Is your stress the same as my stress? The role of the role of stressor appraisal, future-oriented coping, and resilience from a transactional stress perspective.

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Brough, Paula
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Biggs, Amanda J
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Occupational stress is known for its negative outcomes on employee wellbeing, particularly various mental health disorders including anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Furthermore, the costs of occupational stress are increasing, with recent estimates to be approximately US$187 billion across the developed world, mainly due to productivity loss, healthcare, and medical costs. Despite this trend, research has found that not all stress is harmful; in fact, some stress leads to beneficial outcomes, including positive affect and work engagement. While the challenge-hindrance framework has been successful in categorising occupational stressors into job challenges and job hindrances in predictions of occupational wellbeing, it has been criticised for ignoring employee challenge and hindrance appraisals, as well as threat demands and appraisals as hypothesised by Lazarus and Folkman’s (1984) transactional model of stress and coping. In addition, examinations of challenge, hindrance, and threat appraisals have rarely been integrated with future-oriented coping theory to help distinguish between proactive and preventive coping behaviours. Finally, trait resilience has gained much empirical attention to understand how trait resilience can influence the relationships between primary appraisals and work-related emotional outcomes over time. As such, this thesis addresses four key aims. The first aim is to provide evidence of the proposed three-factor challenge-hindrance-threat appraisal and demand framework. The second aim is to distinguish between two future-oriented coping behaviours: proactive and preventive coping, through their relationships with challenge, hindrance, and threat appraisal. The third aim is to integrate the transactional model with conservation of resources theory to provide support for the challenge appraisal-positive affect, hindrance appraisal-anger, and threat appraisal-anxiety relationships and how they are moderated by employee trait resilience. The final aim of this thesis is to provide further evidence of the feasibility of daily diary designs in stress research, by investigating both the daily and person-level relationships between job demands, appraisals, coping, and wellbeing. As this is a thesis by publication, three papers (studies) comprise this program of research. Study One aimed to validate the challenge-hindrance-threat framework and to test the direct and indirect effects of proactive and preventive coping on daily appraisals. The study utilised a student sample (N = 89) who completed a series of five daily diaries (N = 396 observations) focused on a common future stressor, which was a course assessment. Multilevel confirmatory factor analyses supported the three-factor challenge-hindrance-threat appraisal model and the dichotomous proactive/preventive coping model. Furthermore, a distinction between proactive and preventive coping was found as proactive coping moderated the relationships between days and challenge appraisal, and days and hindrance appraisal: as the stressor approached, challenge appraisal increased, and hindrance appraisal decreased when proactive coping was high. When preventive coping was high, both daily hindrance and threat appraisal decreased. Overall, the study supported the distinction between hindrance and threat appraisal and the proposed challenge appraisal-proactive coping and threat appraisal-preventive coping relationships. Study Two extended the findings of Study One to test a comprehensive model of the stress and coping process. Data were collected via daily diaries consisting of daily job demands, appraisals, proactive and preventive coping, as well as work engagement and work-related anxiety over five consecutive workdays, resulting in a total sample of 318 employees (N = 1,505 observations). While the beneficial effects of challenge appraisal and proactive coping in increasing work engagement and reducing work-related anxiety occurred, similar effects occurred between hindrance and threat appraisal. Red tape and conflicting demands were appraised as both hindering and threatening, and no indirect effects of hindrance and threat appraisal and preventive coping between job demands and outcome variables occurred, indicating a dominance of proactive coping over preventive coping in the stress process. Despite the mixed findings of this study, the results still provide insight into the complexity of the occupational stress and coping process and provides indications of the benefits of challenge appraisal and proactive coping in sustaining occupational wellbeing. Study Three combined the transactional model of stress (i.e., appraisals and emotion) with conservation of resources theory (i.e., trait resilience) to assess the various appraisal-emotion relationships hypothesised by the transactional model and how they are moderated by employee trait resilience. Utilising the same method and employee sample from Study Two (N = 318; N = 1, 502 observations), the findings supported the distinction of challenge, hindrance, and threat appraisal in predicting various work-related emotional outcomes. Challenge appraisal positively predicted work-related positive affect, hindrance appraisal positively predicted work-related anger, and threat appraisal positively predicted work-related anxiety, providing support for the distinction between hindrance and threat appraisal and emotional outcomes. While trait resilience increased work-related positive affect and reduced work-related anger and anxiety, the moderating effects of trait resilience on the appraisal-emotion relationships were mixed. Trait resilience only reduced the positive relationship between hindrance appraisal and anger when trait resilience was high, indicating other personal resources may influence the various appraisal-emotion relationships. However, this study provides support of the integration of the transactional model of stress and coping with conservation of resources theory, as well as the role of trait resilience in predicting emotional work-related wellbeing. Overall, the findings of this research make several important contributions to the occupational stress and coping literature. First, factor analyses in both samples provided support for the proposed three-factor challenge-hindrance-threat appraisal framework and the dichotomous proactive and preventive coping factor structure. Furthermore, this research highlights the proposed multi-dimensionality of the occupational stress and coping process through the challenge-hindrance-threat framework and future-oriented coping theory, particularly the influence of primary appraisal and future-oriented coping between job demands and occupational wellbeing outcomes. Finally, this research highlighted the feasibility of combining resource-based theories with the transactional model to better understand the various appraisal-emotion relationships over time. These findings can assist in the development of occupational interventions targeted at the employee or occupation-level, particularly minimising employees’ perceived hindrance and threat demands or by improving proactive coping behaviours to enhance occupational wellbeing.

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Thesis (Professional Doctorate)
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Doctor of Philosophy in Organisational Psychology (PhD OrgPsych)
School of Applied Psychology
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Occupational stress
Employee wellbeing
Appraisal and demand framework
Proactive coping
Preventive coping
Conservation of resources theory
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