by a surge in claims for disability
due to stress-related disorders.
3.0 Wan Hussin 3-D Stress Management Model
A model (Figure 2) was developed to facilitate the understanding of stress and its coping
strategies (Wan Hussin, 2007a, 2007e, 2007f). The initial stage, called the Unexpected
Stage, is the survey part, which is the collection of information and identifying all the
unexpected stress contributors, so significant in shaping the stress situation one is facing,
using various field methods.
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The third stage, called the Expected Stage, is the mapping stage using the transformation
results from the second stage which is the process of mapping out the expected findings
from the initial stage using a practical transformation process.
The second stage which is the transformation stage is termed as the Projection Stage. It
is the crucial stage whereby findings from Stage 1 (The Unexpected Stage) is transformed
using various available mechanisms, i.e. the various Stress Projection Types which uses
the various stress tests and inventories to determine the extent of the problem. Results
from the second stage are then mapped (i.e. Mapping the Findings) in Stage 3 (the
Expected Stage) which leads to the formulation of the suitable stress coping strategies. In
Stressology, choosing the right projection, also termed as stress reframing, due to the fact
that there are various ways at looking at the extremes of stress as the vast majority of that
which are deemed to be stressful to us, is truly a mater of perception. In other words, if
one perceives a situation to be threatening in some way, then he or she will react with the
fight-or-flight response and experience stress. If one perceives it as non-threatening, then
he or she is not going to be stressed by it. In fact, the way one thinks about things
determines how he or she will experience the world in so much as the various projections
to be used to suit the important mapping criteria.

Figure 2. Wan Hussin 3-D Stress Management Model (Wan Hussin, 2007a, 2007e, 2007f)
3.0.1 STAGE 1 - The Unexpected Stage
The Unexpected Stage is the stage where stresses are surveyed and information gathered
are booked in a stress diary. Also called stress journaling, it is an act of writing about
feelings of stress, as well as exploring potential solutions to these problems. Studies have
shown that the use of stress diary or stress journaling can soothe and help you process
difficult feelings and also take proactive steps against future stress.
Managing stress is only effective if it is put on the table, and more importantly its means
of elimination are identified. Jotting down events that lead to stress, either at home or in
the office, and the suspected sources of its occurrence are vital in strategic stress
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management. For example, if you are stressed at home, is it when your child behaves
defiantly, or when your spouse acts indifferently towards you. In this stage, therefore, the
objective is to realistically identify those things that make your life difficult on a regular
basis. Admitting that you are stressed is already a battle half won; identifying its probable
sources will eventually complete the stress battle. An example of a stress diary incorporating
the action plan(s) is shown in Table 1 below.
3.0.2 STAGE 2 - Stress Projection Types
The various Stress Projection Types are the various stress tests and inventories that could
be used to determine the extent of the problem and these tests could vary due to various
circumstances.
Table 1. Stress Diary
Stressor

Manifestation

Problem(s)

Duration

Solution(s)

Bored to death
on the commuter
from home to
office and back

Sleepy when
attempted to read
newspaper
Nod off during
meetings

I cant avoid the


commuter because
of the costly tolls and
other costs
Really hate driving

At least 45
minutes one
way

Do Sudoku
Do crossword puzzle
Read newspaper of
Read newspaper of
Read a magazine of
your choice

Hate traffic jam

Hate queue jumpers Roads are for everybody


Hate inconsiderate Idiotic drivers are not
drivers
your problems
Hate road hoggers
Hate Mat Rempits

1 hour daily

Traffic jam is
everybodys
business; so are you
Set off early;
use alternative routes
Ignore idiotic drivers;
turn a blind eye
Pray not to come
across Mat Rempit

Mother-in-law

Spouse giving less


attention to you
Feeling uneasy

Shes old, sick and


needs attention

Turned up last
week and 3
more weeks to
go

Shes your mum-in-law,


your spouses mother
She deserves respect like
your mum
Shes human
Read books on proper
mother caring
Worst case: start
counting days and 30
will go as you keep
on counting

