AuthorHur, Yongbeom
  1. Introduction

    Stress can be described as physiological and psychological reactions to undue pressures and demands especially when individuals meet challenges that are beyond their capacities (Baker, 1985; Cummings and Cooper, 1979). Although stress itself is not necessarily unhealthy (Dhabhar, 2019; Folkman, 2008), employees may end up being a victim of stress at work if it is excessive or it is beyond employees' capability to deal with it (Baker, 1985; Jex and Gudanowski, 1992; Pearlin, 1989). Public employees are exposed to unique stressors such as goal ambiguity (Chun and Rainey, 2006), red tape (Bozeman, 1993), and a political nature of bureaucracy (Peters and Peters, 2002), in addition to common stressors across occupations and sectors such as work overload and role conflicts (Cooper, 1983; Fletcher, 1994). Furthermore, female employees usually experience higher job stress because they have worse psychosocial work conditions such as lower job control (Bond et al., 2004; Vermeulen and Mustard, 2000), and they face greater performance pressure than male counterparts (Bellamy and Ramsay, 1994; Powell, 2018). Therefore, in addition to understanding major correlates of job stress among public employees, it also becomes critical to the success of public organizations to figure out how to effectively remedy female employees' stress, given the sheer number of female employees working in public organizations. As of 2016, the U.S. federal workforce consisted of 42% female employees and 58% male employees (see Table 1 in the finding section), based on the assumption that participants in the 2016 Merit Principles Survey (MPS) were the fair representatives of the actual federal employees. However, it is remarkable that there is a notable paucity of empirical research that was carried out to systematically examine job stress among female public employees. Due to insufficient research, our knowledge on job stress among female public employees is very limited.

    Diversity management has become a primary theme of the diversity literature in public administration due to increased diversity in population and workforce in the U.S. (Pitts, 2009). Changing demographics in the United States, such as the growth in the number of female employees, increase the importance that managers should pay to recruiting, hiring, and retaining a more diverse workforce (Myers and Dreachslin, 2007; Wiley, 1992). Consequently, researchers (e.g., Choi, 2017; Pitts, 2009; Wise and Tschirhart, 2000) began to investigate whether or not workforce diversity would bring positive consequences (e.g., high performance and job satisfaction) to their organizations. While organizations can enjoy benefits such as a wider array of viewpoints, this diversified workforce may bring new challenges such as cultural misunderstandings as well as organizational factionalism (Dass and Parker, 1999; Okoro and Washington, 2012). Although the importance of diversity management and its consequences have long been recognized in the public sector, insufficient research has been undertaken with a focus on stress, and no systematic investigation was carried out to suggest how to effectively remedy stressful feelings among female public employees. Therefore, very little is known about how to alleviate stressful feelings among female public employees, except what researchers found outside of the public sector. It is surprising given that high stress would lead to low performance, burnout, and turnover (Arshadi and Damiri, 2013; Baker, 1985; Cox, Kuk and Leiter, 1993; Lloyd, King and Chenoweth, 2002).

    The present study seeks to enhance our understanding of female public employees' stress, and suggest possible ways to reduce their stressful feelings at work. More specifically, this study will find out effective ways to alleviate stressful feelings among female public employees by comparing female employees with male counterparts in terms of their satisfaction about stress and diverse work environments, and the effects of work environment on stressful feelings. The findings in this study would help to develop human resource management practices for female employees in public organizations, which will make female employees less stressful at work, and organizational performance will improve in the end.

