Overloaded and Stressed: A Case Study of Women Working in the Health Care Sector

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Abstract

Although role overload has been shown to be prevalent and consequential, there has been little attempt to develop the associated theory. The fact that the consequences of role overload can be positive or negative implies that the relationship between role overload and perceived stress depends partly on the environment within which role overload is experienced (i.e., the perceived situation) and how the situation is evaluated (i.e., appraised). Guided by cognitive appraisal theory, this study applies qualitative methodology to identify the situation properties that contribute to variable stress reactions to role overload. In this in-depth examination, overloaded female hospital workers were asked to describe what makes role overload situations potentially stressful, to gain an insight into how role overload is appraised. A taxonomy listing 12 role overload situation properties was developed from the findings, providing the first known classification of the situation properties of role overload that can create the potential for stress. The results also reveal clues as to why some people suffer more stress during role overload than others, increase our understanding of the relationship between role overload and perceived stress, and provide a useful tool for examining the environment of role overload.

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