Wife is part of my life


Nagging wife is
everybodys
business; shell stop
once she is tired
Its my mistake anyway

Mostly every
morning
When come back
late after night
outings with
friends

Heart-to-heart talk
Get out of the situation
Accept it: its ladies
norm especially when
wife gets older and kids
are no more around

Upset with your Sure will spoil my


wifes character day
this morning
Easily irritated

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3.0.2.1 Office Stress MOT - a survey of the workplace to find out what is creating
stress for the workers, and a test of how well the organization addresses the workers
problems it produces. It is very similar to the MOT for vehicles in the UK that comes in
two parts: a vehicle survey and a test for the amount of environmentally damaging
emissions it produces. Office Stress MOT also comes in 2 parts: The Organization Survey
and the People Survey. The Organization Survey is only appropriate if there is a problem
with stress in your workplace, so you need to do the People Survey first which will tell you
if you have a problem - if theres no evidence of such a problem, then the Organization
Survey isnt really worth doing.
3.0.2.2 Organization Survey - to determine if there is a problem with stress at the
workplace. Questions asked include issues like stress-related sickness absence, overall
sickness absence rate in the organization, is sick leave stress-related or work-related,
workplace stress policy and its coverage on health and safety, equality and human resources
issues, risk audits, guidance on preventing work-related stress, training, counseling services,
etc.
From the questions above, a sketch of the workplace, often termed as Workplace Stress
Map may be produced using the percentage of workers answering 'yes' to the above
questions. To identify the main stressors, use a Likert Scale of 1 (for strongly disagree) to
5 (for strongly agree) for each question, count up the number of '5s' directed for each
stressor. If more than a quarter of the people who responded has chosen '5' for any
stressor, that issue is a major problem which needs to be addressed. For each part of the
workplace where there are high levels of stress, work out what the main stressors are by
listing the number of '5s' each stressor received. Decide whether to focus on the areas
where the organization has not scored a Pass.
3.0.2.3 People Survey - this survey only covers stressors at work and it is not meant to
include stress caused outside the workplace, although that can add to the work-related
stress. Questions are intended to determine whether employees are stress or not, their
level of stress, any symptoms (e.g. headache, depression, indigestion, anxiety, etc.), what
makes them stressed at work (e.g. demands of the job, control, work-life balance,
relationships at work, change, conflicting roles, working environment). Again, the Likert
Scale of 1 (for strongly disagree) to 5 (for strongly agree) is used.
From the above task, the next question to ask is Did your workplace pass or fail the
MOT?
If more than a fifth of respondents exhibited one or more health symptoms
from the People Survey; or

if there are any stressors that makes them stressed at work where more than a
quarter of respondents circled the '5';
then the organization has failed the TUC Stress MOT and needs action urgently.

What if your workplace fails the Office Stress MOT? A detailed People Survey Report
from each group or section heads, managers, union and safety reps are vital that addresses
each constraint areas identified under the following headings:
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what percentage of people who answered yes to question regarding the


symptoms of stress, and
under each heading of what makes you stressed at work section, set out which
stressors got the highest number of '5s'. These are the main problems which
managers need to address.

3.0.2.4 Other stress tests that can be conducted are:

The Simple Stress Test a test about personal relationship that requires a score
to be assigned for each event according to the number of times it has happened in
the last 12 months.

Holmes-Rahe Life Readjustment Scale a set of questionnaires that measure


life changes set out to study whether there is any relationship between the number,
seriousness and pervasiveness of changes, and the frequency of illness.

Stress Symptom Quiz used to examine the different ways that stress may or
may not be affecting you, and provides ways to deal with stress symptoms that you
may have.

Stress Reliever Personality Test a self assessment tool that allows you to
answer a few questions about your lifestyle and personality, and then direct you to
stress relievers that may fit best for your particular situation.

The Type A Behavior/Personality Quiz to test whether personality characteristics


have something to do with being competitive and work-obsessed that can bring an
increased risk of health problems.

