DIMENSIONS AND SYMPTOMS OF STRESS

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CHAPTER 3: POSITIVE PSYCHOLOGY CONSTRUCTS

The aim of this chapter is to conceptualise and define the concepts of locus of control, sense of coherence, engagement and burnout. The origins of the constructs as well as their definitions and dimensions are discussed. Finally the chapter concludes with a summary.

LOCUS OF CONTROL

Locus of control was originally conceptualised by Rotter (1966) on the basis of the social learning theory. In South Africa, Schepers (1995) based the locus of control theory on the social learning and attribution theories.

Origins of the construct

Leone and Burns (2000) maintain that locus of control is one of the most researched constructs in the field of personality. The concept of locus of control stems from attribution theory, which is mainly concerned with the attribution processes by which individuals interpret behaviour as being a result of certain aspects of the environment (Bothma & Schepers, 1997). Attribution theory is therefore a theory of the relationships between people and internal behaviour. Bothma and Schepers (1997) describe the construct of locus of control as relating to the expectancy regarding the outcome of actions rather that the actions themselves where individuals’ behaviour is determined by the discrepancy in their perceptions of internal and external attributes.
Schepers (2004) outlines the perception of locus of control in terms of the Social Learning Theory, as the way in which reinforcement from the social environment takes place and the effect such reinforcement has on future behaviour. Social learning theory in conjunction with attribution theory explains the way in which a person selects information according to inherently stable or invariant characteristics (Schepers, 1995). Researchers agree that locus of control is an important individual difference factor, and can be regarded as a stable personality trait (Lu, Wu & Cooper, 1999).
Attribution of a particular action to either an internal state or an external influence is known as locus of causality (Berg et al., 2004). Schepers (1995) describes internal attribution as dispositional causes, and includes moods, attitudes, personality traits, abilities, health, preferences and wishes as fundamental to this grouping. External attributions or situational causes incorporate environmental factors, such as pressure from others, money or the nature of the social situation (Schepers, 1995).
The construct of locus of control is conceptually rooted in Rotter’s (1954) social learning theory, which maintains that behaviour in a specific situation is a function of expectancy and reinforcement value (Rotter, 1966). Rotter originally formulated locus of control as a generalised belief about the contingency between one’s action and the actual outcome, brought about through social learning mechanisms (Lu et al., 1999).

Definition of the construct

Bothma and Schepers (1997) define locus of control as a generalised expectancy concerning the extent to which reinforcements are external or internal. This relates to expectancy in terms of the actions rather than the actions themselves.
Locus of control is a global characteristic, is relatively stable over time and can be defined as the extent to which individuals perceive that they have control over a given situation (Rotter, 1966). Rotter (1966) defines external locus of control as a reinforcement perceived by the subject as following some action of his own but which is not entirely contingent upon his own action. This is typically perceived as the result of luck, chance, fate, as under the control of powerful other, or as unpredictable because of the great complexity of the forces surrounding the individual.
For the purposes of this study locus of control is defined as the extent to which individuals expect the reinforcement of their actions to be either external or internal. According to Rotter (1966), the difference between internal and external locus of control lies in the experience of freedom. A 33 construct closely related to internal control is autonomy which is defined as the tendency to attempt to master or be effective in the environment and to impose the individual’s wishes and designs on it (Schepers, 2005).

Dimensions of the construct

The core dimensions that characterise locus of control are autonomy, external control and internal control. These three dimensions of the construct are discussed next.

Autonomy

Autonomy is closely related to internal control and it is expected that persons high on autonomy would seek control of situations that offer possibilities of change, would readily accept the challenge of solving complex problems, would take the initiative in situations requiring leadership and would prefer to work on their own and structure their own programme (Schepers, 2005).
According to Schepers (2005), autonomy refers to when the individual practises internal locus of control and prefers working alone. Plug, Meyer, Louw and Gouws (1986) describe the term autonomy as a condition of the independence and self-determination of an individual and add that it also refers to something that is self-regulating and free from external control.

External control

External control refers to the degree to which individuals expect that reinforcement or the outcome of events is not contingent upon the individual’s action, but upon luck, chance, fate or powerful others (Rotter, 1966). The external individual feels out of control, sees no relationship between own behaviour and events, attributes the cause of events to the environment, others and fate, and feels anxious, frustrated and helpless (Cilliers & Kossuth, 2002).

 Internal control

Internal control refers to the degree to which individuals expect reinforcement or an outcome of their behaviour to be contingent on the individual’s own behaviour or personal characteristics (Rotter, 1996). The internal individual feels in control, sees a relationship between own behaviour and outcomes, attributes the cause of events to themselves, feels empowered and masterful and thus experiences less stress (Cilliers & Kossuth, 2002).

SENSE OF COHERENCE

Sense of coherence was conceptualised by Antonovsky (1979), who maintained that sense of coherence was a major determinant in maintaining one’s position on the health ease/disease continuum and of movement toward the healthy end.

