Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Job Satisfaction & Work Stress in the IT Industry

job satisfaction and work stress in IT
Work stress and low job satisfaction are the primary drivers for help-seeking in IT professionals. PR a 34-yr old software engineer employed in an IT company came to us for guidance while considering a career change. He felt stressed, and experienced his work as meaningless. He felt alienated from his colleagues and his job dissatisfaction was high.

PR’s is not a one-off case. A PPC Worldwide study reported that 62% of all employees experience work stress. Responses to a poll specifically studying IT related work stress are as depicted in the chart above.

Work stress contributes to job dissatisfaction and increased attrition in the workforce. Most burnout prevention methods focus on personal responsibility for wellness. They require sacrifice of personal time with the perverse goal of being more effective at work. We have already seen what the individual needs to do to manage stress with a health promoting lifestyle,  Even 15 minutes of exercise is effective. We now need to look at the organisational factors resulting in committed employees.

Job satisfaction involves certain obligations that exist in an employment relationship. Pay is largely considered to be the single-most contributor to job satisfaction, and perceptions of fairness in compensation have a direct influence on commitment to the organisation. However, intrinsic motivators contribute greatly to resistance to work stress. These include
Nature of work
Nature of work is an intrinsic motivator measured by an individual’s feeling that their job is meaningful. They feel engagement, and a sense of pride in the job. Humiliation at work does not foster this sense of engagement. For many of our clients humiliation is a prime driver to distress and burnout.
RK came to us when he was thinking of quitting his job. He had been 'de-promoted' into his own team when they were unable to meet a target. His self-esteem was low and he was depressed. He recovered with treatment and counselling. He could then decide his next career move from a position of strength.
Relationship with co-workers
Work plays an important part in fulfilling an individual’s social needs. Co-worker acceptance and a sense of belonging to a group and culture affect job satisfaction. Unfortunately the culture in many IT organisations continues to reflect the ‘in’ and ‘out’ groupings of the college hostels through which their managers have emerged. This only adds to the job dissatisfaction of IT professionals who may be contributing at their jobs but do not feel a part of the organisation.
The motivated and stress tolerant employee shows commitment to the organisation in two ways
  1. Emotional
  2.  Job dissatisfaction is inversely associated with emotional commitment. IT professionals who are satisfied feel more emotionally attached to and involved with their organisations.
  3. Obligational
  4. Job satisfaction is associated with feeling more obliged to remain with the organisation.
  5. Continuance
  6. Continuance commitment (cost associated with leaving the company) is not related to job satisfaction; pay does not matter disproportionately to the IT professional.
Work stress and work pressure are correlated with job dissatisfaction and poor employee engagement. The IT professional’s decision to stay with the company due to feelings of attachment and obligation results from job satisfaction rather than the costs associated with leaving the company. A working atmosphere that validates the individual and their differences will enhance that attachment and commitment to the organisation.

  1. E.J. Lumley, M. Coetzee, R. Tladinyane, N. Ferreira. Exploring the job satisfaction and organisational commitment of employees in the information technology environment. Southern African Business Review Volume 15 Number 1 2011.
  2. Kaluzniacky, Eugene. Stress Management. In: Managing psychological factors in information systems work : an orientation to emotional intelligence. Idea Group. London, 2004. Pg238-245.
  3. Psychol Rep. 2009 Dec;105(3 Pt 1):759-70. Employee engagement and job satisfaction in the information technology industry. Kamalanabhan TJ, Sai LP, Mayuri D.
  4. Saradha.H. Employee engagement in relation to organizational citizenship behaviour in information technology organizations. Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Philosophy. Institute of Management, Christ University, Bangalore. 2010.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Stress in the festival season

festival time
Festivals as a source of stress? Festivals are meant to be a time of happiness, enjoyment and family togetherness. However for some it can be time of great stress and can adversely affect mental health. The extended festival season starts around Independence Day (15th Aug) and extends right up to New Year including Ganesh Chathurti, Dusshera, and Diwali. Vacations have a positive effect on well-being. However, these effects fade soon after resumption of work (de Bloom 2009). These four months of celebration are associated with psychological distress and mental health problems for many individuals and their families.

