Section- Anthropological and Behavioral Sciences
A Positive Mental Health Model for Stress Management Interventions in
Organizations: Insights from Positive Psychology
Dr. Satish C. Pandey
ISCA Membership No. L-6970
Organizational Behavior area
Mudra Institute of Communications, Ahmedabad
Dr. Shubhra P. Gaur
Organizational Behavior area
Mudra Institute of Communications, Ahmedabad
The present paper is an attempt to analyze the phenomenon of ‘stress management’ from a
positive psychology perspective. It is of concern that most of the research studies conducted in
the field of stress and coping have focused primarily on ‘negative’ constructs like burnout,
anxiety, depression, frustration etc. and emphasis was more on ‘preventing or reducing perceived
stress, strains or burnout’ rather than ‘managing the perceived stress in a positive way’. The
evidence from motivation studies indicated that individuals not only cope but also master their
environments. Against this backdrop the paper proposes a ‘Positive Mental Health Model of
Stress Management Intervention in organizations’ and suggests strategies for implementing
interventions at individual, group and organizational levels.
Key Words: Positive mental health, stress management interventions.
Pandey, S. and Gaur, S. (2005). “A Positive Mental Health Model for Stress Management
Interventions in Organizations: Insights from Positive Psychology”, presented at 92nd Indian
Science Congress, organized by Indian Science Congress Association, Nirma University,
Ahmedabad and National Institute of Occupational Health, Ahmedabad, January 3-7, 2005.
A Positive Mental Health Model for Stress Management Interventions in
Organizations: Insights from Positive Psychology
The beginning of 21st century saw the emergence of a new movement, called ‘positive psychology’ started by two
psychologists, Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. In the special issue of American Psychologist,
published in 2000, they argued that since World War II, psychology as a discipline has had too much focus on
negative, pathological aspects of human functioning and behaving, whereas a normal human being observes things
and events not negatively but positively. That basic assumption led them to develop a new school of thought, called
‘positive psychology’; that is aimed to use scientific methodology to discover and promote the factors that allows
individuals, groups, organizations and communities to thrive. They proposed that the aim of positive psychology is to
act as a catalyst to bring about a change in the focus of psychology from a preoccupation with repairing worst things
in life to building positive qualities. They identified three basic levels of positive psychology:
1. Valued subjective experiences: Well-being, contentment and satisfaction (from the past), hope and optimism (for
the future); and flow and happiness (in the present).
2. Positive individual traits: The capacity for love and vocation, courage, interpersonal skill, aesthetic sensibility,
perseverance, forgiveness, originality, future mindedness, spirituality, high talent and wisdom.
3. Civic virtues and the institutions that move individuals towards better citizenship: Responsibility, nurturance,
altruism, civility, moderation, tolerance and work ethic.
Both, popular and research literature on, effective performance emphasizes on proactive behavior of individuals and
groups in organizations (Crant, 2000). Although research on proactive behavior or constructs relevant to ‘positive
psychology’ (e.g. optimism, hope, self-efficacy, subjective well-being and emotional intelligence) has been in the
process for many years e.g. humanistic psychologists like Maslow and Rogers had also talked about positive aspects
of human psychology; but it took a big leap in the nineties in the form of integrating several researches into one field,
called ‘positive psychology’. Crant (2000) defined proactive behavior as taking initiative in improving current
circumstances or creating new ones; it involves challenging the status quo rather than adapting to present conditions.
Pareek (1983) proposed the term ‘approach strategy’ or ‘functional coping style’ to define proactive coping in which
a person faces the realities of stressful situations consciously and takes some action to solve the problems
himself/herself or with the help of other people. Bateman and Crant (1993) argued that proactive individuals actively
create environmental challenge, while less proactive take a more reactive approach toward their jobs. Bateman and
Crant (1993) developed a questionnaire ‘Proactive Personality Scale (PPS)’ to measure proactive personality. Crant
(2000) included four individual differences factors in his model of proactive behavior- proactive personality, personal
initiative, role breadth self efficacy, and taking charge. Besides these individual differences, he also identified few
contextual factors such as organizational culture, organizational norms, managerial support, situational cues and
organizational setting in relation to proactive behavior (e.g. socialization, proactive feedback seeking, issue selling,
innovation, career management and coping with stress) and performance of individuals and groups in organizations.
Stress- is it positive or negative?
There are numerous studies available on positive and negative behavioral attributes related to stress-coping
relationship. Some personality traits or dispositions such as internal locus of control, extraversion, hardiness, Type-B
behavior and positive affectivity have been found negatively correlated with perceived stress (job stress, occupational
stress or role stress); whereas certain other traits such as neuroticism, negative affectivity, psychoticism, Type-A
behavior have been found positively associated with perceived stress. This review of studies puts some major
questions before us- (1) Are there some positive or negative personality characteristics that determine individuals’
positive or negative attribution of stressful situation and determine their coping behavior?; (2) Do we need to study
stress-coping relationship in the context of ‘positive-negative dichotomy’?; and (3) Could individuals and groups be
trained in adapting ‘positive behavioral patterns’ and minimizing ‘negative behaviors patterns’, so individuals, teams
and organizations can achieve excellence in their performance.
