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Psychosocial work stressors and well-being: self-esteem and

optimism as moderators in a one-year longitudinal sample


Anne Ma kikangas*, Ulla Kinnunen
Family Research Unit, University of Jyvaskyla, PO Box 35 (Agora), FIN-40351, Jyvaskyla, Finland
Received 20 December 2001; received in revised form 27 May 2002; accepted 23 July 2002
Abstract
The purpose of the present follow-up study was to investigate the roles of self-esteem and optimism in
the relationship between psychosocial work stressors and well-being for a sample of Finnish employees
(n=457). The data were obtained by means of questionnaires which were completed twice, in 1999 and
2000. The results of the moderated hierarchical regression analyses revealed that low levels of self-esteem
and optimism had a direct negative eect on emotional exhaustion and mental distress among men
employees. Furthermore, self-esteem moderated the relationships between poor organizational climate and
emotional exhaustion and mental distress among male employees. Among female employees optimism
moderated the relationships between time pressures at work, job insecurity and poor organizational cli-
mate on mental distress. Altogether, our present study suggests that self-esteem and optimism are impor-
tant resources which both have main eects as well as moderator eects on well-being, although these
eects are gender specic.
# 2003 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Psychosocial work stressors; Self-esteem; Optimism; Occupational well-being; General well-being
In the last two decades working life in many countries has experienced far-reaching changes
which have increased the level of work stressors and decreased the level of employees well-being.
This is indeed the case in Finland, where many employees nowadays work under increasing time
pressure and mental strain. For example, time demands and the amount of overtime work have
increased (Lehto & Sutela, 1998; Ylo stalo, 2001) and job insecurity has become common (Na tti,
Kinnunen, Happonen, Mauno, & Sallinen, 2001). In consideration of all the facts about the
0191-8869/03/$ - see front matter # 2003 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
PI I : S0191- 8869( 02) 00217- 9
Personality and Individual Differences 35 (2003) 537557
www.elsevier.com/locate/paid
* Corresponding author. Tel.: +358-14-2604554; fax: +358-14-2602811.
E-mail address: makanne@psyka.jyu. (A. Ma kikangas).
quality of present-day working life, it is important to nd individual stress resistance resources
which modify stress-health relationships.
In recent stress research, it has become clear that the tendency to perceive job circumstances as
stressful depends in part upon the characteristics of the individual. Individuals exposed to the
same environmental conditions may express remarkably dierent psychological, physical, and
behavioral reactions on account of dierent personality characteristics (see Kahn & Byosiere,
1992). In particular, self-esteem has been the most extensively investigated personal resource in
the work context (Brockner, 1988; Locke, McClear, & Knight, 1996; Tharenou, 1979).
The present study contributes to the stress-buering literature by analysing whether self-esteem
and optimism modify the impact of harmful psychosocial work stressors on well-being. Specically,
the aim was to explore the main and interactive eects of psychosocial work stressors (i.e. time
pressures at work, lack of control, job insecurity, and poor organizational climate), self-esteem and
optimism on employee well-being (i.e. job satisfaction, emotional exhaustion, mental distress and
physical symptoms) for a sample of Finnish male and female employees in a 1-year follow-up study.
In stress literature, personality has been considered to aect the stress process in ve dierent
ways (Cox & Ferguson, 1991; Kivima ki, 1996). First, personality may inuence stress reactions
by modifying the appraisal of stressors. For example, a person with high self-esteem and opti-
mism is more likely to view a stressful work situation as challenging rather than threatening.
Optimism, which is dened as a generalized expectation of positive experiences and outcomes
throughout ones life (Scheier, Carver, & Bridges, 2001), makes a person apprise a stress situation
in a more positive light. Optimists make more extensive use of a variety of coping strategies and
have better physical and psychological health than pessimists (Carver & Scheier, 1999; Chang &
Farrehi, 2001; Scheier & Carver, 1992; Scheier et al., 2001). By contrast, individuals lacking in
optimism and self-esteem have been shown to experience greater negative stress and to use more
withdrawal and passive forms of coping to manage stressful events (Aspinwall & Taylor, 1992;
Harju & Bolen, 1998; Scheier et al., 2001; Scheier, Weintraub, & Carver, 1986).
