The Stresses of Working With TressesPublished: June 08, 1999 in Knowledge@Wharton
While the United States started this century strengthening its economy through the innovations of industry, it will end its journey through the 1900s very differently. Today, manufacturing has been replaced by services, and most futurists see a service-based economy leading the country robustly into the next millennium.
In their paper, Pink Collar Stress: Employee Performance, Creativity and Satisfaction in Hair Salons, Linn Van Dyne of the Eli Broad Graduate School of Management at Michigan State University and Anne Cummings and Karen A. Jehn of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania explain that the service sector accounts for more than 70% of all workers and more than 90% of all new jobs to be created by the year 2000. Recognizing the importance of service jobs, Van Dyne, Cummings and Jehn analyzed the impact of stress on one of the more well-known, though seldom observed, positions in the personal service sector: the hair salon stylist.
After studying a sample of 195 hair stylists (labeled "pink collar" workers because their work is considered paraprofessional and they are often female) the professors were able to predict relations between two types of stress: that generated at work and that generated at home, and three work domain outcomes vital to service success: routine performance, creativity and satisfaction.
Van Dyne, Cummings and Jehn point out that researchers have long studied the impact of stress on employees' health, satisfaction, attitudes and performance. The relation between home-related stress and workplace satisfaction has also been explored. This study is unique, however, because it more thoroughly addresses the relation between individuals' stress and their performance at work. It also examines stress and employees' creativity at work, a topic that has, until now, been overlooked by stress researchers. What's more, they analyze hair salon stylists, who are an important part of the growing personal services industry--dry cleaning, home cleaning, child care and personal fitness, to name a few--and who are also at the center of an under-researched segment of the work population, the pink collar worker.
Hair stylists also prove appropriate subjects for this kind of study because they work directly with customers, rendering satisfaction, creativity and routine performance of the utmost importance to job success. The "Pink Collar Stress" study makes a distinction between work and home stress. Work stress is stress that occurs in the workplace and is based on conflict or tension with co-workers and supervisors, while home stress is based on relationships, responsibilities and events that occur at home. That distinction proves crucial because, though stress is universally defined as an emotional experience associated with nervousness, tension and strain, the origin of the stress--work or home--proves to have varying impacts on the outcomes of routine work performance, creativity and satisfaction.
The professors' study finds that while moderate levels of work stress enhance day-to-day, routine work performance, the stress that employees bring from home detracts from their routine performance. Both work and home stress detract from creativity, a work domain outcome that is key within the service sector because customers have different needs and preferences‹particularly when it comes to hair styles. The study also finds negative relations between both types of stress and employee satisfaction at work.
So what can be done to prevent customers from having one too many bad hair days at their hair salons? Supervisors and managers need to be tuned in, suggest Van Dyne, Cummings and Jehn, to the effects of work and home stress on their employees. The study finds that supportive supervisors helped reduce the negative relations of work stress and home stress with creativity. The professors propose that by offering support, "supervisors can enhance the positive effects of stress and weaken the negative effects of stress by helping employees focus on the work at hand and giving them confidence to perform their jobs."
Employees' love of their work, otherwise known as intrinsic motivation, was also found to diminish the negative relations of both types of stress with satisfaction. If managers want to get the best, most creative work from their staffs and they want to ensure happiness at the hair salon, they need to monitor and manage their employees' work and home stress. Van Dyne, Cummings and Jehn deduce that "Employees with high inherent interest in styling hair itself should be better able to benefit fully from the increased arousal and activation induced by moderate amounts of work stress than employees with less intrinsic interest in styling." In other words, if you love what you do, you will be inclined to do it well.
Stress is not only a trademark of a white-collar world. As the personal service sector rises in prominence on the economic horizon, people--particularly managers--need to be aware of how elements like stress affect the way employees do their jobs. In "Pink Collar Stress" Van Dyne, Cummings and Jehn, have managed to get to the root of the relationship between different types of stress and employee performance, creativity and satisfaction.