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A.P. Singh,1 Nitu Singhi2

1Professor, Dept. of Psychology, Faculty of Social Science, B.H U, Varanasi-221005.

2Research Scholar, Dept. of Psychology, Faculty of Social Science, B.H U, Varanasi-221005




Background: Stress has become a prominent feature of modern workplace. With the growth of science, technology and materialistic predominance, individual’s concern for health has increased. 

Aim: This paper is an attempt to examine the role of organizational role stress and coping in somatic health complaints of managers.

Methodology: The present study was conducted on 210 managerial personnel of different private sector organizations in India using correlational design. Occupational Stress Index, Coping Scale and Somatic Health Complaints Checklist were the tools used to measure the variables.

Result: The result of correlation indicates that organizational stress has significant positive correlation with somatic health complaints. The stepwise regression analysis specifies that role conflict (one of the dimension of organizational stress) is found to be the significant predictor of somatic health complaints. The moderator regression analysis indicated that coping moderated the relationship between role ambiguity and somatic health complaints, role conflict and somatic health complaints and stress total and somatic health complaints.

Conclusion: This study may help managers and human resource development practitioners to understand how coping skills can reduce the impact of organizational role stress on somatic health complaints among managers, which in turn may help to maintain their health to work efficiently in organizations.


   Keywords: Organizational Role Stress, Coping, Somatic health complaints



Job stress is increasing globally in all countries, professions, organizations, family and society in general. There are a number of factors which contribute to workplace stress like lack of autonomy, extensive working hours, problems with supervisors and co- workers, harassment etc. and organizational role stress is also one of them. Employers are concerned about their work roles and goals because their rewards are based on the accomplishments of work goals and fulfillment of role expectations.1 Though, there are certain costs associated with the roles when individuals are not able to perform those roles as expected which may lead to negative consequences affecting an individual’s psychological well-being. However, there are certain factors like personal control, social support, personality traits etc, which are identified to buffer the impact of stress and coping skill is also one of them.

Organizational Role Stress

Role stressor can be defined as the pressure experienced by an individual as a result of organizational and job-specific factors in the form of demands and constraints that have been placed on them.2 People are willing to accept roles because they provide important psychological benefits such as status, ego gratification, and increased self-esteem.3 However, there are also potential costs associated with the roles when individuals are not able to perform those roles as expected. Whenever individuals do not have clear guidelines regarding their role’s authority and responsibility, they will experience stress, become dissatisfied, and perform less effectively. When goals, roles and performance criteria are ambiguous, employees may perceive these ambiguities as threatening their interests. Subsequently, this will lead to the feeling of strain.

Every organization is composed of a number of positions and specific roles associated with these positions. Job role can be defined as “a set of specific normative activities, associated with a position, to be performed and proscriptions, held by the members of the role set”.4

Normally, performance of a role satisfies various needs of its occupant. But sometimes it becomes a potential source of stress too for the role-occupant. The problem a role- occupant faces today is that of managing complex structure of roles by achieving an integration of one’s self with the system of other roles as well as integration of various roles a person may be occupying.2 were the earliest to draw attention to organizational stress in general and role stress in particular. These researches, after systematic exploration, identified two basic sources of role stress, i.e., role conflict and role ambiguity.

Somatic health complaints

Disturbances in bodily functions commonly found in workers exposed to stressful situation in working life include5:

1.       Muscular symptoms: e.g. tension and despair

2.       Gastrointestinal symptoms: e.g., indigestion, vomiting, heartburn, constipation, irritation of the colon

3.       Cardiac symptoms: e.g., palpitation and chest-pain

4.       Respiratory symptoms: e.g., dyspnoea and hyperventilation

5.       Central nervous system symptoms: e.g., neurotic reactions, insomnia ,weakness and some headaches

6.       Genital symptoms: e.g. dysmenorrheal, frigidity and impotence.

The somatic problems are brought about by chronic tension and anxiety. In most cases somatic disorders are a result of an interaction between several factors, including physiological predisposition, psychological vulnerability and environmental stressors.

Although such everyday symptom often is considered trivial by the physicians, they can cause much distress and suffering for the patient, high cost to the community and very considerable losses for the employees. Cardiovascular symptoms have attracted most attention among the so called psychosomatic disorders particularly coronary heart disease (CHD) and essential hypertension. Other major psychosomatic symptoms include ulcer, asthma, tension and migraine headache, diabetes etc.