Festival distress

(Harion 2009)
Expectations take their toll on the family. Festivals are a prime time for couples to come in for counselling with relationship problems, problems with in-laws, siblings and their children. 'Don't we get to celebrate at least once in our own home?". They end up celebrating each in their own parental homes at Pune and Ahmedabad.

For those in the workforce it means negotiating and competing with everyone else for leave or being the only one left in the office. No one at home understands why you cannot get leave. No one understands why work-pressures and deadlines increase in the time leading up to the holiday. Financial stress also comes into the picture; cool electronics, gifts, partying and vacation trips cost.

For people with mental health problems festivals are another source of stress. Well intentioned, though ill informed relatives prevail on them to stop their medications 'they are addicting', 'why do you need to take them if you're allright?' Many are coaxed into stopping medications entirely.They relapse some time after they return to work, when the social supports are at a minimum and the beneficial effects of the vacation begin to wear off. That is also the time when they have to start paying out the EMIs. This time lag to relapse after stopping psychotropic medication is a prominent factor in non-adherence. 'But he was allright at home. It's the job that is causing stress; we are thinking of relocating'.

Fasting and sleep deprivation are associated in the run up to the festivities. In vulnerable people, especially those with mental health problems, these can play havoc with the body rhythm and with medication regimens leading to a relapse. Every religion excuses ill followers the rigours of these rituals, yet the very people who should be supporting moderation often goad their vulnerable members to comply. 'I thought he was just being lazy'.

Alcoholism is another problem that is likely to recur. It starts insidiously at the beginning of the festival season. By the time the season ends its time for another stint of 'deaddiction'. Binge drinking at parties is just another problem that requires to be addressed recurrently.

Violence and injuries in the home occur through the combination of excitement, stress, tiredness and alcohol. Pressures lead to conflict and then violence. Domestic abuse is about one-third more likely on the day of the festival than the daily average. Homicide rates are generally higher on all major holidays.

Loneliness and isolation are particular issues at festivals. The holiday season is the time of the year when our desire for social contact is most likely to outstrip what our circumstances will allow; it is into this gap that loneliness creeps (Lancet 2010). As festivals are associated with friends and family, it can be difficult for those on their own to avoid feeling lonely at this time. This is especially so for older people living alone who may have no one to spend the festive season with. The loneliness felt on the festival day is often the worst. Festivals can be a sad and nostalgic time, when the loss of a family member may become especially painful. It is often a difficult time for bereaved people. The rates of suicide are known to increase especially on New Years Day (Bridges 2004).

What to do?

