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MOHAJERI-NELSON, N. (1999). Stress Level and Job Satisfaction: Does a Causal Relationship Exist?. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 2. Available online at http://www.webclearinghouse.net/volume/. Retrieved October 3, 2022 .

Stress Level and Job Satisfaction: Does a Causal Relationship Exist?

Sponsored by: CLAUDIA STANNY (CStanny@uwf.edu)
Prior researchers have demonstrated a strong negative correlation between stress level and job satisfaction. The purpose of this experiment was to determine whether or not a causal relationship exists between the 2 variables. Eleven non-attorney employees of a large (more than 60 employees) law firm participated in this experiment with 6 participants in the experimental and 5 in the control groups. Pre-tests were conducted for stress level and job satisfaction, the results of which were used to assign the participants to the experimental and control groups. The experimental group practiced stress management techniques (breathing and stretching) for 2 weeks. Post-tests were conducted to determine whether stress levels were reduced by stress management techniques and whether or not job satisfaction had been increased. The results of this experiment were not statistically significant at the alpha level of .05. Further research is warranted.

In modern living, stress management can be an effective tool for enhancement of one’s personal life. Stress can lead to many illnesses, including but not limited to headaches, heart attacks, strokes, and digestive and respiratory disorders (e.g., Fried, 1990; Kabat-Zinn, 1990b). A tremendous amount of research has been devoted to validating the benefits of stress reduction techniques such as breathing and stretching in preventing and healing psychosomatic illnesses and other stress-related disorders (e.g., Fried, 1990; Girdano, Everly, & Dusek, 1990; Kabat- inn, 1990a, 1990b; Sethi, 1989). Proper breathing techniques have been successful in reducing pain and combating psychosomatic and other stress-related illnesses (Fried, 1990). For many generations, breathing techniques (paired with a variety of other focusing and relaxation techniques) taught in Lamaze classes, have been beneficial to couples enduring one of life’s more painful stressors: childbirth labor and delivery. Through breathing exercises and positive imagery, women are encouraged to focus on the positive aspects of the situation and push through the pain (Bradley, 1995). Although most stressors in life are not associated with simultaneous pain as with childbirth, these same techniques would be beneficial to an individual suffering through another type of anxiety-inducing situation. Finally, meditation and yoga have been utilized as effective means of coping with and reducing stress while strengthening physical and emotional endurance (Sethi, 1989). Americans spend the majority of their waking hours at work. Because a full-time job requires working approximately 40 hours (often more) each week, one would be inclined to believe that stress level would be negatively correlated with job satisfaction. Although there is an overwhelming amount of research on the effects of stress management on one’s personal life and overall health, there is room for further investigation of its effects on job satisfaction. In a study of burnout and job satisfaction in a chronic care hospital, the researchers confirmed a negative correlation between increased stress or “burnout” and decreased job satisfaction (Belicki & Woolcott, 1996). In his study of job satisfaction among public sector workers in the Denver municipal water utility, which is a leader in pay, benefits and job security, Leavitt (1996) found that although overall job satisfaction was low, the water utility employees claimed to be satisfied in pay, benefits, and job security. Leavitt does not discuss what factor is causing overall job satisfaction to be low. Could it be stress? Conversely, in a later study, O’Quin and LoTempio (1998) found that job insecurity decreases job satisfaction. Although many factors, such as rate of pay, job security, and benefits, have been correlated with the level of job satisfaction, many researchers have demonstrated that an increase in stress level is associated with a decrease in job satisfaction (e.g., Spector, 1997; Murphy & Schoenborn, 1989; Benner, 1984). Spector (1997) further notes that there is even “a link between [overall] health and job satisfaction.” In her study of job satisfaction, attitudes, and performance in schools, Ostroff (1992) found a statistically significant negative correlation between stress and job satisfaction. Carlson and Thompson (1995) conducted research on the effects of stress and job “burnout” on satisfaction and turnover in public school teachers. After finding a significant correlation between burnout and turnover, the authors make recommendations on how the school administrators can reduce the stress levels of the teachers. Because former researchers in this area have implied that a stressful situation, as opposed to the individual herself, has the most significant influence on stress level, and thereby job satisfaction, the purpose of this study is to determine whether or not an individual can reduce her own stress level through stress management techniques and if so, will the reduction in stress level result in an increase in job satisfaction. This author hypothesized that stress management will reduce stress level which in turn will increase job satisfaction. Furthermore, it was predicted that participants with a high stress level would benefit more from the stress management techniques, decreasing stress level and increasing job satisfaction levels more than the participants in the low stress level category. As Murphy and Schoenborn (1989) point out, “stress programs are most successful to the extent they are individualized...and approach the participant as a self-directed learner...” (p. 152). The focus of this experiment will be on the individual attempting to control her own stress level through stress management. And, the effects of stress level on job satisfaction will be observed.