Coping is primarily a psychological term .In psychological uses there are many definitions of coping, but all share a central theme, that is the struggle with external and internal demands, conflicts and distressing emotions. Reducing or managing stresses the essence of coping and an understanding of coping can aid in dealing with stress. Coping is the “effect, both action oriented and intra psychic, to manage (i.e. to master, tolerate, reduce and minimize) environmental and internal demands and conflicts among them which exceed a person’s resources.”6          Coping depends on the individual’s perception of the environment. It is the process of gathering information, generating alternatives, weighing and then selecting the best alternatives and finally implementing or evolving strategies. Coping thus requires analysis of one’s own needs as well as of the situation. Coping strategies can be of several types but there are two major targets of coping: changing ourselves or changing our environment. A person can either make adjustments to fit better with the environment (“go with the flow”) or change the environment to suit his/her own needs (“divide and conquer”).Lazarus & Folkman recognized the value-laden nature of certain traditional ways in which coping has been defined. They define coping at the psychological level of analysis as “the process of managing demands (external or internal) that are appraised as taxing or exceeding the resources of the person.” 7

Literature Review

Over the past two decades, there has been an increasing belief that the experience of stress necessarily has undesirable consequences for health.8 Physical health is affected by different kinds of psychological stress. In a study conducted on Indian Managerial Personnel, overall job stress, namely role overload and role conflict were found to be related with health outcomes, somatic health complaints and pathological health habits.9 It is a long accepted fact that the workplace is a major source of socio-psychological stressors, strains and subsequent ill health.10The accumulation of stressful events can lead to real illness.11            Disorders usually cited as being stress-related are bronchitis, coronary heart disease, mental illness, thyroid disorders, skin diseases, certain types of rheumatoid arthritis, obesity, tuberculosis, headaches and migraine, peptic ulcers and ulcerative colitis and diabetes.12The mechanism linking stress to illness may include disorders in neuro-endocrine or immune system13,14or changes in health related behaviors (alcohol use, poor diet, deficiencies in exercise patterns, failure in self care) or a combination of the two.15,16The number of studies that have systematically examined the association between work related stress and behavioral outcomes was noted to be rather small in comparison with those that have investigated   stress-health relationships.17Some of the early warning signs of job stress include: short temper, headache, shortness of breath, sleep disturbances, difficulty concentrating, upset stomach, apathy and job dissatisfaction. The Encyclopedia of Occupational Safety and Health Research say many studies show positive links between stress and these conditions:

1.       Cardiovascular diseases- many related to lack of control in the work process

2.       Musculoskeletal disorders- particularly in the back and upper limbs

3.       Psychological disorders – mainly depression and burnout.                                       

While more study is needed in these areas, there is also increasing concern about the link between stress and workplace injuries, as well as stress and suicide, cancer, ulcers and reduced immune response.

Researches often have posited a strong relationship among perceived stress, an individual’s coping resources and coping mechanism, and etiology of stress- related maladaptive health responses.6How an individual handles stress plays an important role in determining the health outcomes of the individual’s encounter with stress. Coping may be loosely defined as things we think and actions we take to ameliorate the negative aspects of stressful situations.18Some of the maladaptive health responses considered here may be categorized as coping tactics, like smoking and absenteeism.

The coping literature points to a lack of clarity about coping’s moderating role between stressors and their outcomes. Some studies have supported this moderating effect,19 whereas others have provided weak support for it 20and a third group has found no support at all for the interactive model.21

Objective of the study

Keeping in view of the above mentioned brief conceptualization and review of literature, the following objectives of the present study were proposed:

1.       To examine the role of organizational role stress on somatic health complaints among managerial personnel.

2.       To examine the buffering effect of coping in the relationship between organizational role stress and somatic health complaints of the managerial personnel.


1.       Dimensions of organizational role stress would be positively correlated with somatic health complaints of the managers.

2.       Dimensions of organizational role stress will predict the somatic health complaints of managers.

3.       Coping will moderate the relationship between organizational role stress and somatic health complaints of managerial personnel.



Present investigation was conducted on 210 managerial personnel (top, middle and front) of different private sector organization in India. Participants age vary between 22 to 59 years.


 In the present investigation we have used a correlational design with ex-post facto research. Organizational role stress was taken as predictor variable, coping was considered as moderator variable and somatic health complaint was considered as criterion variable.


The following psychometric devices along with personal data schedule which recorded the information regarding age, sex, marital status were employed in the present investigation.

Occupational Stress Index 22

In the present study to measure the occupational stress only 15 items were selected from the full scale (OSI) which was related to role overload, role ambiguity and role conflict. Five point response format; strongly agree (5) to strongly disagree (1) was used in this scale. The reliability of these subscales was found to be 0.684 for role overload, 0.554 for role ambiguity and 0.696 for role conflict. For validity , the coefficients of correlation between the scores on the Occupational Stress Index and the measures  of job involvement, Ego strength and Employee’s Motivation were found to be -0.80 (n=120), -0.40(n=120), -0.44(n=200), respectively. High score on this scale shows high level of occupational stress.

Coping Scale23

This scale comprises eight items with five point response format from strongly agree (5) to strongly disagree (1).Respondent had to choose one most appropriate category which he/she uses to cope with stressful situation.

Somatic health complaints Checklist4

The five point rating checklist was developed to examine the health status of the individual. Somatic health complaints checklist consists of 25 items. High scores on this checklist show high level of somatic health complaints.


For conducting the present study, all the necessary permission for data collection was taken from the organizations, selected for the study. Rapport was established with the employees and the purpose of the study was explained to them. The questionnaire was distributed to 210 managers who were contacted personally and requested to respond on the above mentioned measures. They were asked to read carefully the instructions given in the questionnaires. Participants were allowed to take their own time to complete the questionnaire. All above mentioned psychometric devices were simultaneously administered to the selected participants.