Some researchers argue that stress is not always bad for individuals. On the contrary, some optimal level of stress is
necessary to motivate and energize people in organizations and both too much or too less a stress is harmful to
individuals. Whereas, a very high level of stress leads to hypertension, burnout, depression and hyper anxiety; a very
low level of stress leads to boredom, monotony and loss of interest in the job. Should we call this ‘optimum stress’ as
‘eustress’ and high amount of stress as ‘distress’? Or, ‘eustress’ should be defined as the positive perception of
stressful situation by an individual, and ‘distress’ as the negative perception of the situation. Pestonjee (1997)
classified stress into two categories- ‘hyper stress’, where there is an over activation of heavy demands in terms of
time or responsibilities; and ‘hypo stress’ , in which the individual suffers from the lack of activation, characterized
by lassitude and boredom. He further argued that it is ‘natural and healthy to maintain optimal level of stress’ and
‘success, achievement, higher productivity and effectiveness call for stress’. When successes are left unchecked and
unmanaged, they can create problems in performance and affect the health and well-being of the individual. Paine
(1982) defined ‘burnout stress syndrome (BOSS)’ as a consequence of high levels of job stress, personal frustration,
inadequate coping skills; have major personal, organizational and social costs; and these costs are probably
increasing. BOSS can lead to at least four types of stress-related consequences such as, depletion of energy reserves,
lowered resistance of illness, increased dissatisfaction and pessimism, and increased absenteeism and inefficiency at
work. Contrary to BOSS, an opposite phenomenon, ‘rustuot stress syndrome (ROSS)’ is also defined that indicates
stress underload. It occurs when there is a gap between a person’s actual performance potential and inadequate job
Lazarus (1988) explained that environmental conditions and mental characteristics of an individual combine to shape
cognitive appraisals. The individual’s cognitive appraisal classifies the environmental event either as a challenge
(eustress) or as a threat (distress). The difference in these appraisals lies in the perceived opportunity for personal
mastery of a situation or in the actual or perceived potential of an event to cause harm (Lazarus 1988). Lazarus (2003)
criticized the “so-called positive psychologists” for labeling ‘stress and coping phenomenon’ in a negative manner.
He emphasized in his article how both types of coping, emotion-focused and problem-solving may lead to positive or
negative feelings in individuals depending upon outcomes i.e. success or failure. He further explained that he was not
against doing research on the role of positive personality traits and emotions in relation to stress-coping process but
careful measurement of such constructs, using appropriate research designs and sound philosophical rationale is the
need of the hour (Lazarus, 2003). The need to adopt ‘proactive’ approach in the context of stress research has also
been propagated by Bliese and Jex (1999), Cox (1997), Griffiths (1994), and Pestonjee (1992).
Synder et al (1997) proposed that hope has a positive impact on controlling anxiety and emotions, managing stressful
situations and adapting to environmental changes. Luthans (2002) proposed positive OB model that emphasizes on
developing positively oriented human resource strengths and psychological capacities (e.g. self-efficacy, hope,
optimism, subjective well-being and emotional intelligence) for improving performance, motivating people; and
developing resistance to stress and improving proactive coping.
In his ethological theory of stress, Schabracq (1998) explored the role of wisdom in positive management of stress.
He explained that wisdom can be better understood as perception than logic; it is about potentiality, exploration and
creativity, an antidote to prejudice and fossilized thinking. Schabracq (1998) also identified different elements and
aspects of wisdom that may have significant impact on individuals’ coping with stress. Some of these elements and
aspects are described-maturity; detachment; inward turn; identifying and developing personal themes; improved
integration of diverse information; more focused working; motivating self; and life plan. He also proposed later how
wisdom could be used as an essential element in organizational interventions aimed at improving individual integrity
and organizational effectiveness.
Preventive Stress Management in Organizations
The theory of preventive stress management in organizations is based on integration of concepts from public health
and preventive medicine. Quick and Quick (1984) defined preventive stress management as an organizational
philosophy and set of principles which employs specific method for promoting individual and organizational health
while preventing individual and organizational distress. The basic ideas and beliefs are embodied in five guiding
1. Individual and organizational health are interdependent.
2. Leaders have a responsibility for individual and organizational health.
3. Individual and organizational distress are inevitable.
4. Each individual and organization reacts uniquely to stress.
5. Organizations are ever-changing dynamic entities.
Preventive stress management model proposed three levels of interventions. Primary prevention interventions aim to
reduce, modify, or manage the intensity, frequency and/or duration of organizational demands and stressors to
enhance health and reduce distress in people at work. Secondary prevention interventions aim to reduce individuals’
experience of the stress response. Tertiary prevention interventions attempt to minimize distress and provide therapy
and improve the healing process from stressful events in organizations (Quick et al, 1998, p. 253). Primary, secondary
and tertiary preventive stress management programs are strategies for preventing job strain and channeling job stress
into healthy and productive outcomes (Quick and Quick, 1997).
