Women in Higher Education I need the article to be written just like that format example i send. same concept as the other one NASPA Journal About Women in

Women in Higher Education I need the article to be written just like that format example i send. same concept as the other one NASPA Journal About Women in Higher Education
ISSN: 1940-7882 (Print) 1940-7890 (Online) Journal homepage: https://www.tandfonline.com/loi/uwhe20
Women in Higher Education: Exploring Stressful
Workplace Factors and Coping Strategies
Renique Kersh
To cite this article: Renique Kersh (2018) Women in Higher Education: Exploring Stressful
Workplace Factors and Coping Strategies, NASPA Journal About Women in Higher Education,
11:1, 56-73, DOI: 10.1080/19407882.2017.1372295
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/19407882.2017.1372295
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Published online: 05 Dec 2017.
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NASPA Journal About Women in Higher Education, 11(1), 56–73, 2018
Copyright © NASPA
ISSN: 1940-7882 print / 1940-7890 online
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/19407882.2017.1372295
Women in Higher Education: Exploring Stressful Workplace
Factors and Coping Strategies
Renique Kersh
Office of Student Engagement and Experiential Learning, Northern Illinois University
For women administrators in higher education, workplace factors like managing multiple roles;
work bleeding into personal life; issues with leadership; discrimination and marginalization; and
role insufficiency (i.e., ambiguity in work roles and reduced sense of control) contribute to
increased workplace stress. Individual coping responses are often determined by how stressors
are perceived indicating whether an individual will effectively or ineffectively manage a stressor.
The purpose of this study was to examine the relationship between stress and health risk among
women in administrative roles in higher education with a particular focus on coping strategies
employed. The results suggest that women administrators are employing effective strategies
when dealing with daily work stressors and have developed a degree of learned resourcefulness;
however, health data indicate long-term potential for mental health issues. Further results suggest
a dichotomous view of the role of leadership as both a cause of stress and a strategy for
effectively managing stress.
Historically, higher education institutions have been touted as desirable places to work;
however, research suggests that university employees are experiencing unprecedented levels
of stress (Gillespie, Walsh, Winefield, Dua, & Stough, 2001; Winefield, Gillespie, Stough,
Dua, & Hapuararchchi, 2002). Changing workplace dynamics, management of unique and
challenging student issues, and changes in the higher education marketplace have adjusted
the expectations and workload for higher education practitioners (Gillespie et al., 2001).
Increased work stress can have dangerous consequences, particularly if work stress becomes
chronic. Chronic work stress occurs when workplace factors result in frequent stress, which
taxes coping resources and can lead to job dissatisfaction and poor health outcomes
(Hakanen, Schaufeli, & Ahola, 2008; Karasek, Collins, Clays, Bortkiewicz, & Ferrario,
2010; Kivimäki et al., 2002). Effective coping strategies are imperative, particularly for
women, as chronic stress increases long term risks for cardiovascular disease, cancer, and
stroke, the leading causes of death for women in the United States (Carson et al., 2009;
Saleh & Connell, 2007; World Health Organization [WHO], 1992). Although vocational
research is rich with information on the association of work stress with health outcomes for
Address correspondence to Renique Kersh, 1425 W. Lincoln Highway, Altgeld 100, DeKalb, IL 60115. E-mail:
Color versions of one or more of the figures in the article can be found online at www.tandfonline.com/UWHE.
professionals in a variety of fields, there is a paucity of research on this topic in the higher
education literature. This study sought to fill a gap in the literature by answering the
following questions: (a) Is there a relationship between stress and health risk for women
administrators in higher education? (b) What workplace factors are indicated as most
stressful and what coping strategies are employed?
Research on women’s experiences in the workforce has led to scholarly inquiry about the
impacts of occupational stress and coping on health outcomes (Bacchus, 2008; Everett,
Camille Hall, & Hamilton-Mason, 2010; Lundberg & Frankenhaeuser, 1999; Sorensen &
Verbrugge, 1987; Vagg & Spielberger, 1998). As women’s roles have evolved, so too have
opportunities for advancement. National movements of the 1960s and 1970s marked a shift in
the number of women in the workforce. From the creation of the Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission to the development of the National Organization of Women to changes
in discriminatory statutes related to gender in education, women continue to make strides in the
workplace (May, 2009).