  2. Theoretical backgrounds

    2.1. Stress and strain

    There is no universal definition of stress because stress is an elusive concept to define. As Selye (1950) who is often referred to as the father of stress mentioned nobody really knows what stress is although we believe we know what that is. Anyhow, Selye generally defined stress as a non-specific response of the body to any demand, and explained how we respond to stress with the General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS). According to the GAS model that has three stages such as alarm, resistance, and exhaustion, we enter the alarm stage when we are exposed to a stressor (i.e., a cause of stress). If the stressor continues, we move on to the resistance stage. Finally, if we are exposed to the prolonged stressor, we can be exhausted and experience diverse negative consequences of stress. Stress and strain can be interchangeably used in common situations, but a growing body of literature paid attention to the effects of moderators on perceived strain such as emotional support (Jayaratne and Chess, 1984; Wright, 2012), coping resources (Osipow and Davis, 1988; Terry, Tonge and Callan, 1995), locus of control (Darshani, 2014; Haine et al., 2003), and social support (Lefcourt, Martin and Saleh, 1984; Pengilly and Dowd, 2000). What these studies empirically found was that objective stressors did not lead to an equal level of strain in all situations. Rather, they argued that the individual perceptual filter plays a crucial role in determining actual feeling of stress (i.e., strain) and diverse moderators that influence the individual perceptual filter.

    2.2. Job stress theories

    About four decades ago, scholars began to explain why job stress occurs to employees by suggesting some stress models. The Job Demand-Control Model (Karasek Jr., 1979; Karasek et al., 1981), one of the first stress models, explains that employees' stressful feeling results from the combination of the level of job demand (i.e., stressors) and the level of job control such as decision-making latitude. According to this theory, if job demand is high for employees, but they are not allowed to make decisions on their own in most situations --i.e., low decision-making latitude, they are more likely to experience high strain. However, even though job demand is high, employees are less likely to feel stressful if they are given the high level of decision-making latitude. Later this model was expanded by incorporating a social support element, and the Job Strain Model was suggested (Karasek and Theorell, 1990). In addition, the Effort-Reward Imbalance Model (Siegrist, Siegrist and Weber, 1986) explains workplace stress by focusing on whether or not employees' efforts are rewarded (or recognized) by their organization. According to this model, employees would be feeling stressful if they are not provided with rewards or recognition such as pay raise and promotion by their organizations, commensurate with their efforts at work.

    Along with the Job Demand-Control Model and the Effort-Reward Imbalance Model, the Job Demand-Resources (JD-R) model has been widely adopted by researchers to explain job stress among employees (Schaufeli and Taris, 2014). Demerouti et al. (2001) originally developed the JD-R model to explain burnout among employees, and proposed that working conditions can be categorized into either job demands or job resources. According to Demerouti and colleagues, the examples of job demands are physical workload, time pressure, recipient contact, physical environment, and shift work, and job resources include feedback, rewards, job control, participation, job security, and supervisor support (p. 502). Bakker and Demerouti (2007) argued that job demands and resources interact and the consequences of the interaction can be either strain or motivation. The JD-R model provides feasible application to organizations in which reducing job demands may not be an option to most organizations because extra budget is needed (Schaufeli, 2015). For example, to reduce job demands for current employees, organizations may need to hire new employees, which requires additional budget. Rather than focusing on how to reduce job demands, the JD-R model suggests that an organization increase job resources to reduce stressful feeling among employees. In the JD-R model, any working conditions can be either job demands or job resources, both of which will affect employee wellbeing. However, notwithstanding the detailed definitions of job demands and resources (Demerouti et al., 2001), the conceptual difference between job demands and resources is not clear enough, and the value-based nature of job demands and resources may need redefinition (Schaufeli and Taris, 2014). Generally speaking, job demands are negatively valued and job resources are positively valued aspects of a job or working conditions in the JD-R model.

    2.3. Job stress and female employees

    Traditionally, female employees are treated as minorities in most organizations (Cayer and Sigelman, 1980; Kim, 2004). Minorities can be defined as those who receive different treatment due to physical, social, or cultural differences (Wirth, 1941, p. 415). Therefore, female employees tend to experience social isolation and hostility (O'Farrell and Harlan, 1982), and it is generally predicted that job stress among female employees is higher than their male counterparts. According to Meyer (2003), job stress for minorities can be explained by a minority stress model that relied on several sociological and social psychological theories as a theoretical foundation. A minority stress model explains that minorities work in extra stressful...

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