Anatomy of Illness Test

Stress Hardiness Inventory

Workplace Stress Test


3.0.3 STAGE 3 - The Expected Stage
Primarily, this is the mapping stage, the stage where the findings based on responses from
the questionnaires or quizzes from Stage 2 are put into practice, generally termed as
mapping the findings. In this stage, the stress situations and its degree of seriousness are
identified. Thus this stage is termed as the Mapping the Expected Stage and the following
are the recommendations.
3.0.3.1 Physical Consequences

Exercise regularly for the physical and mental well-being. It provides a stress release
and keeps the body healthy. It also helps the body release endorphins, which increase
the feelings of overall wellbeing. Exercise has so many stress management and
health benefits, and for many of us, night time is when it best fits our schedules.
Light exercise like walking at night can improve sleep as it releases tension without
over-stimulating the body.

Create suitable hobbies - Having some down time is important as hobbies can
provide a nice distraction from stress and help us stay in the moment, which is
also a great way to relieve tension from stress.

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3.0.3.2 Psychological (Emotional) Consequences


As some are born more emotionally reactive, others may have a more sensitive physiology
and find that stress impacts their blood pressure, induces headaches, or causes other
physical responses. Some important basic self care strategies are (Wan Hussin, 2007c):

Sleep - a very important for the emotional and physical wellbeing as lack of sleep
can negatively impact the ability to handle stress.
Maintain proper nutrition.
Maintain social support to keep us healthier and happier, creating a buffer against
stress. Friends can pick us up when we are sad; provide insights when we are confused,
and help us have fun when we need to blow off steam. Cultivate supportive friendships
and expand the social circle so that we can have someone to lean on when stressed.
Pamper yourself by taking care of the body on the outside e.g. a spa treatment, foot
reflexology, etc.
Keep the mind sharp to solve the problems and take on the challenges that life
presents.
Have the right attitude by looking at things from an optimistic frame of mind.
Process the emotions by keeping the emotions bottled up as this usually leads to an
emotional explosion later on.
Listen to suitable and sensible music that can soothe the mind and body. Choice of
music is personal but for effective stress management to work, learn to differentiate
between music and noise!
Prayers - use prayer as a major stress reliever and strategy for emotional health.
Spiritual practice is deeply personal, and whatever your practice, it should nurture
your soul.

3.0.3.3 Occupational (Behavioural) Consequences


How we respond to stress in our lives is shaped by our early experiences and cemented
over time. Our habits play a role as well. Those with healthy habits tend to handle stress
more effectively. Sleep is a valuable and restorative resource that is vital to well-being and
stress management, but can sometimes be hard to come by for the busy and stressed.
About half of us are getting 6 hours of sleep or less, and are in dire need of more and
better sleep. Some effective night time habits to get into, to help enhance the amount and
quality of sleep are:

Cleaning up at the end of the day can leave you feeling less stressed because while
you are doing something to tackle the problem, the anticipation of waking up to a
cleaner house can make your rest more peacefully.

Bubble bath can rinse away tension and leave the body pampered and the mind
free.

Massage a great stress reliever that also feels good.

Stress journaling - similar to updating the stress dairy, by jotting down significant
things that happen throughout the day, and learn to process emotions, solve problems,
prepare mentally for the next day, make plans, and get the thoughts out of the
head.

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Meditation - a great technique to use before bedtime because it segues so naturally


into sleep. It relaxes the body, clears the mind and creates inner peace.
Sex a great night time stress reliever for a reason. Not only does a healthy sex life
enhance the relationship, but it relaxes the body, releases happy chemicals, and
even promotes wellness. And, of course, it welcomes sleep. Unfortunately, excessive
stress can also be a libido dampener.
Avoid certain activities that can be too stimulating at night and can make it harder
to fall asleep, or make sleep less restful, e.g. avoid caffeine before bed, interpersonal
conflict or stressful conversations, or anything else that is over-stimulating.