As of 2014, women made up 52% of professional-level positions across the United States
(Warner, 2014). Women from diverse backgrounds have made significant strides, although
many familiar barriers continue to exist including gaps in pay and experiences with discriminatory policies and behaviors (Hegewisch, Deitch, & Murphy, 2011; Wright, 1991).
Universities have seen similar trends. A growing number of women are pursuing administrative roles in higher education settings. Sixty-four percent of those in educational administration in the United States are women, and among universities, women make up 54% of
those in administrative/managerial/executive positions (NCES, 2010). The increasing presence of women in these roles demonstrates the continued growth in opportunity in the field.
Status quo policies and systems, shifting role expectations, and economic and market drive
will potentially increase stress and role expectations. Additionally, as women seek to balance
their roles both in the workplace and at home, the workplace factors that have the potential
for increasing stress and the relationship of such stress to long-term health outcomes are
important considerations.
Workplace Factors Associated with Stress
The American Psychological Association (APA) (2011) noted that more than two-thirds of
employees indicate that their jobs are responsible for a significant amount of their stress.
Several researchers who have explored occupational stressors, particularly for women in
higher education, suggest a similar sentiment (Anderson, Guido-Debrito, & Morrell, 2000;
Doyle & Hind, 1998; Gillespie et al., 2001). Work-life balance, role strain, discrimination
and marginalization, role insufficiency (i.e., the disconnect between skill/training and the job
duties, inclusive of role ambiguity and sense of control), and role overload are among a few
of the stressors that challenge women in higher education (Anderson et al., 2000; Brown
et al., 1983; Hughes & Howard-Hamilton, 2003; Lloyd-Jones, 2009; Patitu & Hinton, 2003;
Wood & Budden, 2006). Research on women in student affairs suggests that workplace
factors like long work hours, lack of pay, role conflict, and role control are associated with
increased stress and not only influence job satisfaction but can result in the decision to leave
an institution (Anderson et al., 2000; Bender, 2009; Rosser & Javinar, 2003). An individual’s
perception of workplace experiences has also been cited. Brown et al. (1983) asserted that if
workplace experiences are perceived as threatening, this influences how heavy the “load”
feels, which impacts the severity and longevity of resulting stress. Workload has been
confirmed as a serious concern in a number of studies, suggesting that the increasing
expectations brought on by the dynamic work environment can be overwhelming (Blix &
Lee, 2013; Hughes & Howard-Hamilton, 2003; Rosser & Javinar, 2003). Role insufficiency,
which is indicative of an individual’s sense of control and clarity regarding role expectations,
has also been cited as a concern (Gillespie et al., 2001).
Higher education institutions, although often seen as progressive, have been known to
consider racial and cultural issues as peripheral to academic matters (Altbach, Gumport &
Berdahl, 2011). Collins (1986) noted that we cannot be blind to potential experiences that
result from the intersection of gender and race. Health research confirms that stress and
chronic disease are concerning for women in general but are exacerbated for Women of
Color. A small body of research exists on Women of Color in higher education administration, particularly African American women (Hughes & Howard-Hamilton, 2003;
Lloyd-Jones, 2009; Patitu & Hinton, 2003). The results of this work have demonstrated
that African American women are challenged by institutionalized racism and gender
discrimination, perceived and real expectations related to performance, the sense of
obligation to extend themselves to provide support for students and colleagues in ways
that are similar to the extension of themselves with their families, and feelings of
invisibility, marginalization, and disempowerment (Hughes & Howard-Hamilton, 2003;
Lloyd-Jones, 2009; Patitu & Hinton, 2003). Particular emphasis is given to the psychological and physiological toll that can occur as a result of dealing with gender- and racerelated challenges on a daily basis, and research suggests that these types of workplace
stressors can lead to isolation and, in turn, may result in mental health issues like
depression (McEwen, 2002).