Prior to the festival
  1. Communicate. Make your festival plans keeping your spouse in mind. If there were problems  last year don't expect them to disappear. ' I thought we agreed on that last year'. Putting off the discussion could ruin your festivities.
  2. Collaborate. Work together to find a solution that satisfies the needs of all parties. You may not get everything you want, but you get enough of what you want to feel satisfied. Colaboration requires respect for the needs of the other party, communication skills, patience, and creativity. Parties usually do better when they collaborate than when they compete.
  3. Watch the finances. Budget for the expenses and keep a track.
During the festival
  1. Limit your alcohol. Don't drink if you don't want to.
  2. Keep to your normal sleep-wake schedule as far as practicable. When it is disrupted return to your normal schedule at the earliest. Take some time out for exercise.
  3. Take some time off for just yourself and your family. A walk, movie or meal away from the others will contribute to a few more days of harmony.
  4. Your medication is sacrosanct. Don't negotiate on this.
Strategies for loneliness
(Masi 2010)
  1. Improve social skills: After relying on a partner to share experiences and thoughts a separation, breakup or bereavement requires relearning of skills needed to build new relationships and participate in community functions.
  2. Enhance social support: Find a listening ear – people who are lonely can find it helpful to speak to a counsellor or someone removed from their situation.
  3. Increase opportunities for social contact: Be a volunteer – many charities and organisations need help at festivals and you could spend a few hours working as a volunteer. The absence of close family need not be the end of companionship. 
  4. Address maladaptive social cognition: Loneliness can also be tackled by helping people to feel happier in their own company.
    • 'Everyone else is having a good time'. Keep busy – try to stop the festival taking over your life. Make time for enjoyable activities, such as reading, walks, joining a social club or going for a movie.
    • 'What's the point, I'm just not up to it'. Take some physical exercise – this reduces stress and enhances mood. Just getting off the sofa and getting outside should improve mood.
  5. Visit an older neighbour who lives alone if you have a little spare time on your hands over the holidays; it might be just what they need to make their holiday a happy one. 
  1. Bridges SF. Rates of homicide and suicide on major national holidays. Psychological Reports, 2004,94,723-724.
  2. de Bloom J, Kompier M, Geurts S, de Weerth C, Taris T, Sonnentag S. Do we recover from vacation? Meta-analysis of vacation effects on health and well-being. J Occup Health. 2009;51(1):13-25. Epub 2008 Dec 19.
  3. Hairon N. How christmas festivities and pressures can damage health and well-being. Nurs Times. 2008 Dec 16-2009 Jan 12;104(50-51):33-4.
  4. Masi CM, Chen HY, Hawkley LC, Cacioppo JT. A meta-analysis of interventions to reduce loneliness. Pers Soc Psychol Rev. 2011 Aug;15(3):219-66. Epub 2010 Aug 17.
  5. No authors listed. Tackling loneliness in the holidays.Lancet. 2010 Dec 18;376(9758):2042.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Police suicides

Pondicherry police - kepis
Five police constables from Pune committed suicide this year. Suicide by police personnel the world over has been extensively reported. It is generally known that the occupation is stressful and associated with psychological stressors that make personnel prone to suicide. However, there is a marked variance in reported rates and stressors. Local factors may overshadow any generalisations even within the country. For instance, in the US/Europe firearms are the most common suicide method used by police (61-77%), but in Pune hanging was the only method used.

Sources of stress in police personnel

There is conflicting evidence as to the extent to which police constitute a high risk group for suicide. A study of well-being in police at Bangalore showed they were were better adjusted and had a better quality of life than comparable middle class urban factory workers (Geetha 1998). However, they had poorer social contact and support beyond the immediate family. This was attributed to their long working hours, requirement to be on duty during holidays, and the prevalent negative attitude of the public towards the police in general. Traffic policemen, personnel with higher education, and freshly recruited personnel were found to be under greater stress.

Police suicides are an interaction of personal vulnerabilities, workplace stressors, and environmental factors as is  seen with other worker groups. Two risk factors have been consistently delineated for suicide by police personnel; workplace trauma that increases vulnerability to posttraumatic stress disorders and organisational stressors that lead to burnout. Mental health interventions and organisational change are usually implemented to mitigate these factors. However, little attention is paid to the third leg of police suicide - personal factors (Stuart 2008). Personal factors had a major role to play in the Pune police suicides.

Suicide rates in police

Data on suicide rates for police in India is not available. However, the suicide rate in Pune is more than the national average. This rate is still increasing and is 17.3/100000 as of 2009.

Suicide rates in police personnel vary depending on geography. They can be higher than the general population as in Germany (25/100000 vs 20/100000), the same as the general population as in the US (14.9/100000) or half that of the comparable general population as in Canada (14.1/100000).

Suicide rates in police personnel also vary when calculated over long or short time frames, indicating the influence of clustering. This underlines the need for using longer time frames while studying this population (Loo 2003). A historical survey of police suicide from 1843-1992 in Queensland showed the rates reduced from 60/100000 to 20/100000 (Cantor 1995).

The accuracy and validity of police suicide rates are controversial. Under reporting of police suicide is significant (Violanti 2010). Up to 17% of police deaths in the US are classified as undetermined as compared to 8% for military deaths. Official police suicide rates are less accurate and less valid than suicide rates published for other working populations (Violanti 1996). We have already discussed the reasons and results of underestimating suicide rates in India.