Positive Mental Health Model of Stress Management
The preventive stress management model (Quick et al 1998) generally talks about the prevention and reduction of
distress. Though, it also mentions about positive outcomes of preventive stress management but the question comes
here whether should we consider prevention or reduction of distress as equivalent to positive management of stress;
or, ‘positive stress’ needs to be defined more clearly in the changed context. Giga et al (2003) suggested a
comprehensive stress prevention and management (CSPM) framework that is focused on both work-directed and
person-directed prevention and management programs; and central to this framework is an effective organization-
wide communication process that endeavors to limit uncertainty through strategic planning and providing information
regarding elements of organizational change, particularly aspects that have the potential of affecting employees
directly. We believe that it is time now to shift focus of stress research from ‘prevention’ to ‘positive management’
and propose a model based on ‘positive mental health’ for effective stress management in organizations.
The Positive Mental Health (PMH) model as proposed by the authors, tries to integrate concepts and basic premises
of ‘positive psychology’ and ‘preventive stress management’ into a single model. The Positive Mental Health model
believes in enhancing human well-being by inculcating proactive behavior patterns in one’s personality. Positive
Mental Health can be defined as an internal psychological state of an individual that indicates about the individual’s
positive orientation towards different domains of life. It covers three dimensions of well-being- physical,
psychological and spiritual. The positive mental health model also proposes some new postulates that differentiate it
from other models.
1. Stress is an inevitable element of human life; it may have positive or negative impact on one’s life.
2. The dynamics of stress-coping process depends upon interdependence between individuals and organizations.
3. Each individual has some minimum stress-tolerance potential (STP) that consists of positive personality
characteristics (hardiness, optimism, hope, emotional stability, conscientiousness, self-efficacy etc.) that equip an
individual to cope proactively with extreme stressful situations in organizational, personal and social life.
4. Each individual also has some minimum stress-vulnerability (SV) that consists of negative personality
characteristics (psychoticism, Type-A behavior pattern, neuroticism etc.) that contribute to either avoidance
behavior or poor handling of extreme stressful situations in one’s organizational, personal and social life.
5. When STP is greater than SV the individual’s energy can be directed to manage stress effectively.
6. When STP is lesser than SV the individual’s energy is used up to mange the consequences on the self and results
in ineffective management of stress.
7. However, just by the presence of high STP one cannot assume effective management of stress.
8. Just like the individuals, groups and organizations too have some minimum stress-tolerance potential (STP) and
stress-vulnerability (SV) that need to be accounted for organizational stress management.
9. The ultimate goal of stress management interventions should be to strengthen individuals, groups and
organizations’ stress-tolerance potential (STP) and minimize stress-vulnerability (SV); and to promote positive
mental health at individual, group and organizational level.
As it can be inferred from these postulates that an individual’s positive or negative perception of stressful situation
may lead to either positive or negative impact on one’s life because this perception also determines whether the
individual adapts proactive or negative approach to handle the stressful situation. The underlying assumption in the
proposed model is that there is a need to bring a balance in human life and maintaining this balance is the
responsibility of the individual. Organizations need to provide an environment that facilitates individuals in
maintaining balance in their different domains of life. To achieve excellence at every level (individual, group or
organization at large), organizations need to promote ‘positive mental health’ approach in their policies, systems and
processes. Organizations need to understand that healthy individuals make healthy teams that ultimately form healthy
organizations. An organization with ‘positive mental health’ provides a work environment to its individuals and teams
that help them in maintaining their work-life balance and well-being; and developing them into healthy personalities.
An organization’s positive mental health can be observed in its work culture, people’s behavior at different levels and
its relationships with external stakeholders such as customers, competitors and government agencies. An organization
with ‘positive mental health’ reduces its various costs in terms of attrition, absenteeism, inefficient people and teams,
occupational hazards and low productivity. On the other hand, it gains excellence through its highly motivated people
and teams who continuously strive to achieve excellence in different fields relevant to the organization.
Implementing Stress Management Interventions: A Positive Mental Health Approach
As it has been discussed earlier in this paper that PMH model is an attempt to integrate insights of preventive stress
management model and positive psychology into a single one. The focus of PMH approach is not only to prevent
negative consequences of stress but also developing individuals, teams and organizations towards positive
management of stress and attaining well-being. Our PMH model suggests strategies for implementing stress
management interventions (SMIs) at the individual, group and organizational levels. Some strategies are suggested in
table-1. These strategies are just indicative and not exclusive in the context of a specific segment.