Origins of the construct

In 1979, Antonovsky presented a theoretical model designed to advance understanding of the relations among stressors, coping and health (Antonovsky, 1993). He highlighted the inadequacy of the pathogenic orientation which dominated all biomedical and social science disease research, and proposed a salutogenic orientation. Antonovsky (1979) introduced the concept of generalised resistance resources, which that can facilitate effective tension management in any situation of demand. Antonovsky (1979) proposed that all generalised resistance resources have in common the fact that they facilitate making sense of the countless stressors with which people are constantly bombarded. Through repeated experience of such sense-making, a person develops, over time, a strong sense of coherence construct (Antonovsky, 1993).
Antonovsky (1993) maintains that if adaptive coping is the secret of movement toward the healthy end of the health ease/dis-ease continuum, then primary attention must be paid to generalised resistance resources. His concern was a theoretical  understanding  of  why  such  resources  –  wealth,  ego  strength, 35 cultural stability, social support – promoted health. Resources were seen as leading to life experiences that promoted the development of a strong sense of coherence; a way of seeing the world which facilitated successful coping with the innumerable, complex stressors confronting us in the course of living.
The sense of coherence differs from other coping constructs by focusing on the factors which promote coping and wellbeing, rather than focusing on risk factors contributing to disease (Antonovsky, 1993). The focus of sense of coherence is on the various factors that move individuals towards the healthy end of the sickness/health continuum (Strümpfer, 1990). The sense of coherence thus takes a salutogenic or a health-oriented approach to coping (Strümpfer, 1995).
The sense of coherence construct is central to Antonovky’s (1979) salutogenic model. He proposed that a strong sense of coherence is associated with effective coping, reduced stress, fewer health-damaging behaviours and improved morale, somatic health and social adjustment. While Antonovsky’s (1991) writing concerns the relationships between sense of coherence and health, he supported the notion that work has a significant role to play in shaping a person’s sense of coherence. Work that is more meaningful when performed in a predictable and supportive work environment strengthens the sense of coherence. Thus, a person’s sense of coherence should significantly affect the way in which work is approached and performed.

Definition of the construct

The sense of coherence construct refers to a global orientation to one’s inner and outer environments which is hypothesised as being a significant determinant of location and movement on the health ease/dis-ease continuum (Antonovsky, 1991).
Antonovsky (1979) defines sense of coherence as a global orientation that expresses the extent to which one has pervasive, enduring but dynamic feelings of confidence that the stimuli deriving from one’s internal and external environments in the course of living are structured, predictable and explicable, 36 and that resources are available to meet the demands presented by these stimuli. These demands are seen as challenges worthy of investment and engagement.
Antonovsky (1993) maintains that sense of coherence links to such concepts as self-efficacy, internal locus of control, problem-oriented coping, the challenge component of hardiness, and mastery. Sense of coherence is a construct which is universally meaningful and cuts across lines of gender, social class, region and culture (Strümpfer, 1990). It does not refer to a specific type of coping strategy, but to factors that, in all cultures, are always the basis for successful coping with stressors (Strümpfer, 1995).
For the purposes of this study, sense of coherence is defined as a coping resource that is presumed to mitigate life stress by affecting the overall quality of one’s cognitive and emotional appraisal of the stimuli that impacts on one, which is presumed to engender, sustain and enhance health, as well as strength at other endpoints (Rothmann et al., 2003; Strümpfer, 2003). Sense of coherence predicts the extent to which the individual feels that there is a probability that things will work out well (Antonovsky, 1979).

Dimensions of the construct

The core dimensions that characterise sense of coherence are comprehensibility, manageability and meaningfulness. These three dimensions of the construct are discussed next.

Comprehensibility

Antonovsky (1979) defines comprehensibility (comprehension) as the sense that an individual’s internal and external environments are viewed as structured, predictable, explicable and consistent. Accordingly, stimuli are perceived as comprehensible and make sense at a cognitive level. Comprehensibility exists when stimuli from the environment are perceived as making cognitive sense. In line with this, information is ordered, consistent, clear and structured. This also implies that, on the basis of past experience, stimuli will in future also be ordered and even predictable (Strümpfer, 2003).
A person rated high on comprehensibility expects that stimuli encountered in future will be more or less predictable and, even if they are not, they will be orderable and explicable (Antonovsky, 1993).

Manageability

Manageability is the extent to which the individual copes with stimuli and views the available resources as adequate to meet the demands posed by the various stimuli or the environment (Antonovsky, 1979). Manageability occurs when stimuli are perceived as being under the control of both the individual and legitimate others (such as spouse, friends, professionals, formal authorities, or spiritual figures) (Strümpfer, 2003). Individuals experience life as a series of situations that are endurable or manageable or even as new challenges (Rothmann, Jackson & Kruger, 2003).
A person who has a high sense of manageability will not feel victimised by events or feel that life is treating him/her unfairly. Since bad things do happen in life, the individual will be able to cope without endless complaints.

