Psychological well-being and coping in the context of employee stress
Radebe, Thabisile Grace
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The importance of psychological well-being in the workplace continues to draw attention from both researchers and practitioners. An engaged and flourishing employee is an important human capital for any organisation (Boehm & Lyubomirsky, 2008; Keyes & Grzywacz, 2005; Rothmann, 2014; Seligman, 2008, 2011; Swart, 2012). Since work also constitutes the primary life domain for economically active, employed adults (Geldenhuys, Łaba, & Venter, 2014), it makes sense that the study of well-being focuses on this population. Work environments are driven by intense global competition (Rothmann & Rothmann, 2010) that requires engaged and flourishing employees. Schaufeli and Bakker (2001) defined work engagement as a positive, fulfilling, work-related state of mind that is characterised by vigour (physical), dedication (cognitive) and absorption (emotional). Flourishing at work occurs when individuals feel satisfied with their lives at work and in their other life domains, experience positive emotions, and are psychologically and socially well (Rothmann, 2013; Keyes, 2007). Both work engagement and positive mental health are associated with positive organisational outcomes including organisational citizenship behaviours and commitment (Diedericks & Rothmann, 2014). Positive processes at work, however, cannot be viewed in isolation from the negative factors impacting the health and happiness of employees. Blue-collar employees experience both psychological and physical demands (Schreuder et al., 2008), and are therefore more prone to experience greater levels of stress. In addition to a majority of them being less educated, and earning less income (Lee & Mohamed, 2006; Sharma, 2015), they often work under difficult conditions. This set of conditions suggest how vulnerable this group of employees can be. Nonetheless, their work makes a great contribution to the economy of many countries around the world. Thus, it is crucial for competitive organisations to pay more attention to effectively manage work-related stress among blue-collar employees. Stress should be viewed in relation to coping strategies (Armikhan, 1990; Utsey, Adams, & Bolden, 2000; Utsey, Brown, & Bolden, 2004). Coping refers to those actions or behaviours individuals employ to manage stress (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984b). Research has alluded to problem-focused and emotion-focused coping strategies (Carver, 1997; Lazarus & Folkman, 1984b). In the current study, the researcher focuses on health behaviours as coping mechanisms which include components of the COPE scale (Carver, 1989; 1997). These behaviours include relaxation, eating and weight control, preventive medicine, exercise and fitness, safety, sleep, and use of caffeine among others (Ingledew, Hardy, Cooper, & Jemal, 2013). Work is both a source of positive and negative well-being outcomes, without the two being opposites of each other. The objectives of this study were, firstly, to determine the influence of socio-demographic variables and work-related factors on work engagement and positive mental health of blue-collar workers. Secondly, the study sought to investigate the stress vulnerability profiles and their ability to distinguish levels of work engagement, flourishing and coping health behaviours as used by blue-collar employees in the mining sector. The sample consisted of 237 blue-collar employees from a platinum mining company situated in the northern part of South Africa. The participants completed a battery of five questionnaires aimed at determining their self-reported level of work engagement, flourishing, stress vulnerability and coping health behaviours. They also provided their biographical details. The following measuring instruments were applied: Utrecht Work Engagement Scale (UWES; Rothmann, 2011; Schaufeli & Bakker, 2001), Mental Health Continuum Short Form (MHC-SF; Keyes, 2002, 2007), Stress Overload Scale (SOS; Amirkhan, 2012), and Coping Health Behaviours (Ingledew et al., 2013). Multivariate analyses in SPPS and Structural Equation Modelling (SEM) in Mplus were performed. Using structural equation modelling in Mplus, direct effects with personal characteristics and work-related properties being antecedents, and work engagement (vigour and dedication), and positive mental health (emotional, social and psychological well-being) as outcomes were tested. Latent class analysis based on item-level responses for the personal vulnerability sub-scale of SOS, and comparison of the latent classes was also used. The results indicated that gender, age, social support at work, and authority to make decisions were significantly associated with all three well-being dimensions (emotional, psychological and social). Social support at work was the only work-related factor which influenced vigour and dedication of work engagement. Latent class analysis resulted in the emergence of four classes of personal vulnerability to stress. These classes were compared for work engagement (vigour and dedication), and positive mental health (emotional, psychological, and social well-being), as well as coping behaviour. The results are important as they add value, first, in the field of positive organisational psychology at work by identifying factors which affect positive functioning in as far as work engagement and flourishing are concerned. The second contribution is to the theory of stress at work, through identifying groups of blue-collar employees which differ in terms of their vulnerability to stress and how this influences positive processes. Such information is important for managing high levels of well-being so that the organisation can achieve its objectives through its people.