Scoring for all the above mentioned questionnaires were done accordingly as instructed in their manuals.

Data Analysis

The obtained raw scores on different scales were entered in computer. The software SPSS was used for statistical computation. To study the variables, correlation coefficient, stepwise multiple regression analysis and moderated regression analysis was computed.



Table-1 Correlation coefficient of organizational role stress and coping with somatic health complaints


Predictor Variables





Coping styles

Organizational Role Stress

Role overload

Role ambiguity

Role conflict

Stress total

Criterion Variable


somatic health complaints






















Table-1 shows *Correlation is significant at the 0.05 level (two-tailed)

 ** Correlation is significant at the 0.01 level (two-tailed)

Result of correlation coefficient indicates that role conflict and stress total were found to be positively correlated with somatic health complaints.









Table- 2 Summary of the results of Stepwise Multiple Regression analysis for somatic health complaints as criterion variable.






R sq







Role conflict







Table-2 Predictor (constant),  Role Conflict

Result of stepwise multiple regression indicates that role conflict was found to be the significant important predictor of somatic health complaints (F= 10.670, p<0.001) which produced 4.9% of variance in predicting somatic health complaints.




Table-3 Summary of Moderated Regression Analysis for coping as a moderator in the relationship between organizational role stress and somatic health complaints




R sq

Adjusted R2

R2 change



Coping as moderator and Role ambiguity as predictor

Role Ambiguity














Role ambiguity x Coping







Coping as moderator and role overload as predictor

Role Overload














Role Overload x Coping







Coping as moderator and role conflict as predictor

Role Conflict














Role Conflict x Coping







Coping as moderator and stress total as predictor

Stress Total














Stress Total x Coping








Above results indicate that coping was found to be the significant important moderator in the relationship between role ambiguity and somatic health complaints (F=3.972, p<0.009), role conflict and somatic health complaints (F= 3.888, p<0.010), and stress total and somatic health complaints (F= 4.981, p< 0.002).


Various theoretical and empirical researches have provided the base for the present study which attempted to investigate the role of coping as a moderator in the relationship between organizational role stress and somatic health complaints of managerial personnel.

From the results of correlation coefficient it is clear that there is a significant positive correlation between role conflict, role stress total (dimensions of organizational role stress) and somatic health complaints, thus supporting our hypothesis partially. This result illustrates that as role conflict and role stress total increases there will be an increase in somatic health complaints of managerial personnel. This may be because of what role stress theory states that organizational factors generate role expectations among role senders, who then transmit these as role pressures to the person. Experienced and prolonged pressure creates symptoms of ill health.2 Some researcher meta-analyzed findings from a number of studies and showed clear relationships between role stressors and impaired well-being.24,25

In the second hypothesis it was proposed that dimensions of organizational role stress will predict somatic health complaints. For this, stepwise multiple regression analysis was computed and the results showed that role conflict was found to be the significant important predictor which produced 4.9% of variance in predicting somatic health complaints. This may be because when roles and goals are contradicting with one another, employees may perceive these situations as threatening their interests. Subsequently, this will lead to the feeling of strain which if prolonged will eventually lead to illness. The present finding is supported by a number of studies like, in a study on doctors it was found that doctors who experienced higher levels of role conflict reported more psychological distress and somatic complaints.26 According to another study, role conflict was considered a source of chronic stress and has been documented to have a significant impact on job satisfaction, psychological distress, burnout and somatic health complaints. 8,10

To find out the role of coping as a moderator between the relationship of organizational role stress and somatic health complaints, moderated regression analysis was computed and it was clear from the results that coping moderated the relationship between role ambiguity and somatic health complaints, role conflict and somatic health complaints and role stress total and somatic health complaints.

The coping process in its broadest sense refers to any attempt to deal with stressful situation which a person feels he must do something, but which tax or exceed his existing response patterns. The coping behavior may range from most casual maneuvers to complicated forms of problem solving, most highly proactive behavior to most pathological reactive attempts and from most rational to the most irrational efforts. Yet, all are undertaken for the same ultimate objective of preventing, reducing or resolving stress and its impact. Thus, coping strategies seem to play an important role in determining the results and/or consequences of the stressors, 19,20

Implications and Future Research

The findings of the present study provide support to the fact that training and development interventions should ensure managers develop the appropriate skills, abilities and behaviors to manage stress effectively; selection and assessment interventions; and performance management systems to ensure managers are rewarded and held accountable for showing the relevant behaviors. From this study it is clear that employers should also make effort to reduce role ambiguity, role conflict by clearly defining ones role and responsibilities. This study can also be implied to understand the importance of employing full time counselors who may help individuals deal effectively with stressful situations. The study of coping has received attention for decades, but new issues, such as the interaction of different types of coping, efficacy criteria and levels of analysis, deserve future research efforts. Consequently, nowadays coping research is still necessary and captivating.


Organizational role stress has been found to increase the risk of somatic health complaints though an appropriate coping skill can help managers deal with these stress. A healthy work environment is one in which staff have made health and health promotion behavior a priority and part of their working lives.



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