Twelve non-attorney, female staff members of a large (more than 60 employees) law firm participated in this experiment. Only 11 completed both pretests and post-tests; therefore, the results of the experiment are based on the scores of those 11 participants. Employees of said law firm were selected for this study because said law firm only gives annual raises at the beginning of each year and at no other time will employees receive raises or be promoted. The purpose was to eliminate effects on job satisfaction by extraneous factors such as raises or promotions during the study period. Furthermore, by studying participants from the same law firm, such factors as workloads, amount of paperwork, and type of work remained constant among all participants during the study period.

Stress levels were assessed with a paper and pencil test as delineated by Girdano, Everly and Dusek (1990). Job satisfaction was assessed with a paper and pencil test, known as the Job Satisfaction Survey (Spector, 1997).

A pre-test was conducted to determine the stress and job satisfaction level of each participant. Two groups of participants were matched based on individual stress level. This was accomplished by listing participants according to stress level rating (ranging from 56-lowest to 100-highest), then assigning every other participant to the control group. The remaining participants were assigned to the experimental group. There were 6 participants in the experimental group and 5 in the control group. The goal was to have 2 groups with members whose stress levels varied from low to high. Both groups were then divided into 2 levels (low stress and high stress), resulting in 4 groups as follows: low stress, used stress management techniques; low stress, did not use stress management; high stress, used stress management; and high stress, did not use stress management. The control groups did not participate in stress management. The members of the experimental groups were taught stretching techniques as outlined by Anderson (1997) and breathing techniques as described by many authors (e.g., Forbes & Pekala, 1990; Fried, 1990, Kabat-Zinn, 1990, Sethi, 1989). The experimental groups were instructed to perform the breathing and stretching exercises 4 times per day, for 5 minutes each time, for a period of 2 weeks. All groups were re-tested after the 2 week period. The variance of stress and job satisfaction levels of the groups were compared. The independent variables of this experiment were stress level (high or low) based on the pre-test scores and the stress management techniques, breathing and stretching (used or not used). The dependent variables were stress levels based on the post-test scores and job satisfaction.

There were 30 questions on the stress level assessment test, with a highest possible score of 120 and lowest possible score of 30. The questions were designed to be answered a, b, c, or d. Points were assigned for each answer as follows: (a) = 4 points, (b) = 3 points, (c) = 2 points, and (d) = 1 point. The points were added for all 30 questions. For the purpose of this experiment, stress levels were categorized as follows: Low = 30-75 total points; and high = 76-120 total points. There were 36 questions on the job satisfaction assessment test, with the highest possible score of 216 and lowest possible score of 36. The answers varied from 1 which is disagree very much to 6 which is agree very much. Job satisfaction was measured by the total points based on this scale. For the purpose of this experiment, job satisfaction was categorized as follows: Very dissatisfied = 36-81; dissatisfied = 82-126; satisfied = 127-171; and very satisfied = 172-216. The scores from the pre-tests served as a baseline for each participant and the results were compared to the results of the post-tests applied after a 2 week period.

The results of this experiment were not as significant as had been expected. An alpha level of .05 was used for all statistical tests. Because the results of the analysis of variance were F(1,7) = .675, p>.05 for stress level and F(1,7) = .534, p>.05 for job satisfaction, we failed to reject the null hypothesis. Therefore, the results do not support the hypothesis that an individual can reduce her own stress level and thereby increase job satisfaction. No significant difference was noted in the variance of the scores in the low stress level versus the high stress level groups. Although the results were not statistically significant, the mean stress levels of the 2 groups which utilized stress management techniques are slightly lower in the post-test while the mean stress levels of the control groups are slightly higher. The Descriptive Statistics for stress are outlined in Tables 1 and 2. The results of the job satisfaction tests were very different than what had been expected. Of the participants who utilized the stress management techniques, the low stress group had a slight increase in job satisfaction; however, the high stress group experienced a decrease in job satisfaction (but not a significant decrease) which is the opposite of the results expected. Furthermore, the control groups also experienced an increase in job satisfaction, which had not been expected. Descriptive statistics pertaining to job satisfaction are outlined in Tables 3 and 4. Based on the data collected in this experiment, correlations were also calculated. The results of the correlation between stress level and job satisfaction were r=.545 for the pre-tests and r=.496 for the post-tests. With a sample size of 11 participants, these results are not statistically significant. Nonetheless, a slight correlation was demonstrated.

