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 Q: Currently we teach in an all-boys' school, which is to merge with an all-girls' school. The two staffs have had several meetings which we do not think have been very productive and a lot of ill-feeling seems inevitable. Both of us are relatively senior teachers, one age 56, a single man, (Richard),who has only ever worked in this school, and has responsibility for design technology; the other a married man, aged 37 (James), with responsibility for English. Both of us have experienced increased workloads, which we think have given us lots of tension. Richard, really does not want girls in the school and is against the introduction of cookery for boys. He is not keen to work with a newly qualified woman teacher.He has experienced what he believed to be a heart attack, resulting in hospitalisation. After being told this was not the case, he went to see his own doctor, feeling breathless and with muscular pain. Because he was so worried his GP has put him on medication. Whilst James thinks the presence of girls will add to the teaching of his subject and is looking forward to this, he is very concerned about the extra work he has to do. James has had more to do because of Richard's health problems. He has been to see the headteacher and voiced his concerns after talking to other members of staff, who are in general agreement with him about increased workloads and tight deadlines. He has little time for his family and is beginning to get headaches and aches and pains, as well as some breathlessness. We are to have a meeting with the head and hope to be able to put our views. We may also have an informal meeting with the girls' school staff.

What can you tell us of the possibilities for our respective futures?

A: You are both affected by the impending changes in the organisation in which you both work. How you view these changes is dependent on your own perception of the effect the change will have on you. It appears that both of you are having difficulty in adjusting to the changes which are being imposed upon you. Change is viewed as a threat stressor and both of you are showing an anxiety surge which is indicated by the fact that your physical responses show such things as rapid heart rate, irregular or rapid breathing and muscle tension.

The concept of change in an organisation is an interesting, yet potentially problematic area. There seems to be an almost in-built resistance to change on the part of many people involved in organisational change. research has noted that where measures are to be introduced to make an organisation more efficient, that on logical grounds, proposed changes should be easily discussed and adopted; yet this just does not happen; there are likely to be outraged objections which can result in no real change occurring, this being purely at the cosmetic level. This looks exactly like Richard's reactions to the proposed changes. On psychological grounds, it is easier to understand people's reactions and suggests that they react to threats and dangers by 'going rigid'. It seems that when faced with change, some people will carry on harder doing what was done before, even if this is seen by others to be inadequate. They then react aggressively. Again, this seems in line with Richard's reaction to the changes. It has been observed that it is normal for people affected by change to experience emotional turmoil. They go on to acknowledge that people will react in different ways in the face of change. It appears that people will go along with, or resist change largely on the basis of 'what's in it for me?'. It would appear that Richard sees little benefit for himself in the changes and so in his attempt to resist or modify changes has made himself ill. He may feel that he will not be able to develop the new skills that will be required of him and even though he may not be averse to some change, the rate of required change may be too great for him to come to terms with.

For Richard, who has taught in the school for his entire teaching career, the most obvious change that will affect him, is the presence of girls in the school. He has a double problem, in that, he himself does not believe girls will be well motivated, nor adept, at the subjects he teaches, and thus he is approaching the change from a negative viewpoint. He is both afraid and hostile to the change. This is because he is being forced to step into the unknown. Similar findings were made in an investigation of a change programme in the Civil Service. Richard may have a Type-A personality profile and as such his hostility is congruent with the men in a survey in1975 which showed 'hostility' as the factor most powerfully linked to heart disease. Richard exhibits the characteristics of a person who has maladaptive coping strategies to deal with the pressure under which he has been under, which has now become stress. The research literature suggests that the strain under which Richard has been placed, which in part may be due to his personality characteristics, has become a threat which has become stress, and due to inadequate coping has become much more acute and potentially life-threatening. Richard has major changes at work imposed on him through his school amalgamating with another. He also has changes in the type of work, in that he will be expected to teach girls and liaise closely with a newly qualified young female colleague. In addition he has changes in responsibilities in that he is expected to draw up new timetables and implement new class arrangements. In short he has a serious disruption to his professional life. On the Holmes and Rahe (1967) Life Change Index, the first of these changes is rated at 39, the second at 36 and the third at 29. In addition to these Richard is also faced with changes in working conditions, as he will have to work longer hours, rated at 20, and it appears he has trouble in his relationships with his headteacher, rated at 23. As stress is cumulative, and there is no indication of changes in Richard's personal life, it appears that he is potentially exposed to at least a 50% risk of serious illness in the next two years.Richard appears to be constantly under stress and is therefore constantly releasing the stress chemicals into his blood stream in the classic 'fight or flight' mechanism. His body is preparing for 'fight or flight', but because of societal conventions he is unable to complete this; he is not able to rush from a meeting, nor strike a colleague, for example, as this would prejudice his future employment. Thus because he is not satisfying the natural stress reaction, the continual release of the chemicals harms his body. During the stress response, the heart rate rises and the blood pressure is raised. This may be a factor in his having collapsed with suspected heart problems.