What needs to be done

  1. Personal factors that contribute to suicide need special attention. These factors play alongside the workplace and environmental stressors in police personnel. These include psychiatric illnesses, alcoholism, physical ill health and interpersonal and marital problems. These problems are similar to those of the general population.
  2. An early warning system for stressful police events needs to be implemented. The LEOSS (Law Enforcement Officer Stress Survey) is a short 25-item questionnaire specifically designed to evaluate stress in police personnel (Van Hasselt 2003).
  3. Police personnel need easy access to mental health services. The barriers are formidable; psychiatric evaluation can result in job sanctions, reassignment, restriction of firearm privileges, missed promotions, and stigmatisation (Mazurk 2002). 
Need for more organisational change?

  1. Cantor CH, Tyman R, Slater PJ. A historical survey of police suicide in Queensland, Australia, 1843-1992. Suicide Life Threat Behav. 1995 Winter;25(4):499-507.
  2. Geetha PR, Subbakrishna DK, Channabasavanna SM. Subjecitive well being among police personnel. Indian J. Psychiat., 1998, 40(2), 172-179
  3. Loo R. A meta-analysis of police suicide rates: findings and issues. Suicide Life Threat Behav. 2003 Fall;33(3):313-25.
  4. Marzuk PM, Nock MK, Leon AC, Portera L, Tardiff K. Suicide among New York City police officers, 1977-1996. Am J Psychiatry. 2002 Dec;159(12):2069-71.
  5. Stuart H. Suicidality among police. Curr Opin Psychiatry. 2008 Sep;21(5):505-9.
  6. Van Hasselt VB, Sheehan DC, Sellers AH, Baker MT, Feiner CA. A behavioral-analytic model for assessing stress in police officers: phase I. Development of the Law Enforcement Officer Stress Survey (LEOSS). Int J Emerg Ment Health. 2003 Spring;5(2):77-84.
  7. Violanti JM, Vena JE, Marshall JR, Petralia S. A comparative evaluation of police suicide rate validity. Suicide Life Threat Behav. 1996 Spring;26(1):79-85.
  8. Violanti JM. Suicide or undetermined? A national assessment of police suicide death classification. Int J Emerg Ment Health. 2010 Spring;12(2):89-94.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Academic stress in youth

stressed youths
Stressed youths relaxing
Academic stress is a significant aspect of youth. Youth is the developmental phase between puberty and working adulthood. It is a period of continuing student-hood. This is a distinctive feature of youth - it exists only for those who undergo post-secondary education. This is for the privileged few who do not join the workforce full-time after schooling.

Youth is a valuable time for serious experimentation. The young person is not fettered by long-term commitments. In contrast to adolescence, youth is a period of independence - the peer group is no longer a dominant influence. There is greater freedom to develop as an individual. The young person evolves a personal perspective on life and develops a sense of direction before tackling the duties of adulthood.

However this stage of life is by no means stress-free. By definition youth is associated with academics. Academic demands are perceived as significant stressors by youths (Rao 2000, Goff 2011). These demands include workload and time constraints (Jungbluth and colleagues 2011). On entering college the youth is suddenly exposed to an unsupervised life of parties, college events, projects, and an intense curriculum, all of which make demands on time.

Why do academic stressors acquire such significance in youth? Why do students who have done well in their 12th and got into good courses find it difficult to cope with the academics? Well, until high school the student has a limited syllabus. Students in good schools rely almost entirely on the notes dictated by their teachers. Also the exam system is designed so that most students can achieve high scores with minimal time spent on study. All this changes in college. When the youth enters college, he or she is confronted with the entire gamut of knowledge in a particular field. Without the skills to filter, assimilate and reproduce information in context the youth experiences stress.

There is also the problem of youths whose career path was chosen by their parents despite their protests or otherwise. These youth may find themselves completely out of their depth in a course for which they have little interest or aptitude.

Students cope with academic stressors using a combination of emotion-focused strategies like self-blame, or bunking, and problem-focused strategies like reading guide books, and cheating. Study skills training and the acquisition of good learning habits are essential life-skills for students. We have already shown that study skills are effective and can be successfully acquired.
Study skills training should be a part of every freshers curriculum.