Second, personality factors may eect stress reactions independently of stressors. Studies have
found that self-esteem, which refers to an individuals general sense of his or her value or worth
(Rosenberg, 1979; Locke et al., 1996), is negatively associated with all three burnout dimensions
(e.g. exhaustion, depersonalization and reduced personal accomplishment), but especially with
emotional exhaustion (Carmel, 1997; Fothergill, Edwards, Hannigan, Burnard, & Coyle, 2000;
Janssen, Schaufeli, & Houkes, 1999; Kinnunen, Mauno, Na tti, & Happonen, 1999; Rosse, Boss,
Johnson, & Crown, 1991). Furthermore, self-esteem is shown to be associated negatively with
depressive symptoms (Schonfeld, 2000) and positively with job satisfaction (Abraham, 1999;
Carmel, 1997; Frone, 2000; Saks & Ashforth, 1997).
Third, work stressors and stress reactions may modify personal factors. For example, it has
been found that psychosocial work stressors and burnout reduce self-esteem (Golembiewski &
Aldinger, 1994; Kivima ki & Kalimo, 1996). Fourth, work stressors may cause dierences in per-
sonality factors, which may mediate the quantity and the quality of stress reactions. Self-esteem
has been found to mediate the eects between unemployment and psychological health (Kokko &
Pulkkinen, 1997; Pearlin, Lieberman, Menaghan, & Mullan, 1981) and between stress and
expectancy of success (Abel, 1996).
Fifth, personality factors may inuence stress reactions by moderating the relationship between
stressors and stress reactions. Conceptually, a moderator is a variable which alters the direction
538 A. Makikangas, U. Kinnunen / Personality and Individual Dierences 35 (2003) 537557
or strength of the relationship between two other variables (see Baron & Kenny, 1986; Parkes,
1994). Empirical research has provided some support for the moderating eects of self-esteem,
although the ndings have been inconsistent (see Cohen & Edwards, 1989; Locke et al., 1996).
The theoretical viewpoint for studying self-esteem as a moderator has its roots in Brockners
(1983, 1988) plasticity hypothesis. Brockner (1983, 1988) suggested that low self-esteem indivi-
duals, i.e. lacking self-condence and certainty of ones own beliefs and behaviors, are generally
more susceptible to environmental events than those with high self-esteem. Thus, low self-esteem
employees are more prone to regard social cues as guides for appropriate action and more
dependent on others evaluations than high self-esteem employees. A number of studies have
supported Brockners presumptions and found that low self-esteem employees are more strongly
inuenced by role conict, role ambiguity, role overload, peer group interaction and supervisory
support than those of high self-esteem employees (Elangovan & Xie, 1999; Fernandez, Mutran, &
Reitzes, 1998; Ganster & Schaubroeck, 1991; Jex & Elacqua, 1999; Mossholder, Bedeian, &
Armenakis, 1981, 1982; Pierce, Gardner, Dunham, & Cummings, 1993; Wiener, Muczyk, &
Martin, 1992).
Optimism has been found to moderate the relationship between daily hassles and health out-
comes (e.g. symptoms of physical illness, feelings of exhaustion, burnout and loss of self-esteem;
Fry, 1995), hassles and physiological symptoms (Lai, 1996), perceived stress and depression
(Sumi, Horie, & Hayakawa, 1997). Furthermore, three-way interactions have been found between
ratings for optimism, social support, and stress on physical and psychological well-being (Sumi,
1997). Thus, individuals who reported higher optimism and social support tended to report better
well-being, regardless of their reported stress.
Despite the growing interest in stress moderators, the gender dierences have remained under-
researched. So far, almost all existing moderator studies have been cross-sectional and have
concentrated solely on either men or women and used samples of certain occupational groups or
university students (see e.g. Fry, 1995; Ganster & Schaubroeck, 1991; Pierce et al., 1993; Sumi,
1997; Sumi et al., 1997; Wiener et al., 1992) Therefore, knowledge about their actual gender dif-
ferences is lacking. Gender specicity in moderator studies should be considered signicant,
because the same moderator variables may have dierent impact on males and females (Sherman
& Walls, 1995).