Although other researchers have shown a strong correlation between stress level and job satisfaction, a causal relationship has not been discussed. The purpose of this study was to determine whether or not a causal relationship exists. The results, though not statistically significant, did support a directional change in stress level: stress levels were reduced with stress management techniques. The low stress level group, which experienced a decrease in stress level, also experienced an increase in job satisfaction. However, even though there was a very slight decrease in stress level in the high stress level group, there was also a decrease in job satisfaction, which is the opposite of the results which had been anticipated. As with any field experiment, extraneous variables were extremely difficult to control. By selecting the participants from a particular work force, I attempted to eliminate some of those extraneous variables, but, still my results were confounded by one or two extreme scores due to sample size. With stress management, even the most effective methods require a long period of time in order to provide noticeable results. In future research, the time frame of the applied stress management should be increased to cultivate a larger treatment effect. Considering that the participants of this experiment only utilized the stress management techniques for two weeks, even a slight change in stress level and job satisfaction is noteworthy. Job satisfaction is a complex state of mind involving many factors other than stress level. As previously discussed, rate of pay, job security, benefits, type of job and many other such factors play an enormous part in job satisfaction. Nonetheless, stress level also plays an intricate part and therefore should not be overlooked. Determining whether or not reducing stress level will lead to an increase in job satisfaction would benefit the job force as a whole. The literature to date unequivocally supports stress management as a means of improving health and overall well-being. Logically, improved health and personal well-being can increase one’s ability to cope with stress, and since it has been shown that stress level negatively correlates to job satisfaction, it would be reasonable to deduce that decreased stress level would yield an increase in job satisfaction. Because the results of this experiment do not support this hypothesis, further research is warranted.

Anderson, B. (1997). Stretching at your computer desk. Bolinas, CA: Shelter Publications.Belicki, K., & Woolcott, R. (1996). Employee and patient designed study of burnout and job satisfaction in a chronic care hospital. Employee Assistance Quarterly, 12, 37-46.Benner, P. E. (1984). Stress and satisfaction on the job: Work meanings and coping of mid-career men. New York: Praeger. Bradley, L. P. (1995). Changing American birth through childbirth education. Patient Education and Counseling, 25, 75-82.Carlson, B. C., & Thompson, J. A. (1995). Job burnout and job leaving in public school teachers: Implications for stress management. International Journal of Stress Management, 2, 15-29.Forbes, E. J., & Pekala, R. J. (1993). Psychophysiological effects of several stress management techniques. Psychological Reports, 72, 19-27.Fried, R. (1990). The breathing connection: How to reduce psychosomatic and stress-related disorders with easy-to-do breathing exercises. New York: Plenum Press.Girdano, D. A., Everly, G. S., Jr., & Dusek, D. E. (1990). Occupational stress and stressors. In A. Maisel (Ed.), Controlling stress and tension: A holistic approach (3rd ed., pp. 131-152). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.Kabat-Zinn, J. (1990). Breathing lessons: Would a day devoted to meditation help patients stand up to stress? Health, 22, 46-47.Kabat-Zinn, J. (1990). Full catastrophe living: Using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain and illness. New York: Delacorte Press.Leavitt, W. M. (1996). High pay and low morale: Can high pay, excellent benefits, job security, and low job satisfaction coexist in a public agency? Public Personnel Management, 25, 333-341.Murphy, L. R. & Schoenborn, T. F. (Eds.). (1989). Stress management in work settings. New York: Praeger.O’Quin, K., & LoTempio, S. (1998). Job satisfaction and intentions to turnover in human services agencies perceived as stable or nonstable. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 86, 339-344.Ostroff, C. (1992). The relationship between satisfaction, attitudes, and performance: An organizational level analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology 77, 963-974.Sethi, A. S. (1989). Meditation as an intervention in stress reactivity (Vol. 12). New York: AMS Press.Spector, P. E. (1997). Job satisfaction: Application, assessment, cause, and consequences. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.


Did you do the breathing and stretching techniques 4 times per day for 2 weeks? Yes / No

If not, Approximately how often did you do the breathing and stretching techniques?

_____ 2-4 times per day_____ at least 1 time per day_____ less than 1 time per day


Choose the most appropriate answer for each of the following statements and place the letter of yourresponse in the space to the left of the question. Use the scale to answer your questions.