Individual Level: According to PMH model, every individual is equipped with a minimum stress-tolerance potential
(STP-I) that can be measured in terms of different positive personality traits such as conscientiousness, hardiness,
optimism, hope, emotional stability, self-efficacy, happiness, wisdom, spirituality etc. Similarly, an individual’s
stress-vulnerability (SV-I) can be measured in terms of different negative personality traits such as psychoticism,
neuroticism and negative affectivity (in terms of depression, irritability, frustration etc.). An individual’s coping with
extreme stressful situations depends upon his/her stress-tolerance potential (STP) and stress-vulnerability (SV). The
data on STP and SV can be effectively used in preparing individual’s stress-coping profile along with the data on
perceived stressors, strains and coping style; and personal counseling can be provided to individuals. At the individual
level, the focus of stress management interventions (SMI) should be on strengthening STP-I and reducing SV-I
through personal counseling, behavioral training, psychotherapy, relaxation or meditation etc. The basic difference in
the PMH approach and other approaches is that of the concept of Stress Tolerance Potential which can be
strenghthened by external intervention.. The common factor in both the earlier and PMH approaches is an emphasis
on the reduction of stress-vulnerability (SV-I).
Group Level: According to PMH, healthy individuals (in terms of physical, mental and spiritual health) make
effective teams. Similarly, teams also experience stressful situations in organizations and they also cope with those
situations. Constructs like stress-tolerance potential and stress-vulnerability can also be extended to the context of
teams. Factors like group cohesiveness, groupthink, group polarization, intragroup and intergroup conflicts, team
synergy, team effectiveness directly contribute to a team’s stress-tolerance potential (STP-T) and stress-vulnerability
(SV-T), depending upon team’s approach to the stressful situation i.e. proactive or reactive. These assumptions need
to be tested empirically and psychometric measures need to be developed for STP-T and SV-T. Standardized team
measures (STP-T and SV-T) can be validated against team performance data. At team-level interventions, different
team-building approaches can be implemented and evaluated either using repeated-measures experimental designs or
Organizational Level: Similar to individuals and teams, organizations also experience stressful situations
continuously in their life. Sometimes organizations face extreme stressful situations e.g. major structural or policy
changes; sudden crisis (external or internal) e.g. merger or acquisition with other company, strike, major occupational
accident, prolonged financial losses etc.; or sudden change in leadership. Most of these stressful situations are
primarily handled by executive boards and top management of the company (CEO and his immediate team), but
impact of these organizational events are even felt at every level in the organization. Some behavioral changes across
the organization can be observed in such situations. Similar to individuals, proactive and reactive coping behavior can
be observed in case of organizations also. At the organizational level, contextual factors play major role in
determining an organization’s coping with extreme stressful situations. Organizational level interventions include
policy and systemic changes, restructuring, changes in work practices and work culture etc. Some factors e.g. Strong
systems and processes, ethical work culture, good corporate governance contribute directly to an organization’s
stress-tolerance potential (STP-O), whereas stagnant systems and processes, corruption and poor corporate
governance, inefficient teams contribute to an organization’s vulnerability to extreme stressful situations (SV-O).
There is a need to develop and standardize measures for STP-O and STP-V. Proper organizational diagnosis by using
quantitative and qualitative measures may be very helpful here. These measures may be very useful resources for
HRD managers for developing and implementing appropriate interventions at every level in the organization. In this
case, qualitative methods perhaps can provide better insight to understand the stress-coping process and evaluating
impact or effectiveness of stress management interventions. Longitudinal studies may provide better insight in
measuring and evaluating the impact of stress management interventions at different levels in the organization over a
Challenges to the Proposed Model
The proposed model is in its infancy stage. First, although, we propose a concept ‘positive mental health’ that is
generally understood in the context of individuals and we are trying to extend it to groups and organizational level
too; but defining and measuring this construct ‘positive mental health’ at the group and organizational level is the
biggest challenge for us. Bleise and Jex (1999) argued that individual-level analyses do not reflect the realistic
picture of multiple relationships of contextual factors with occupational stress and coping because individuals’
perceptions and expectations differ at individual and group level. Hence, they suggested for incorporating multiple
level of analysis (individual, group and organization) for stress management interventions. The second challenge, as
perceived by authors in the context of the proposed model, is the reliability and validity of those group and
organizational-level measures. The third challenge is that this model needs to be tested empirically and its
philosophical postulates need to be validated in the context of empirical findings.
Strategies for Implementing Stress Management Interventions in Organizations
*Managing the work
*Managing perception of
* Team competency
*Task & Job Redesign
*Education & training
*Confrontation of macro-
*Coaching and counseling
* Diversity programs
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