3.0.3.4 Stress Management Strategy


Managing stress can be dealt with in 3 main strategies namely:

Manage stress and make sure they are held to a minimum. It is of course easier said
than done but ultimately it cant be done unless stress is confessed and accepted as
a part of modern competitive living.
Exercise mentally and physically so that the effects of stress can be faced down or
dissipated. Regular exercise can train the body to deal with the physical stress and
help normalize blood chemistry. The brain must be trained to deal with stress; if we
dont train it sensibly, our emotional health suffers and can produce over-reactions
to minor stressors, difficulty interacting calmly with others, inability to empathize
with others, reduced ability to accept new situations and negative perceptions of
change, and increased susceptibility to emotional disorders.
Eat correctly and use supplements sensibly so that unavoidable stress cannot exert
lasting effects on health. The saying that what you are is what you eat can never be
testified further

3.0.3.5 Stress Mastery


The path towards stress mastery is a lifelong. As the concepts and techniques become
part of the daily fabrics of our life, the capacity to thrive from stress continues to refine
and become more elegant. Try to undergo the following steps although the list can go on
and on:

Determine honestly just how stressed are you by trying the various stress tests to
determine the real stress level.
Keep a stress diary to identify those things that make your life difficult on a regular
basis and make a plan of action.
Establish priorities by listing down things you intend to accomplish in the following
order: tomorrow, next week, next month, next 6 months, next year, next 5 years,
next decade, etc. Prioritize the daily tasks according to the order of importance and
urgency. People with the most stress are those who cannot prioritize their goals or
even their daily tasks.
Set clear and realistic goals.
Improve communication skills with others and learn to compliment others, talk and
think positive and listen to others as well.
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Change Type A Behaviour to Type B Behaviour.


Challenge your own beliefs. Feelings are not caused by events but are caused by the
beliefs we carry in our minds when the events occur.
Eliminate anxiety that comes from negative thoughts. Clean any virus in the mind
from time to time and the negative thought patterns that are usually hatched back
to what our parents said to us when we were small e.g. stop making noise, the
policeman is coming!
Make anger work for you as anger is one of the most self-destructive of all emotions
and is the cause of severe stress. Anger causes job losses, relationship problems,
personal injury, property loss and even death.
Avoid high blood pressure as it is the most prevalent and the most preventable
disease among adults. Manage K-factor and control salt in the diet.
Quit smoking and if you dont smoke, dont start. Typical smoking related problems
are ulcers, heart disease, stroke, cosmetic effects, mental and physical stamina. If
you cant, replenish yourself with vitamin C (e.g. fruits and vegetables), beta-carotene
(e.g. carrots, melons, broccoli, cauliflower and sprouts), vitamin E (e.g. fruits and
seafood) and selenium (e.g. nuts).
Neutralize the effects of carbon monoxide and air pollution.
Learn to relax - learning to relax is not learning to be lazy but learning how to use
energy for important things.
Exercise regularly as it dissipates the biochemical by-products of emotional stress
which includes blood fats, sugar and cholesterol.
Take a basic multiple vitamin and mineral supplement daily. To function normally,
and to handle stress well, the body requires 19 vitamins and minerals daily in
addition to protein, fat, carbohydrates and fibre.

3.0 Conclusions
Stress is always a complex issue but will be even more complex is left unattended. A three
dimensional stress management model was developed to explain stress, its management
and its coping strategies in three dimensions namely Stage 1 which is Surveying the
Unexpected, Stage 2 which is the Stress Projection Stage using the various recommended
tests while Stage 3 which is Mapping the Expected Stage. Various recommendations are
also presented to combat the physical, physiological (emotional) and occupational
(behavioural) consequences of stress.

References
1.
2.
3.
4.

Scala, J. (2000), 25 Natural Ways to Manage Stress and Prevent Burnout, Keats
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Wan Hussin, W.M.A., (2001), Stress Among Young Site Engineers, Annual Civil
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Exhibition of Geoinformation 2002, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Wan Hussin, W. M. A., Shamshad, A. and Mohd Sanusi, S. A., (2003), Stress
Management and Its Relevance to the Performance of Site Engineers and Land
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Surveyors: A Case Study in Malaysia, Third Global Conference on Flexible Systems


Management, Jamia Millia Islamia, Jamia Nagar, New Delhi, India, 13-15 March
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2007.

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