Answer Scale: (a) almost always (b) often (c) seldom (d) almost never

How often do you..._____ 1. Feel stifled or held back in your personal or professional life?_____ 2. Feel a need for greater accomplishment?_____ 3. Feel as though your life needs guidance or direction?_____ 4. Notice yourself growing impatient?_____ 5. Find yourself feeling as though you are in a “rut”?_____ 6. Find yourself disillusioned?_____ 7. Find yourself frustrated?_____ 8. Find yourself disappointed?_____ 9. Find yourself feeling inferior?_____ 10. Find yourself upset because things haven’t gone according to plan?

_____ 11. Find yourself with insufficient time to do things you really enjoy?_____ 12. Wish you had more support/assistance?_____ 13. Lack sufficient time to complete your work most effectively?_____ 14. Have difficulty falling asleep because you have too much on your mind?_____ 15. Feel people simply expect too much from you?_____ 16. Feel overwhelmed?_____ 17. Find yourself becoming forgetful or indecisive because you have too much on your mind?_____ 18. Consider yourself in high-pressure situations?_____ 19. Feel you have too much responsibility for one person?_____ 20. Feel exhausted at the end of the day?

_____ 21. Feel that your work is not stimulating enough?_____ 22. Lose interest in your daily activities?_____ 23. Find yourself becoming restless during your daily routine?_____ 24. Feel “insulted” by the simplicity of your work?_____ 25. Wish your life were more exciting?_____ 26. Find yourself becoming anxious from lack of stimulation?_____ 27. Find yourself becoming bored?_____ 28. Feel that your usual activities aren’t challenging enough?_____ 29. Find yourself dreaming during your work?_____ 30. Feel lonely?


Scale: 1 Disagree very much 2 Disagree moderately 3 Disagree slightly 4 Agree slightly 5 Agree moderately 6 Agree very much

Please place next to each question the number from the above Scale that comes closest to reflecting youropinion about it.

_____ 1. I feel I am being paid a fair amount for the work I do._____ 2. There is really too little chance for promotion on my job._____ 3. My supervisor is quite competent in doing his/her job._____ 4. I am not satisfied with the benefits I receive._____ 5. When I do a good job, I receive the recognition for it that I should receive._____ 6. Many of our rules and procedures make doing a good job difficult._____ 7. I like the people I work with._____ 8. I sometimes feel my job is meaningless._____ 9. Communications seem good within this organization._____ 10. Raises are too few and far in between._____ 11. Those who do well on the job stand a fair chance of being promoted._____ 12. My supervisor is unfair to me._____ 13. The benefits we receive are as good as most other organizations offer._____ 14. I do not feel that the work I do is appreciated._____ 15. My efforts to do a good job are seldom blocked by red tape._____ 16. I find I have to work harder at my job because of the incompetence of people I work with._____ 17. I like doing the things I do at work._____ 18. The goals of this organization are not clear to me._____ 19. I feel unappreciated by the organization when I think about what they pay me._____ 20. People get ahead as fast here as they do in other places._____ 21. My supervisor shows too little interest in the feelings of subordinates._____ 22. The benefit package we have is equitable._____ 23. There are few rewards for those who work here._____ 24. I have too much to do at work._____ 25. I enjoy my coworkers._____ 26. I often feel that I do not know what is going on with the organization._____ 27. I feel a sense of pride in doing my job._____ 28. I feel satisfied with my chances for salary increases._____ 29. There are benefits we do not have which we should have._____ 30. I like my supervisor._____ 31. I have too much paperwork._____ 32. I don’t feel my efforts are rewarded the way they should be._____ 33. I am satisfied with my chances of promotion._____ 34. There is too much bickering and fighting at work._____ 35. My job is enjoyable._____ 36. Work assignments are not fully explained


First and foremost, I would like to thank Dr. Claudia J. Stanny for her leadership, advisement, and teachings on conducting empirical research and for guiding me to pay particular attention to the technicalities of conducting field experiments. I would also like to thank Dr. Stephen J. Vodanovich for providing direction in researching job-related issues and finding the appropriate tests for measuring stress level and job satisfaction; Dr. Jay E. Gould, for building a strong foundation in Psychology for me; Neil Davis, Dr. Stanny’s Graduate Assistant, for strictly enforcing the APA format; and my husband, Shawn Nelson, for supporting and encouraging me to pursue my goals. Last, but not least, much appreciation is owed to the participants (the 11 employees from the law firm of Emmanuel, Sheppard and Condon) for their time and participation in my experiment and to the management of said law firm for permitting members of its staff to participate in this experiment.

Submitted 1/25/99 11:25:29 PM
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