In this study, well-being was viewed from positive (job satisfaction) and negative (emotional
exhaustion, mental distress and physical symptoms) standpoints. There is a large body of
empirical evidence to suggest that psychosocial work stressors are likely to increase strain and
impair well-being at work. It has been shown that perceived workload and time pressures are
strongly and consistently related to burnout (Abel & Sewell, 1999; Houkes, Janssen, de Jonge, &
Nijhuis, 2001; Lee & Ashforth, 1996). In addition, lack of social support at work has been found
to increase levels of burnout (Houkes et al., 2001; Peeters & Le Blanc, 2001) and depression
(Frone, 2000). On the other hand, good social relations can be a source of positive personal
outcomes, i.e. job satisfaction (Moyle, 1998; Sargent & Terry, 2000). Control at work (e.g. the
extent to which employees are able to make their own decisions about work) also increases the
level of job satisfaction (Carayon & Zijlstra, 1999; Jimmieson, 2000) and decreases the level of
burnout (see Burke & Richardsen, 2001). Job insecurity is associated with emotional exhaustion
(Mauno & Kinnunen, 1999), poor physical and mental health, low job satisfaction and higher
levels of turnout intentions (Hellgren, Sverke, & Isaksson, 1999).
A. Makikangas, U. Kinnunen / Personality and Individual Dierences 35 (2003) 537557 539
Taken as a whole, the present study focuses on the possible moderator eects of self-esteem and
optimism between several work stressors and well-being at work in a 1-year follow-up study.
Many of the previous stress moderator studies have been cross-sectional with small samples and,
in addition, few conclusions can be drawn regarding their associations with gender dierences.
Consequently, in contrast with earlier studies, the present study has unique features that may
provide valuable additional insights into the relationship between work stressors and stress reac-
tions. For one, it is based on longitudinal data which enables a better analysis of causeeect
relations, and secondly it takes gender dierences into account.
The aim of the present study was to investigate the main eects of psychosocial work stressors
and personality characteristics and the moderating eects of these variables at Time 1 on well-
being indicators at Time 2, after controlling for the eect of each well-being indicator at Time 1.
We hypothesized that, compared with employees with high self-esteem and optimism, those with
low self-esteem and optimism at Time 1 would experience higher levels of emotional exhaustion,
mental distress and more physical symptoms as well as reduced levels of job satisfaction at Time 2
when work stressors are high at Time 1.
1. Method
1.1. Participants and procedure
The data for the study were obtained as part of a research project entitled Economic Crisis,
Job Insecurity and the Household. The random sample (n=1878) was selected from the les of
the Finnish Population Register Center in 1999, and restricted to working aged people between
25 and 59 years. Two identical postal questionnaires were sent to the sample in the spring of 1999.
One questionnaire was intended for the target individual and the other, when relevant, for his or
her partner. In 2000 the questionnaires were sent, using the same procedure, to those individuals
who had answered in 1999. Responses were received in 1999 from 851 target persons and 608
spouses/partners, and in 2000 from 655 target persons and 468 spouses/partners.
Because of the relatively low response rate in 1999 (45%), we compared the demographic
characteristics of the initial and nal sample in both years. Analysis of respondents versus non-
respondents in 1999 revealed no signicant dierences with respect to gender, age, marital status
and geographical location. However, in 2000 there were some dierences concerning participants
who were somewhat older and better educated (for more details, see Kinnunen, Na tti, Happonen,
Kalliolahti, Kelha la , & Mauno, 2000).
In the present study, data analysis was restricted to those who responded in both years (n=640)
and to those who were employed in both years (n=457). Of the employed respondents, 225 were
female and 232 were male and the majority of them were between 35 and 43 years old. Table 1
summarizes the demographic characteristics for the male and the female respondents separately.
There were some signicant dierences between the sexes. The most notable was that nearly 60%
of the men in the sample worked for a private employer, whereas over 40% of the women worked
in the municipality sector. In addition, men were more often than women manual workers (42%)
when women mostly were employed in lower non-manual occupations (e.g. nurse or secretary)
(47%).
