Karasek - Demand-Control Model Of Job Stress

The Structure of Concern Project compares many theoretical models from many disciplines to the Adizes PAEI model, arguing that they must all be reflecting the same underlying phenomenon. One concern structure model is described below.

Karasek’s demand-control model of occupational stress has had a large influence on the job design and occupational health literature, in part because it is quite spare, practical and testable. (Jones & Bright, 2001[1]). In Karasek’s model, workplace stress is a function of how demanding a person’s job is and how much control (discretion, authority or decision latitude etc.) the person has over their own responsibilities. This creates four kinds of jobs: passive, active, low strain and high strain.

Job demands represent the psychological stressors in the work environment. These include factors such as: interruption rate, time pressures, conflicting demands, reaction time required, pace of work, proportion of work performed under pressure, amount of work, degree of concentration required, and the slowing down of work caused by the need to wait for others.

Decision latitude refers to employees’ control over their tasks and how those tasks are executed. It consists of both skill discretion and decision authority. Skill discretion describes the degree to which the job involves a variety of tasks, low levels of repetitiveness, occasions for creativity and opportunities to learn new things and develop special abilities. Decision authority describes both the employee’s ability to make decisions about their own job, and their ability to influence their own work team and more general company policies.

Crossing the dimensions of strain and latitude give us four stress categories for jobs, as follows:

P – High Strain Jobs (Low Latitude, High Strain): Producers are more likely to augment their strain levels by taking more on without seeking additional latitude, partly because of their appreciation of challenge and their desire to enjoy individual mastery experiences, and partly because they take an individual approach to responsibility ascription, which may cause them to overlook opportunities to ask for more latitude. Producers enjoy levels of strain that people with other dominant styles would find excessive. Of all the styles, they are most likely to thrive in high strain jobs.

A – Passive Jobs (Low Latitude, Low Strain): As long as the passivity of a job stems from successfully forestalling disruptions, then that passivity is likely to be highly satisfying to an Administrator. Passivity that stems from the job being either irrelevant or unimportant will not be satisfying. The Administrative style seeks to manage disruptions by putting processes into place that cope with all contingencies and buffer the vital variables of the organization, preventing them from disruption. When latitude is reduced by following a procedure, and when that procedure causes things to proceed smoothly with low levels of strain, an Administrator will take that as evidence of success. The goal state of Administration will be reached, and maintaining that peace will be a pleasure.

E – Active Jobs (High Latitude, High Strain): Active jobs are not seen as stressful in Karasek’s typology, because employees have many protective measures available to them to reduce the strain. Of all the PAEI styles, it is E that most naturally thrives in active situations. E is characterized by great ambition and almost no fear surrounding disruptions of the status quo. Strain is thus a continual consequence of E type work. E also needs great flexibility and latitude both to stir up problems and seek out solutions. The active mode most nearly matches the mode in which E naturally works.

I – Low Strain Jobs (High Latitude, Low Strain): The combination of high levels of latitude with low levels of strain indicates that social processes are very significant in the low strain job. Employees will have a lot of authority relative to their strain levels, and thus will presumably participate more in the definition and management of tasks than in other, more stressful working environments.
Karasek’s model has been adapted and extended in various ways, but these will not be reviewed here.

1. Jones, F., & Bright, J. (2001). Stress: Myth, theory and research. London: Prentice Hall.
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