  1. Jungbluth C, Macfarlane IM, Veach PM, Leroy BS.Why is Everyone So Anxious?: An Exploration of Stress and Anxiety in Genetic Counseling Graduate Students. J Genet Couns. 2011 Jan 25. [Epub ahead of print]. PubMed
  2. Goff AM. Stressors, academic performance, and learned resourcefulness in baccalaureate nursing students. Int J Nurs Educ Scholarsh. 2011;8(1):Article1. Epub 2011 Jan 24.
  3. Rao K; Moudud S; Subbakrishna DK. Appraisal of stress and coping behaviour in college students . Journal of Indian Academy of Applied Psychology. 2000 Jan- Jul; 26(1-2):5-13

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Manage exam stress: what Pune’s students need to do

St Germain's
Exams at St Germain's
Pune students need to differentiate true exam stress or test anxiety from rational test anxiety that occurs due to a lack of adequate preparation. Both conditions need to be addressed differently. True test anxiety is diagnosed when the student panics, "blanks out", or overreacts despite the following (Hanoski 2008):
  • there is enough time for studying
  • study strategies are adequate
  • attendance is regular
  • class material is understood

Managing rational test anxiety

(Morgan et al, 1986)
When there is adequate time for preparation effective learning habits minimise rational test anxiety.

Effective learning habits

We begin at this stage if the student comes to the clinic 6-8 weeks before the exams. Acquiring effective study skills is essential for all students.
  • Plan and stick to a study schedule. This simple yet crucial first step is often neglected.
  • Spend at least half the study time in elaborative rehearsal, thinking about what is being rehearsed and relating it to other things that are known or being learnt
  • Organise the study material to form retrieval cues or reminders for recall
  • Get feedback on how well things have been learnt and remembered
  • Review before the exam in the same way things were learnt in the first place. Focus the review on the type of exam.
  • Over learn the material. Go back and re-learn it after a few days.

Prior to the exam

 (University of Illinois)
These techniques are applied 1-2 weeks prior to the exam
  • Avoid "cramming" for a test
  • Combine all the information presented throughout the year. Work on mastering the main concepts.
  • Anticipate questions that may be asked and try to answer them by integrating ideas from lectures, notes, texts, and supplementary readings
  • Select important portions that can be covered well if you are unable to cover all the material given throughout the term, 
  • Set a goal of presenting knowledge of this information on the test.

True (Classic) Test Anxiety

True or classic test anxiety occurs despite effort to study and requires further measures. Again these measures vary as per the phase of the examination.


These measures can be instituted at any time prior to the exam and should become routine for all students.

Adopt a health-promoting lifestyle

Behavioural measures
  • Assertiveness - claim space and environment for study, study materials, access to experts
  • Time management - especially with a view to program adequate study hours by identifying periods in which time is spent on distractions
  • Recreation and social activities - essential for maintaining concentration, and motivation. Should be programmed daily in small quantities
Physical measures
  • Nutrition - don’t skip meals. Eat plenty of fruit and coloured vegetables
  • Exercise - the amount can be varied. Incorporate some stretching exercises and some aerobics like skipping or same place jogging.
  • Relaxation - use a muscle relaxation technique or any form of meditation that doesn't take more than a few minutes
  • Sleep hygiene - for adequate, predictable and refreshing sleep
Cognitive and emotional measures
  • Cognitive restructuring - see the exam as a means not an end. Keep in mind the ultimate goal you are working towards. This goal may differ from those of your parents and school. Aptitude testing, career guidance and counselling help match your expectations and capabilities with that of your family and school.
  • Stress inoculation - take regular mock exams under the same conditions as the actual test
  • Anxiety management techniques

Attention to practical aspects of the exam

  • Find out where the test is scheduled to take place and how long it will take to get there
  • Look at the buildingso that it feels more familiar.
  • Know the rules as to what can be taken into the exam room etc [28].