540 A. Makikangas, U. Kinnunen / Personality and Individual Dierences 35 (2003) 537557
Table 1
The demographic characteristics for employees (n=457)
Characteristic % Men
(n=232)
Women
(n=225)
w
2
Age (years)
<34 16 17 1.20
3544 31 27
4554 36 40
55> 17 17
Marital status
Unmarried 11 9 18.58***
Married 67 58
Cohabiting 19 18
Separated/divorced/widow 3 14
Vocational education
None/short vocational course 24 17 27.27***
Vocational school 38 21
Vocational college 20 39
University 18 22
Socioeconomic status
Manual workers 42 26 45.40***
Lower non-manual workers 19 47
Upper non-manual workers 25 23
Entrepreneurs 14 4
Employer
State 14 10 71.91***
Municipality/federation of municipalities 10 46
Private employer 59 39
Entrepreneur 16 6
Working schedule
Regular day shift 65 65 1.19
Shift work 13 16
Irregular working time 22 19
Working hours per week
Part-time job 3 11 10.26**
Full-time job 97 89
Leadership position
No subordinates 61 81 21.77***
One subordinate or more 19 39
Employment relationship
Temporary 6 17 13.22***
Permanent 94 83
** P<0.01.
*** P<0.001.
A. Makikangas, U. Kinnunen / Personality and Individual Dierences 35 (2003) 537557 541
1.2. Measures
All the composite variables were created by averaging their respective items, and were scored so
that a high score represents a higher level of the construct. The reliabilities (Cronbach alphas)
turned out to be acceptable, so all the scales used in the present research were considered to have
an adequate internal consistency. The original measures were translated from English into Fin-
nish if Finnish versions did not already exist. They were checked by a professional translator.
1.3. Work stressors as predictor variables at Time 1
Time pressures at work were measured by the Quantitative Workload Inventory (Spector & Jex,
1998). This consisted of ve items which assessed the amount or quantity of work in a job (e.g.
How often do you have to do more work than you can do well?; How often does your job
require you to work very fast?). The subjects responded on a ve-point scale (1=not at all,
5=very often). Cronbachs alphas were 0.80 and 0.84 for the mens and womens reports,
respectively.
Lack of control was assessed through the scale derived by Jackson, Wall, Martin, and Davids
(1993). However, of the original ve scales reecting the dierent dimensions of job control, we
measured only two, which were control over timing (four items, e.g. Do you set your own pace
at work?) and over method (four items, e.g., Can you choose the methods to use in carrying
out your work?). Accordingly, the respondents rated the degree of control for each of these
items on a ve-point scale (1=not at all, 5=a great deal). In the present study, the eight items
yielded a Cronbach alpha of 0.92 for the men and 0.93 for the women.
Job insecurity measure consisted of four items which assessed uncertainty of job continuity (e.g.
How certain are you about your job security in this company? (Caplan, Cobb, French, van
Harrison, & Pinneau, 1980)). The items were rated on a ve-point scale (1=very certain, 5=very
uncertain). Cronbachs alphas for job insecurity were 0.77 for the men and 0.76 for the women.
Poor organizational climate was measured by a 10-item scale that concerned social support,
feedback and frankness from supervisors (e.g. I can get help and support from my supervisor)
and co-workers (e.g. People in this organization tend to be cool and aloof towards each other),
and warmth of organizational climate (e.g. This organization is characterized by a relaxed, easy-
going working climate). The scale was a modication of items based on the study Quality of
Working Life in Finland 19771997 (Lehto & Sutela, 1998; see Kinnunen & Na tti, 1994; Litwin
& Stringer, 1968). The alphas for the scale were 0.85 for the men and 0.87 for the women.
In addition to original articles, see for example, Dallner et al. (2000) and Mauno, Leskinen, and
Kinnunen (2001) for validity-evidence.
1.4. Personality characteristics as moderator variables at Time 1
Self-esteem was measured by Rosenbergs (1965) 10-item scale. This scale is a self-report
measure of generalized feelings about the self. The self-esteem items (e.g. I feel I have a number
of good qualities; At times, I think I am no good at all) were rated on a ve-point Likert scale
(1=totally agree, 5=totally disagree). The Cronbach alpha coecients for the scale were 0.87 for
the men and 0.88 for the women. Although the self-esteem scale is widely used there is only little
542 A. Makikangas, U. Kinnunen / Personality and Individual Dierences 35 (2003) 537557
data available on its psychometric properties (see e.g. Bosson, Swann, & Pennebaker, 2000;
Pullman & Allik, 2000).
