Many stress researchers divide stressful job conditions or stressors into those that challenge employees to do well versus those that hinder their job performance. This idea that there is good stress or eustress, and bad stress has led to the challenge hindrance stress model that classifies different kinds of job stressors into those that are helpful versus those that are harmful. A recent point/counterpoint exchange (see early view here) at the Journal of Organizational Behavior explores what the research tells us about whether we can distinguish good stressors from bad stressors at work.
Challenge Hindrance Stress
The popular challenge hindrance stress model says that challenge stressors, like having a difficult assignment, can motivate employees to do their best. Such an assignment can be seen by the employee as an opportunity to take on an interesting assignment that can impress supervisors. On the other hand hindrance stressors, like being mistreated by someone, can be upsetting, diminish someone’s physical and psychological health, and interfere with getting the job done. We should expect that challenge stressors would be linked to engagement, job satisfaction and high job performance. It should not be linked to emotional distress and poor health. The opposite should be found with hindrance stressors.
Two pairs of established stress researchers took opposing positions about whether or not the challenge hindrance stress model is correct in how it distinguishes two groups of stressors. Joseph J. Mazzola and Ryan Disselhorst provide a critical analysis of the research studies that have tested the model. They concluded that although only challenge stressors are linked to job performance, both types of stressors are linked similarly to distress among employees. They question the idea that certain types of stressors can be considered good stressors.
Kimberly E. O’Brien and Terry A. Beehr offer a defense of the challenge hindrance model. They argue that it is a useful framework for thinking about stress, and they point out that there are differences in the outcomes to which challenge and hindrance stressors are linked. Rather than discarding the theory, they provide a number of suggestions for refinement and for future research to explore.
Both camps agree that there are things at work that can challenge and things are work that can hinder. They also agree that the stress process is complicated, so a simple scheme like the challenge hindrance stress model is incomplete. Their main disagreement is about the interpretation of how much research support this model has. Read together they provide a balanced view about the model, and they provide insights into the job stress phenomenon.
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