Health Risks Associated with Stress
Health risks associated with work stress is an issue of concern for women in both faculty and
administrative roles. However, the unique qualities of management and administrative work including potential supervisory roles, engagement in bureaucratic decision-making, and other role-related
ambiguities encourage questions about stress, strain, and coping for women in these roles. The
percentage of women managers and executives at U.S. colleges and universities is higher than the
national average, and research suggests that positions with increased responsibility like management- or executive-level roles also come with an increase in potential stressors (National Center for
Educational Statistics [NCES], 2010; Osipow, Doty, & Spokane, 1985; Tiedje et al., 1990;
Westerlund et al., 2010). For women in student affairs, extreme exhaustion has been negatively
correlated with exercise and physical activity as well as engagement in professional development
activities and positively correlated with the number of evenings and weekends worked per semester.
Extreme exhaustion is linked to burnout, which can result from chronic stress and is concerning
given the association between chronic stress and long-term health outcomes (Kivimäki, 2012;
Lundberg & Frankenhaeuser, 1999; Selye, 2013; Wortman, Biernat, & Lang, 1991).
Research suggests that experiences with chronic stress have been associated with the incidence of
chronic disease in women, particularly as they age (Saleh & Connell, 2007). This is in part due to the
fact that stress complicates the potential for disease, as prolonged exposure can lower the body’s
ability to respond and fight off disease (CDC, 2009; Clays et al., 2011; McEwen, 2002; Sorensen &
Verbrugge, 1987; Webb & Beckstead, 2002). Given the increased risk, it is imperative that women in
higher education manage workplace stress by utilizing effective coping strategies.
Management of Stress: Coping
Coping has been cited as a possible moderator for the health outcomes related to stress (Carver,
Sheier, & Weintraub, 1989; Feldman, Cohen, Hamrick, & Lepore, 2004). Coping is defined as “the
cognitions and behaviors, adopted by an individual following the recognition of a stressful encounter, that are in some way designed to deal with that encounter or its consequences” (Dewe, Cox, &
Ferguson, 1993, p. 7). Dewe et al. (1993) suggested that coping occurs in a work context when
workplace experiences extend beyond the abilities of the worker or when resources are limited. What
coping strategy is employed is determined by how an individual appraises a stressor (Lazarus, 1966).
Cognitive researchers assert that how individuals assess stress is important to understanding the
psychological impacts (Folkman & Lazarus, 1988; Lazarus, 1966). For example, if stressors are
appraised as threatening, anxiety or anger may result. If an individual’s personal resources (coping
resources) are not adequate, this will influence how effectively they are able to cope with future
stressors (Vagg & Spielberger, 1998). The appraisal of workplace stressors as threats often leads to
higher levels of neuroticism (negative affectivity) and engagement in ruminating or venting behaviors (Bacchus, 2008; Brown, Westbrook, & Challagalla, 2005; D’Souza, Strazdins, Lim, Broom, &
Rodgers, 2003). On the other hand the appraisal of workplace stressors as a challenge often leads to
health-promoting coping strategies like reframing or removing the stressors to decrease the impact
(Carver et al. 1989; Cohen & Janicki-Deverts, 2012; Lazarus, 1966). Both outcomes suggest that
how individuals perceive stressors in the workplace and how they, in turn, utilize their personal
resources (i.e., how they cope) will influence personal and health-related outcomes, and this is no
different for women in higher education (Osipow, 1991).
Active coping
Active coping strategies occur when an individual actively attempts to reduce the burden of
stress (Carver et al., 1989). Women tend to employ active coping strategies more often than men.
Active coping is typically employed when an individual believes they need to make a decision
quickly (Carver et al., 1989).
Learned resourcefulness is an active coping strategy that has been used to reframe and manage
stress (Rosenbaum & Jaffe, 1983). Learned resourcefulness in the workplace occurs as a result of a
developed set of behaviors that allow for self-regulation when dealing with workplace stressors.
Researchers suggest that although women’s stress levels at work have increased, particularly for
those in managerial positions, learned resourcefulness has allowed them to more effectively manage
workplace stress (Rosenbaum & Jaffe, 1983). Some also suggest that women tend to respond better
to stress at work than their male counterparts, partly due to their constant employment of more active
coping strategies like learned resourcefulness (Lundberg & Frankenhaeuser, 1999). The nature of the
work in higher education lends itself to the employment of active coping strategies, which suggests
the potential that women are coping effectively with workplace stress.