Optimism was assessed through an abbreviated version of The Revised Life Orientation Test
developed by Scheier, Carver, and Bridges (1994), for which also validity evidence exists. It con-
sisted of six items (e.g. If something can go wrong for me, it will; In uncertain times, I usually
expect the best). These statements were rated on a ve-point Likert scale (1=totally agree,
5=totally disagree). The alphas for the scale were 0.73 and 0.72 for the men and the women,
respectively. The ndings of Scheier et als (1994) study supported the discriminant validity of the
LOT-R (see also Burke, Joyner, Czech, & Wilson, 2000), although there has been discussion
about the possible overlap between LOT (especially pessimism dimension) and neuroticism (rst
discussed by Smith, Pope, Rhodewalt, & Poulton, 1989).
1.5. Well-being indicators as control variables at time 1 and outcome variables at Time 2
Job satisfaction was measured with a two-item, ve-point scale based on Hackman and Old-
hams (1980) Job Diagnostic Survey. The items measured general job satisfaction (Generally
speaking, I am very satised with this job and I am generally satised with the kind of work I
do in this job). The Cronbach alphas for the scale at Time 1 were 0.85 and those at Time 2 were
0.87 for both sexes. For stability and validity-evidence of job satisfaction, see Dormann and Zapf
(2001) and Renn and Swiercz (1993).
Emotional exhaustion at work was assessed by four items from the Maslach Burnout Inventory
(Maslach, Jackson, & Leiter, 1996) capturing feelings of fatigue that develop as ones emotional
energies become drained at work (e.g. I feel emotionally drained from my work). The subjects
responded with ve response alternatives (1=never, 5=always). The alphas for the scale at Time
1 were 0.88 for the men and 0.90 for the women and those at Time 2 were 0.88 for the men and
0.89 for the women. Studies employing dierent versions of the MBI have found good support
for dierent forms of validity (see e.g. Maslach et al., 1996; Schaufeli, Bakker, Hoogduin, Schaap,
& Kladler, 2001).
Mental distress was assessed through the General Health Questionnaire (Goldberg, 1972;
Goldberg et al., 1997). The original GHQ-12 was designed to identify short-term changes in
mental health (e.g. Have you recently felt constantly under strain?; Have you recently been
feeling unhappy and depressed?). However, the original GHQ-12 contains two items which are
related to self-esteem(Have you recently been thinking of yourself as a worthwhile person?; Have
you recently lost your self-condence?) so we used only 10 items to avoid confusion of concepts.
The Cronbachs alpha coecients for the 10-item mental distress scale at Time 1 were 0.89 for both
the men and the women and those at Time 2 were 0.89 for the men and 0.87 for the women. For
testretest reliability and validity evidence, see Pevalin (2000) and Goldberg et al. (1997).
Physical symptoms were assessed by 10 questions taken from the Physical Symptoms Inventory
(Spector & Jex, 1998). The sum variable covers a wide spectrum of physical symptoms that are
known to be common stress symptoms (e.g. headache, nausea or backache). Respondents were
requested to answer each item on the basis of their experiences over the previous 12 months,
using a ve-point scale ranging from 1 (never) to 5 (often/continuously). The alpha coecients
for the scale at Time 1 were 0.81 for the men and 0.83 for the women. Those at Time 2 were 0.77
for the men and 0.83 for the women. For validity evidence, see Spector and Jex (1998).
A. Makikangas, U. Kinnunen / Personality and Individual Dierences 35 (2003) 537557 543
1.6. Data analysis overview
Hierarchical multiple regression analysis was used to examine the potential main eects of
psychosocial stressors and personality factors, and the moderating eects at Time 1 on well-being
outcomes at Time 2. The regression procedure followed Baron and Kennys (1986) guidelines. To
minimize potential multicollinearity problems optimism and self-esteem (r=0.75 for men and
r=0.73 for women) were analysed in dierent regression models.
Each well-being indicator at Time 2 (2000) was regressed on the antecedent sets at Time 1 in
ve steps as follows: (1) each well-being outcome measured at Time 1 (1999) was entered to
control for its eect; (2) demographics (age, education, leadership position); (3) psychosocial
work stressors at Time 1 (1999); (4) personality characteristic at Time 1 (1999) and (5) the inter-
action terms between work stressors and personality characteristics. The magnitude of R
2
change
at each step of the hierarchical regression analysis was used to determine the variance explained
by each set of antecedents. The beta values reported were used to determine the eect of each
variable in the antecedent sets on well-being.