Meaningfulness

Antonovsky (1979) sees meaningfulness as the emotional identification with events in the environment and a feeling that life makes sense emotionally and that the individual plays a primary role in determining his or her own daily experiences. The belief that these demands are challenging and worthy of personal investment (Flannery & Flannery, 1990) is also included. Meaningfulness refers to the extent that one feels that life is making sense on an emotional and not just a cognitive level (Rothmann et al., 2003).
Strümpfer (2003) maintains that meaningfulness is experienced when stimuli are perceived as motivationally relevant, in the form of welcome challenges that are worth engaging with and investing oneself in. Meaningfulness for Antonovsky (1979) is the component that guards against too great an emphasis being placed on the cognitive aspect of the sense of coherence. It also refers to the importance for the individual to be involved in the process of shaping his or her destiny and also daily experience.

ENGAGEMENT

Engagement as a construct was conceptualised mainly by Schaufeli and Bakker (2003).

Origins of the construct

Maslach, Jackson and Leiter (1997) propose that work engagement and burnout constitute opposite poles of a continuum of work-related wellbeing. Lynch (2007), however, maintains that there are two distinct positions on the exact nature of the relationship between engagement and burnout. Firstly, burnout is viewed as an erosion of engagement with the job, and secondly, engagement is viewed as a distinct construct.
Storm and Rothmann (2003b) also maintain that research on work engagement has taken two paths. In the first path, Maslach, Jackson and Leiter (1997) see burnout as an erosion of engagement with the job. They maintain that work which started out as important, meaningful and challenging becomes unpleasant, unfulfilling and meaningless. According to them, work engagement is assessed by the opposite pattern of scores on the MBI dimensions. Low scores on exhaustion and cynicism and high scores on professional efficacy are indicative of engagement.
In the second path, Schaufeli, Salanova, Gonzales-Roma and Bakker (2002) take a different perspective in order to operationalise engagement in its own right. They consider burnout and work engagement to be opposite concepts that should be measured independently with different instruments.
Schaufeli et al. (2002) concur that while engagement is conceptualised as the positive antithesis of burnout, it is operationalised as a construct in its own right. In line with the growth of positive psychology, there has been a shift in focus towards engagement, which can be seen as a positive affective-motivational state of fulfilment in employees (Freeney & Tiernan, 2006).
Work engagement is significant for the individual. May, Gilson and Harter (2004) see work engagement as including an individual’s cognitive, emotional and physical aspects. They maintain that it is closely associated with job involvement and flow.
A model of well being at work that makes it possible to focus on burnout and engagement was developed by Schaufeli and Bakker (2003). According to a study conducted by these authors, some employees, regardless of high job demands and long working hours, were not burned out. They instead seemed to find pleasure in working hard and dealing with job demands. Rothmann (2003) therefore poses the question of whether there are engaged employees who show energy, dedication and absorption in their work, that is, employees who show behaviour that is the opposite of burnout.

DECLARATION 
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS 
SUMMARY 
CHAPTER 1: SCIENTIFIC INTRODUCTION TO THE STUDY 
1.1 BACKGROUND AND MOTIVATION FOR THIS STUDY
1.2 PROBLEM STATEMENT
1.3 AIMS
1.4 THE PARADIGM PERSPECTIVE OF THE STUDY
1.5 Applicable models and theories
1.6 RESEARCH DESIGN
1.7 RESEARCH METHOD
1.8 CHAPTER DIVISION
1.9 CHAPTER SUMMARY
CHAPTER 2: COPING WITH STRESS IN THE ORGANISATION 
2.1 DEFINITIONS OF STRESS
2.2 DIMENSIONS AND SYMPTOMS OF STRESS
2.3 COPING WITH STRESS
2.4 POSITIVE PSYCHOLOGICAL FUNCTIONING
2.5 CHAPTER SUMMARY
CHAPTER 3: POSITIVE PSYCHOLOGY CONSTRUCTS 
3.1 LOCUS OF CONTROL
3.2 SENSE OF COHERENCE
3.3 ENGAGEMENT
3.4 BURNOUT
3.5 THEORETICAL RELATIONSHIP OF THE CONSTRUCTS
3.6 CHAPTER SUMMARY
CHAPTER 4: RESEARCH DESIGN 
4.1 RESEARCH APPROACH
4.2 RESEARCH METHOD
4.3 RESEARCH HYPOTHESIS
4.4 CHAPTER SUMMARY
CHAPTER 5: RESULTS 
5.1 BIOGRAPHICAL STATISTICS
5.2 DESCRIPTIVE STATISTICS OF THE MEASURING INSTRUMENTS
5.3 RELIABILITY OF MEASURING INSTRUMENTS
5.4 DIFFERENCES BETWEEN SUBGROUPS
5.5 CORRELATIONS
5.6 REGRESSION ANALYSIS
5.7 INTEGRATION
5.8 CHAPTER SUMMARY
CHAPTER 6: CONCLUSIONS, LIMITATIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS 
6.1 CONCLUSIONS
6.2 LIMITATIONS
6.3 RECOMMENDATIONS
6.4 CHAPTER SUMMARY
REFERENCES
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POSITIVE PSYCHOLOGICAL FUNCTIONING AMONG CIVIL SERVANTS

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