Understanding stress : a focus on executive functions in Saudi Arabia : an exploratory study
The dissertation brings together and reports the entire work presented and discussed throughout this pioneering and original research project. This exploratory study utilising primarily semi-structured, qualitative research methodology aimed to develop a model of executive stress by discovering, understanding, describing and sharing knowledge and experience of occupational stress caused by the basic executive functions, among the oil and gas executives in Saudi Arabia. These functions included planning, organising, leading and controlling. This interpretive investigation involved forty-three executives of five major oil and gas firms in Saudi Arabia purposively selected for participation in this exploratory study through audiotape-recorded interviews gathered over a period of eight months from June 2002 to January 2003. In addition, this primary data collection method was triangulated with other secondary methods of observations, focus groups and documentary analysis involving additional twenty executives from other neighboured Arabian Gulf countries. These considerable qualitative data were systematically managed through primarily manual analysis along with the aid of NUD*IST qualitative analysis computer program. Common recurring categories, themes and patterns were identified in relation to sources of stress, manifestations and coping strategies along with stressful factors related to internal and external environments. The study findings revealed four significant interrelated eustressful and distressful themes underpinning the basic executive functions of planning, organising, leading and controlling. These were related to information management, performance management, human resource management and strategic management. The findings revealed that the participants perceived these focused executive functions as a direct source of occupational stress instead of the basic executive functions that were thought of at the beginning of the research. The emerged key patterns related to these focused activities included difficulty of people management, micromanagement behaviour and engineering attitude. Moreover, the study resulted into additional stress factors related to the organisational structure and work style of the internal environment of the organisation. There were also other stressful contributing factors associated with Government interventions, market influences, media focus and social conflict of the external environment of the organisation. Furthermore, the study revealed important personal related factors that could shape and regulate the manifestations of executive eustress or distress. These included experience, personality type, cognitive appraisal and self-esteem factors. Accordingly, a comprehensive framework of executive stress process based on a dynamic system approach was developed summarising the explored executive stress process and its underlying attributes. This present qualitative study was designed interpretively and qualitatively for exploration or discovery of the topic under investigation. Further, the limitations of this approach were acknowledged, as being subjective perceptions, understandings and descriptions of the oil and gas executives under investigation. In view of that, this new and original study was hoped to add to the existing knowledge in various related areas such as occupational health and safety, industrial/ organisational psychology, human resource management, strategic management and organisational culture. This research could add value to the field of occupational stress in Arabic context in particular and the world in general since there was little research about the types and effects of job-related stress at the time of the study.