2. Results
2.1. Descriptive results
The means, standard deviations and correlations of all the study variables are displayed separately
for men and women in Table 2. Gender dierences emerged in two of the variables studied. The women
suered more than the men from time pressures at work at Time 1 [t (449)=9.64, P <0.01] and phy-
sical symptoms both at Time 1 [t (452)=32.3, P <0.001] and at Time 2 [t (451)=7.67, P <0.001].
In general, the correlations of the study variables between Time 1 and Time 2 were in the
expected direction. The psychosocial work stressors and personality characteristics at Time 1
were moderately related to all well-being indicators at Time 2 (i.e. job satisfaction, emotional
exhaustion, mental distress and physical symptoms). Most of the psychosocial work stressors at
Time 1 correlated moderately with each other, as did the well-being indicators at Time 2. Of the
demographic variables, education was related to self-esteem among men; those male employees
with a higher education perceived their self-esteem higher than those with a lower education. In
addition, the older female employees were less educated than the younger employees and the
older male employees perceived more job satisfaction than the younger ones.
2.2. Main eects
After controlling for the outcome variables own eect at Time 1 (Step 1) and the demographics
(Step 2), the entry of the psychosocial work stressors (Step 3) and personality characteristics (Step
4) revealed some support for the hypothesized main eects. As seen in Tables 3 and 4, the well-
being outcomes at Time 1 (Step 1) explained a substantial proportion of the variance in all the
well-being outcomes at Time 2, due to the fact that well-being seems to be relatively stable over
time. Partly because of this, the full set of antecedent variables at Time 1 accounted for a notable
proportion of variance in well-being indicators at Time 2 (24%44%) for both genders.
544 A. Makikangas, U. Kinnunen / Personality and Individual Dierences 35 (2003) 537557
Table 2
Means, standard deviations and correlations among the study variables for men (n=232) and women (n=225)
Variable Men Women 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
M SD M SD
1. Age 44.6 9.10 45.4 9.35 0.23 0.01 0.08 0.10 0.03 0.10 0.05 0.07 0.05 0.11 0.09 0.06 0.05 0.15 0.03 0.07
2. Education 2.31 1.02 2.6 1.00 0.03 0.16 0.07 0.02 0.08 0.02 0.12 0.04 0.04 0.04 0.04 0.07 0.06 0.10 0.05 0.02
3. Leadership position 0.13 0.25 0.21 0.10 0.09 0.02 0.11 0.04 0.01 0.22 0.04 0.08 0.01 0.07 0.08 0.06
Time 1
Predictor variables
4. Time pressures at work 3.49 0.70 3.70 0.70 0.05 0.08 0.10 0.19 0.08 0.03 0.10 0.10 0.12 0.48 0.25 0.24 0.14 0.41 0.22 0.16
5. Lack of control 1.88 0.78 1.98 0.81 0.05 0.15 0.14 0.06 0.23 0.21 0.18 0.20 0.37 0.14 0.14 0.11 0.34 0.22 0.10 0.06
6. Job insecurity 1.61 0.60 1.67 0.59 0.04 0.05 0.04 0.12 0.21 0.18 0.36 0.34 0.16 0.16 0.12 0.12 0.21 0.19 0.17 0.07
7. Poor organization climate 2.67 0.75 2.57 0.65 0.02 0.08 0.13 0.02 0.23 0.16 0.18 0.29 0.34 0.31 0.30 0.21 0.34 0.20 0.16 0.16
Moderator variables
