The research study “The relationship between working conditions in the organizational environment, stress, emotional regulation and coping mechanisms” identifies the link between the work context perceived as stressful and individual stress management strategies, respectively emotional regulation and types of coping. It is known that leadership is inversely correlated with stress if there is an increased sense of control, (i.e. if leaders enjoy a large number of subordinates and formal authority), as well as if they have social support and capabilities to apply active coping (Sherman G., 2012). But what are the conditions/organizational context and the mechanisms of emotional regulation and coping that favour the reduction of stress, have not yet been studied at a granular level.

The scientific motivation of such a topic: employees in large corporations face stressful working conditions that often culminate in chronic stress and burnout. Despite various studies and protective measures implemented by companies that have tried to prevent this situation, stress continues to be a problem in professions with demanding working conditions, having a negative impact on individual life, professional performance and high social costs.

My personal motivation lied in the current profession (Clinical Psychologist & Mental Health Counselor, Master Certified Coach – working mainly in leadership programs and Coaching /counseling employees in large corporations), and from the desire to identify and propose more granular prevention and stress management initiatives.

The main objective of the research was thus to investigate the relationship between the following variables:

• The context and working conditions measured with the COPSOQ test (direct supervisor support, peer social support, vertical trust, role conflict)

• The coping mechanisms measured with COPE (humour, planning, behavioural passivity vs engagement, active coping – the conscious stressor removal or the amelioration of its effects)

Emotional regulation measured with ERG (suppression vs emotional expression, cognitive reframing)

• The level of stress and health also measured with the COPSOQ test (level of stress, somatic stress, depressive symptoms, burnout).

Level of personal development (no development vs. some form of coaching, mentoring, leadership training)

Previous research has shown that leadership is inversely correlated with stress if there is an increased sense of control (large number of subordinates, authority), as well as if they have social support and active coping. However, these conditions are not within the reach of all employees in the organizational environment, as neither being a leader is always defined as a position with subordinates but merely a mindset; nor individuals prioritize social interactions and active coping as means of improving professional performance and wellbeing. Other studies on leadership populations showed that an overwhelming corporate population considered that:

  • working conditions are a primary source of stress in their lives
  • organizations do not provide them with stress management mechanisms
  • lack of resources/time and the need to do more with less were identified as the main problems
  • leaders experience stress both in interactions with bosses, colleagues, direct employees and customers, but the reasons are different
  • physical exercise was identified as the most common form of stress management.
  • the most used form of coping was physical/mental distance from the source of stress

High stress is known to reduce the ability to modulate, regulate and reduce negative emotions, leading to reduced levels of empathy, cognitive function, job dissatisfaction and increasing the intention to leave, sleep disturbances, the cardiovascular risk, diabetes, obesity, accelerated rate of biological ageing, alcoholism and drug addiction, suicidal ideation, accidents after a night shift, conflict between family and professional life, marital conflicts or problems.

Within the framework of this research, the procedure of selecting the participants included contacting a homogeneous number of 638 participants, of which 117 responded the survey in full. The group was formed by means of random sampling, following a corporate population predominantly in Europe, aged between 25-60 years, speaking English language and at various organizational hierarchical levels, starting from individual contributor to managerial positions with or without subordinates, exposed or not to a form of personal development in the past 5 years.

Following the study, the following 6 main hypotheses were validated

1. the higher the social support from the direct supervisor, the lower the level of burnout

2. the higher the peer social support, the lower the level of emotional suppression

3. the higher the vertical trust, the lower the depressive symptoms

4. the higher the vertical trust, the lower the somatic stress

5. the higher the role conflict in the professional environment, the higher the stress level

6. the higher the role conflict in the professional environment, the lower the humour

Other exploratory hypotheses were identified and validated:

  • the more social support from colleagues increases, the healthier coping mechanism are used, such as expressing emotions and seeking social support whilst behavioural disengagement decreases
  • the more the horizontal and vertical trust increase, the lower the level of burnout and behavioural disengagement
  • the more the role conflict increases, the more depressive symptoms and less healthy coping mechanisms such as planning.
  • Individuals with a high level of personal development (leadership training, mentoring, coaching) manage to reduce their stress level substantially through active coping, i.e. the conscious removal of the stressor or the amelioration of its effects
  • Individuals with a high level of personal development have less stress, less somatic stress and as such rarely experience burnout
  • Individuals with subordinates use more active coping and less maladaptive coping mechanisms such as denial
  • The higher the hierarchical level, the greater the focus on expressing emotions

 A brief approach to organizing a specific program to reduce and combat stress that combines individual and organizational initiatives and takes into account the results of the current research aims at:

1. introducing psycho-education programs on stress, symptoms and consequences such as:

  1. the polyvagal theory, the engagement of the sympathetic nervous system and the fight/flight reactions
  2. understanding the somatic symptoms of stress, as well as depressive symptoms
  3. the ABCDE model for observing trigger stimuli and being aware of cognitive, somatic, emotional and behavioural responses
  4. the role of self-reflection and practice in formulating healthier answers -understanding the threat perception -observing the response at the cognitive, emotional, somatic and behavioural levels -cognitive reframing, somatic reversal, behavioural deactivation practices

2. raising awareness and inviting practices on:

  • positive emotional regulation mechanisms: cognitive reframing, focusing on the expression of emotions
  • positive coping mechanisms: active coping, humour, planning
  • building the direct support of the supervisor, colleagues, vertical and horizontal trust to reduce burnout, somatic stress, depressive symptoms; few aspects could include:
    • supervisor recognizes the value of the direct employee’s contributions
    • supervisor shows care about the welfare of the direct employee
    • offering help, assistance
    • providing a ventilation space
    • offering emotional support, consolation, assurance
    • Alignment between what you say and what you do
    • Transparency and access to information
    • Keeping promises
    • Listening and showing empathy, coaching, supporting employees in finding their own solutions
    • Offering constructive feedback
    • concern for elements of team cohesion (common goals, communication, awareness and self-management, awareness of others, ways of working together and expectations)
    • The previous literature also shows that not so much the number but the quality and frequency of collegial support is important in the protection against psychological stress.
  • Reduction of role conflict, respectively to reduce and remove incompatible requirements, or clearer delimitation of statuses and roles, respectively of the related limits that are imposed

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Camelia Krupp

Master Certified Coach & Therapist

Building future globally! I am fascinated by human beings and their psychology and dedicate my life to bettering their capabilities and those of the organizations they are in. The first step starts with you and if I can support and empower you to take one step further in your growth, then my mission as a coach is fulfilled. Building self every day is the single meaning of life!

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