The stress response is divided into three phases : the Alarm Reaction, Resistance, and Exhaustion. The Alarm Reaction is the 'fight or flight' response that prepares the body for immediate action. Where the stress persists, the body prepares for long-term protection by secreting further hormones that increase blood sugar levels to sustain energy and raise blood pressure. This Resistance or Adaptation phase results from exposure to prolonged periods of stress and is quite common. It is not necessarily harmful, but intervals of rest or relaxation are required to offset the stress response. Where this is not carried out, individuals can experience fatigue, lethargy, concentration lapses and irritability, as the effort to sustain arousal changes to negative stress. Where chronic stress persists, the person enters the Exhaustion phase, where mental, physical and emotional resources are depleted and the body loses blood sugar as adrenal glands cease to work efficiently, leading to progressive mental and physical exhaustion, illness and collapse. This would seem to describe what has happened to Richard and is an indicator that he is suffering from chronic stress.

Another factor that is contributing to Richard's stress is bound up with locus of control. It is postulated here that Richard has an external locus of control and now believes there is little he can do to affect anything. He seems to see that no matter what choices and opportunities are spread out in front of him that his life is controlled by outside forces. If he had an internal locus of control, he would feel that no matter what befell him, he had some measure of control. He could use the opportunity of working with a young female colleague and teaching girls as having choice in what and how it is taught in his subject area, but appears to feel that he has no choice. It is well documented that people with an internal locus of control, who see themselves as having choices and being able to act effectively on the world they live in enjoy better mental and physical health, than those who feel controlled and put upon. Richard's situation is reinforced for the worse as, being a 50+ bachelor, he may have no effective support system at home. Such a system is useful, and in Richard's case it could have acted as a feedback and guidance system, a guide in problem-solving and simply as a haven for rest and recuperation. His situation is particularly difficult as it appears he has no support system at work since his proposals have been continually dismissed. As a result of this he may also have lost self-belief and now has critically low self-esteem.

With all this going against him it is small wonder that Richard is ill. He has entered a critical loop phase from which the consequences, without immediate intervention will be death. Richard is so bad that whatever professional medical opinion has to say, he will not believe them concerning what he considers has been a heart attack. His GP is right in that he may benefit from tranquillisers and a period off work. The tranquillisers are likely to be benzodiazepines, such as Valium, Librium or Atvan which act to suppress the nervous system and thus reduce anxiety and stress-related problems. This may suit Richard as he is in such an acute state, but it is suggested that the drugs are not prescribed for longer than a two week period, otherwise he may experience withdrawal symptoms when he comes off them. It would be helpful in his case if he were to learn how to manage stress and it may be that his GP could suggest he sees a Stress Management Consultant. Richard could then be encouraged to explore various relaxation techniques, maybe some exercise and possibly learn to be more assertive.

James, too, is exhibiting signs that he is under stress, but unlike Richard he seems to welcome aspects of the change. His stress seems to be caused by having too much work to do, but he is prepared to do something about it. He appears to have an internal locus of control and a belief that he can control events. He sees that he has a number of choices and opportunities in front of him, whereas Richard viewed it in the opposite manner. Whilst the change is giving James a more important job, which he seems to relish, he is concerned that he will have to give up aspects of his current job which he likes i.e. he feels that his role will become more administrative, with less class contact. However, his capacity for internal locus of control remains high, as he has made his and others' views known to the headteacher. This representation appears to have influenced the headteacher as he has modified original arrangements and will conduct personal interviews and informal meetings with new colleagues. This will reinforce James' view that he can influence events. The fact that having choices and feeling free is more than anything a state of mind is recognised by psychologists and is known as Attribution Theory. Choice is something people attribute to themselves and to their lives and thus James sees that he has the choice to do something positive and influence events which will have benefits for himself. The fact that others may benefit is perhaps incidental.

As a married man, James has a family support system, where he is able to discuss his work-related problems and have his own views reinforced or modified before he presents them at work. He may have help in that the chores undertaken in the home can be shared, or even taken over by his partner during busy periods at work. This would not apply in Richard's case. It appears that James has a support system at work also, as he feels able to report his colleagues concerns about change. He seems to enjoy good relations with them as it is unlikely that he would report their disquiet if he were not an accepted and trusted member of the group. James is prepared to be flexible and appears much more confident than Richard. He can be assertive, without being aggressive, otherwise it is unlikely the head would have agreed to re-examine existing arrangements and modify them in the interests of the staff. As stated earlier, his stress and its physical signs seem to be caused by overwork. The signs may well disappear when the immediate situation is resolved. This is not to say that he should now do nothing; it would be useful for him now, and for the future to learn how to manage stress and then be better prepared in knowing how to cope with similar events which may happen later. He would be helped now by practising relaxation techniques, which he could then use if he felt things were building up again.

For Richard, the future is not good, unless he heeds the advice of his GP, given the proviso that he is not placed on tranquillisers for too long. Should the stress management techniques prove to be successful, Richard may wish to return to work to see if he can cope. If he cannot, or decides that he is better off mentally and physically out of the school, then it may be opportune for him to offer himself for voluntary early retirement, thus helping to solve the problems over who is to be made redundant when the schools amalgamate. After all, given his record on opposition to the organisational changes coupled with his health problems, he must surely be a prime candidate in this direction.

For James, the future is much brighter. It is envisaged that he will learn to manage stress effectively, take part in the change process successfully, eventually come to terms with increased administrative duties required of those who seek promotion and later become a Deputy or even Headteacher.

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