8. Self-esteem 3.94 0.63 3.85 0.65 0.00 0.23 0.17 0.08 0.24 0.22 0.26 0.73 0.27 0.26 0.39 0.24 0.24 0.19 0.28 0.12
9. Optimism 3.82 0.62 3.81 0.58 0.08 0.17 0.15 0.04 0.23 0.21 0.21 0.75 0.39 0.32 0.34 0.28 0.25 0.16 0.29 0.20
Control variables
10. Job satisfaction 3.99 0.85 4.12 0.72 0.22 0.04 0.11 0.16 0.28 0.24 0.45 0.32 0.27 0.43 0.37 0.27 0.58 0.31 0.30 0.23
11. Emotional exhaustion 2.13 0.79 2.26 0.87 0.11 0.09 0.08 0.32 0.21 0.21 0.36 0.38 0.28 0.54 0.47 0.56 0.30 0.67 0.44 0.45
12. Mental distress 2.00 0.41 2.08 0.47 0.05 0.09 0.10 0.31 0.20 0.18 0.27 0.50 0.43 0.36 0.52 0.54 0.32 0.35 0.52 0.35
13. Physical symptoms 1.56 0.41 1.82 0.57 0.03 0.06 0.06 0.34 0.13 0.11 0.15 0.37 0.31 0.28 0.54 0.40 0.23 0.42 0.40 0.62
Time 2
Outcome variables
14. Job satisfaction 3.98 0.83 4.10 0.77 0.19 0.05 0.06 0.10 0.19 0.14 0.18 0.24 0.24 0.61 0.41 0.24 0.20 0.43 0.43 0.31
15. Emotional exhaustion 2.12 0.83 2.24 0.86 0.13 0.08 0.10 0.14 0.08 0.05 0.24 0.41 0.27 0.34 0.64 0.41 0.47 0.46 0.54 0.45
16. Mental distress 1.97 0.42 2.05 0.47 0.01 0.03 0.01 0.26 0.12 0.11 0.18 0.42 0.38 0.23 0.45 0.53 0.47 0.36 0.63 0.52
17. Physical symptoms 1.56 0.44 1.81 0.65 0.07 0.11 0.11 0.23 0.13 0.09 0.20 0.34 0.24 0.18 0.45 0.27 0.66 0.21 0.54 0.52
Coecients above the diagonal are for women, those below the diagonal are for men. For men and women: r 5 0:18 j j, P<0.01, r 5 0:24 j j, P<0.001.
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Table 3
Hierarchical regression analyses involving self-esteem in the prediction of employee well-being at Time 2
Predictors Job satisfaction T2 Emotional exhaustion T2 Mental distress T2 Physical symptoms T2
Men b Women b Men b Women b Men b Women b Men b Women b
Step 1
1. Dependent variable at Time 1 0.63*** 0.47*** 0.57*** 0.58*** 0.30*** 0.43*** 0.58*** 0.63***
R
2
0.41*** 0.35*** 0.44*** 0.40*** 0.28*** 0.24*** 0.43*** 0.44***
Step 2Demographics
2. Age 0.06 0.02 0.11* 0.11* 0.05 0.00 0.08 0.10
3. Education 0.02 0.03 0.04 0.14* 0.07 0.07 0.06 0.05
4. Leadership position 0.10 0.01 0.03 0.11* 0.02 0.06 0.07 0.04
R
2
0.01 0.00 0.01 0.03* 0.00 0.01 0.01 0.01
Step 3work stressors at Time 1
5. Time pressures at work 0.01 0.09 0.01 0.10 0.19** 0.07 0.07 0.06
6. Lack of control 0.01 0.09 0.06 0.08 0.03 0.01 0.01 0.05
7. Job insecurity 0.01 0.08 0.06 0.10 0.00 0.12 0.01 0.03
8. Poor organization climate 0.09 0.12* 0.01 0.05 0.02 0.01 0.10 0.06
R
2
0.01 0.05** 0.01 0.03* 0.02 0.02 0.02 0.01
Step 4personality factor at Time 1
9. Self-esteem 0.10 0.06 0.19** 0.00 0.21** 0.09 0.05 0.02
R
2
0.01 0.00 0.04*** 0.00 0.04** 0.01 0.00 0.00
Step 5two-way interactions
10. Time pressures at workSelf-esteem 0.07 0.00 0.02 0.02 0.08 0.08 0.06 0.05
11. Lack of controlSelf-esteem 0.10 0.01 0.06 0.01 0.02 0.01 0.06 0.04
12. Job insecuritySelf-esteem 0.04 0.05 0.10 0.02 0.06 0.09 0.03 0.01
13. Poor organization climateSelf-esteem 0.05 0.02 0.15** 0.05 0.20** 0.04 0.13* 0.05
R
2
0.02 0.01 0.03* 0.00 0.04* 0.01 0.02 0.01
R
2
0.45*** 0.40*** 0.52*** 0.46*** 0.38*** 0.29*** 0.49*** 0.47***
b=Standardized beta-coecients derived from the nal step, R
2
=explanation rate, R
2
=change in explanation rate in each step.
