Publishers today, particularly Sage, seem to be publishing more Handbooks. The Handbook of Work Stress reflects this trend. This collection comprises 27 chapters divided into four parts. The 27 chapters include four brief chapters at the start of each part that set the stage for each part, providing short summaries of the chapters that follow; 23 chapters provide new content.
I was surprised that the Handbook did not provide information about the collection’s purposes and themes or who the intended target audience was, from the outset. The back cover did indicate that the collection focused primarily on identifying the various sources of work stress across different contexts and individuals and was essential reading for researchers. But the collection is more than this. It may be that a handbook’s objectives are widely understood but I think an early positioning of the collection would have been useful. A statement of purpose might indicate the work stress content to be included and why, the work stress content excluded and why and how the content could be useful in creating healthier workplaces.
Part I, Sources of work stress, is the largest part (396 pages) consisting of 15 chapters. Part II, Special populations (142 pages) consists of 6 chapters. Part III, Consequences of work stress (55 pages) contains 3 chapters. Finally, Part IV, Interventions (44 pages) consists of 3 chapters.
The chapters in Part I review 14 different sources of work stress. Some of these have been studied for a long time (e.g., role stress, work schedules, work-family conflict) while others have only recently begun to receive attention (e.g., workplace aggression, terrorism). The remaining chapters address organization justice, poor leadership, harassment and discrimination, the physical work environment, workplace safety, economic stressors, technology, industrial relations, and organizational politics. It is not clear why these stressors were included and not others or whether there was a particular order to the sequencing of the chapters. Did they move from the most heavily and longest researched to the less researched and more recent stressors? It was indicated that each chapter would review content relevant to its specific stressors, identify me-thodological issues and suggest future research directions. Some authors did this while other authors did not. Those chapters that include policy and intervention suggestions were particularly helpful. There was also some content overlap between the various sources of work stress, for example, workplace aggression and sexual harassment. In addition, almost all of these chapters include individual difference or personal disposition variables as well as the same stress outcomes. This is likely inevitable given the structure of the collection.
Five special populations are considered in Part II as defined by gender, age (younger and older), employment status (full-time, part-time, contingent) and culture or national origin. The editors suggest that the stress process may be different in groups defined by demographic differences. They note that although the generic stress model may be the same for all groups, particular sub-groups may experience different stressors, the same stressors but to a different degree, the same stressors but report different reactions to them, and that some stress outcomes may be more important for some sub-groups than others. A consideration of these special populations makes it possible to test the boundaries of current stress theories. While all this may be true, it is generally left up to the reader to draw these conclusions.
The two chapters in Part III review consequences of work stress considering both individual and organizational consequences at psychological, physical and behavioural levels (Chapter 24, Jex and Crossley) and mental health (Chapter 23, Warr). Warr correctly notes the importance of including positive indicators of well-being in future work stress research.
Part IV, Intervention, includes two chapters, one targeting individuals, the other addressing organizations, using the traditional breakdown of primary, secondary and tertiary levels of intervention As the authors of both of these chapters note, effective stress reduction efforts must address both individuals and their behaviours and the work environment.
The Handbook or Work Stress has considerable strengths. The chapters are well written and the relevant literature identified, summarized and appropriately integrated. Readers interested in specific work stress content can readily access the key contributions. As such, it provides an outstanding resource for academic researchers. I was disappointed, though, that stand-alone chapters were not devoted to burnout, coping, individual difference and personal predispositions such as coronary-prone behaviour and work addiction, the effects of work stress on children and families, and policy initiatives at the societal level to address work stress issues. In addition, this collection, like many of the other work stress collections, has a decidedly North American emphasis. While it includes references to the contribution of stress researchers from a number of different countries, the potentially unique perspective offered by stress researchers from these countries is not available to us.
The editors and some contributors note the large gap between research evidence and our understanding of the work stress and health relationship and our efforts to do something about this. Stress research has been ongoing for over 40 years; the acknowledged costs of work stress to individuals, families, organizations and society at large are staggering. While this collection highlights the gap and the costs, and some authors deal with interventions and policy implications, much more needs to be done here. Fourteen chapters on sources of work stress and two chapters on intervention are an indication of this and may well reflect the current state of the field This is not so much a comment on this Handbook as it stands, as on what the Handbook might have been. We are still waiting for the Handbook of Work Stress Management and Prevention.