Social support
Social support is also an important coping strategy for women (Cohen & Wills, 1985). Social
support has been coined an effective buffer between stress and health outcomes, suggesting that it
can be both health-promoting or health-defeating (Cohen & Wills, 1985). In the case where women
utilize social support to vent and ruminate on stressful issues, it is likely that it will become health
defeating. However, if women utilize social support for encouragement, advice, and mentorship,
then it can become health promoting. Studies support the benefits of social support for women
confirming the potential buffering effect (Broadhead et al., 1983; House, Landis, & Umberson,
1988; Thoits, 1986).
A number of models have been developed to better understand stress and coping (Cohen, Kamarck,
& Mermelstein, 1983; Lazarus, 1966; McEwen, 2002; NIOSH, 1999; Osipow & Spokane, 1983;
Selye, 1983). Dr. Sheldon Cohen and colleagues (1991) conducted one of the most influential studies
on the impact of stress and found that physiological changes occurred in individuals with increased
stress. These changes led to higher incidences of acute illnesses like the flu and the common cold
(Cohen et al., 1991). Cohen, Janicki-Deverts, and Miller (2007) further explored how experiences
that occur in an individual’s life are appraised. They affirmed the notion that high stress can lead to
health-related issues; however, they suggested that it is not the event or the circumstance that is the
deciding factor for whether stress will lead to illness (Cohen & Janicki-Deverts, 2012). Cohen et al.
(2012) posited that two criteria must be met in order to determine what the outcome of the stress will
be. First, how an individual appraises a stressor determines whether they consider it to be a threat or a
challenge. Second, an individual will employ a coping strategy based on the personal resources that
they have available to them and that strategy will be associated with how the stressor was appraised.
The result of this transactional approach determines how a stressor impacts an individual over time
(Cohen et al., 1983). In effect, Cohen et al. (2012) suggested that coping strategies moderate the
negative influence of stress.
The theoretical premise of this study supposed that individuals have different perceptions of
stressful circumstances or events. Given the diversity of perceptions, this study assumed that how
stress was perceived and therefore appraised determined what personal resources were employed. To
that end, this study sought to answer the questions:
1. Is there a relationship between stress and health risk for women administrators in higher
2. What workplace factors are indicated as most stressful and what coping strategies are
being employed?
The goal of this study was to better understand the relationship between stress and health risk for
women in higher education and coping strategies employed. A concurrent mixed method approach
was used to collect both qualitative and quantitative responses from study participants. Members of
the National Association for Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) as well as a number of
personal contacts via professional listservs were asked to complete a survey, which included the
Short Form Health Survey-12 (Ware, Kosinski, Keller, Care, & Mar, 1996), the COPE (Carver et al.,
1989), the Perceived Stress Scale (Cohen et al., 1983), several open response questions and a host of
demographic questions.
The Perceived Stress Scale (PSS) (Cohen et al., 1983) was used to measure the appraisal of
stress in the current study and is a general scale. The PSS, which has been used in a number of
health-related studies (Cohen et al., 2007; Feldman et al., 2004), has 10 items and scores are
gathered using a four-point Likert scale. Sample questions include, “In the last month, how often
have you been upset because of something that happened unexpectedly?” or “In the last month,
how often have you felt nervous and stressed?”
The COPE (Carver et al., 1989), used to measure coping in the current study, was developed
based on the work of Richard Lazarus, who identified three key components of coping: primary
appraisal, secondary appraisal, and coping. Lazarus (1966) suggested that when an individual
encounters a stressful event, they must first determine whether the event is a threat or a challenge
(primary appraisal). Once the nature of the stressor is determined, the individual must begin to
decide what the response to that stressful event should be (secondary appraisal). The outcome of
secondary appraisal is the employment of a coping strategy, which Lazarus (1966) suggested can
be emotional (managing emotions connected to the stressor) or problem focused (solving the
issue or removing the stressor).
Carver et al. (1989), in turn, developed an instrument based not merely on how an individual
copes with one…
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