The Day of the Test

  • Begin the day with a moderate breakfast, avoid coffee
  • Do something relaxing the hour before the test
  • Plan to arrive at the test location early
  • Avoid classmates who generate anxiety

During the Test

There are basic test taking strategies and specific anxiety management techniques that the student needs to learn (Hinton and Casey 2006).
Before answering
  • Review the entire test and then read the directions twice.
  • Think of the test as an opportunity to show what you know then begin to organise time efficiently.
Focusing exercise
  • Take a deep breath. Look straight ahead at something inanimate (the wall, a picture, the clock)
  • Focus the mind on the positive thought 'I CAN DO this exam' while breathing out.
Do the easiest parts first
  • For essay questions start by constructing an outline.
  • For short-answer questions answer exactly what is asked.
  • If there is difficulty with an item involving a written response show some knowledge.
  • If proper terminology evades you show what you know with your own words.
  • For multiple choice questions read all the options first, then eliminate the most obvious. If unsure of the correct response rely on first impressions, then move on quickly. Be careful of qualifying words such as "only," "always," or "most."
Stick to time
  • Do not rush through the test.
  • Wear a watch and check it frequently
  • If it appears you will be unable to finish the entire test, concentrate on parts you can answer well.
Recheck your answers only if you have extra time - and only if you are not anxious.

Anxiety management techniques

Learn a few of these techniques and stick to the ones that suit you. Use them whenever you panic while studying or during the exam. If problems persist despite using these techniques there are safe and effective medications that can be used just prior to the exam.
  • Anxiety produces negative thoughts ('I can't answer anything', 'I'm going to panic' etc).
  • Halt the spiralling thoughts by mentally shouting 'STOP!' Or picture a road STOP sign, or traffic lights on red.
  • Once the thoughts are stopped continue planning, or practise a relaxation technique.
Mild pain
  • Pain effectively overrides all other thoughts and impulses.
  • Lightly press your fingernails into your palm
  • Place an elastic band around your wrist and snap it lightly
Use a mantra
  • A mantra is a self-repeated word or phrase.
  • Repeatedly say 'calm' or 'relax' your breath
  • Distract attention from anxious thoughts and keep your mind busy
  • Look out of the window, count the number of people with spectacles
  • Count the number of desks in each row
  • Make words out of another word or title
Bridging objects
  • Carry something having positive associations with another person or place
  • Touching the bridging object is comforting
  • Allow a few minutes to think about the person
  • In exam anxiety or panic there are often negative messages, 'I can't do this' 'I'm going to fail' 'I'm useless'. Consciously replace these with pre-rehearsed positive, encouraging thoughts:
  • 'This is just anxiety, it can't harm me',
  • 'Relax, concentrate, it's will be OK',
  • 'I'm getting there, nearly over'.
After the Test
  • Whatever the result of the test, follow through on a promised reward - and enjoy it!
  • Try not to dwell on all the mistakes.
  • Do not immediately begin studying for the next test. Do something relaxing for a while! (University of Illinois 2007).

Exam stress in students requires active management. State boards are taking exam anxiety and its adverse fallout seriously. The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) has brought out a handbook, Knowing Children Better, offering information and advice on handling exam stress. When problems persist students and parents should not hesitate to seek psychiatric help (Malhotra 2007).


  1. Geetanjali Kumar. Knowing Children better. CBSE. New Delhi. 2005.
  2. Hanoski TD. Test anxiety: what it is and how to cope with it. Accessed 27-Jul-08.
  3. Hinton A, Casey M. Managing Exam Anxiety and Panic-A guide for students. 18-Sep-2006. Accessed 27-Jul-08.
  4. Malhotra S. Dealing with exam stress amongst students: Challenge for psychiatrists. Abstracts of 59th Annual National Conference of Indian Psychiatric Society. Indian J Psychiatry 2007;49:1-60. Available from:
  5. Morgan CT, King RA, Weisz JR, Schopler J. Introduction to psychology. 7th Edition. New York. McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1986
  6. University of Illinois. Test Anxiety. 2007. Accessed 27-Jul-08.