* P<0.05.
** P<0.01.
*** P<0.001.
5
4
6
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.
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Table 4
Hierarchical regression analyses involving optimism in the prediction of employee well-being at Time 2
Predictors Job satisfaction T2 Emotional exhaustion T2 Mental distress T2 Physical symptoms T2
Men b Women b Men b Women b Men b Women b Men b Women b
Step 1
1. Dependent variable at Time 1 0.65*** 0.49*** 0.64*** 0.60*** 0.33*** 0.42*** 0.62*** 0.62***
R
2
0.41*** 0.35*** 0.44*** 0.40*** 0.28*** 0.24*** 0.43*** 0.44***
Step 2demographics
2. Age 0.05 0.04 0.07 0.11* 0.03 0.00 0.07 0.10
3. Education 0.01 0.02 0.01 0.13* 0.04 0.07 0.07 0.06
4. Leadership position 0.11 0.00 0.04 0.11* 0.04 0.05 0.07 0.03
R
2
0.01 0.00 0.01 0.03** 0.00 0.01 0.02 0.01
Step 3work stressors at Time 1
5. Time pressures at work 0.01 0.11 0.03 0.11 0.16** 0.08 0.04 0.07
6. Lack of control 0.01 0.09 0.04 0.08 0.03 0.02 0.00 0.04
7. Job insecurity 0.02 0.12 0.09 0.15* 0.02 0.16* 0.01 0.01
8. Poor organization climate 0.10 0.13* 0.01 0.03 0.03 0.02 0.12* 0.06
DR
2
0.01 0.05** 0.01 0.03* 0.02 0.02 0.01 0.01
Step 4personality factor at Time 1
9. Optimism 0.11 0.04 0.12* 0.09 0.22** 0.11 0.01 0.03
R
2
0.01 0.00 0.02* 0.01 0.04*** 0.01 0.00 0.00
Step 5two-way interactions
10. Time pressures at workoptimism 0.07 0.00 0.01 0.03 0.08 0.14* 0.06 0.06
11. Lack of controloptimism 0.04 0.07 0.04 0.02 0.01 0.02 0.08 0.02
12. Job insecurityoptimism 0.04 0.06 0.07 0.06 0.01 0.22** 0.07 0.05
13. Poor organization climateoptimism 0.02 0.01 0.09 0.02 0.05 0.15* 0.06 0.10
R
2
0.01 0.01 0.01 0.01 0.01 0.05** 0.02 0.01
R
2
0.44*** 0.41*** 0.48*** 0.47*** 0.35*** 0.33*** 0.47*** 0.47***
b=Standardized beta-coecients derived from the nal step, R
2
=explanation rate, R
2
=change in explanation rate in each step.
* P<0.05.
** P<0.01.
*** P<0.001.
A
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For men, only personality characteristics at Time 1 had signicant main eects on emotional
exhaustion and mental distress at Time 2, after controlling for the prior levels of these well-being
indicators, demographics and psychosocial work stressors (see Tables 3 and 4). Among the male
respondents, the higher the self-esteem and optimism at Time 1, the lower the levels of emotional
exhaustion and mental distress at Time 2.
For women, as indicated in Tables 3 and 4, increased age, higher level of education and lea-
dership position signicantly explained emotional exhaustion. Among psychosocial work stres-
sors, poor organizational climate at Time 1 exerted a negative main eect on job satisfaction at
Time 2 in both regression models. Furthermore, job insecurity at Time 1 was related to womens
ratings of emotional exhaustion at Time 2 (see Table 4). Personality characteristics at Time 1 did
not explain either occupational or general well-being among women employees at Time 2.
2.3. Moderator eects
Interaction terms at Step 5 (see Table 3) revealed a signicant two-way interaction between self-
esteem and organization climate on emotional exhaustion (b=0.15, P <0.05) and mental dis-
tress (b=0.20, P <0.01) in the mens sample. Graphical representations of the signicant
interactions that are presented in Figs. 1 and 2 were derived from simple slope analysis using the
unstandardized regression coecients (B values) of the regression lines for employees high (1 S.D.
above the mean) and low (1 SD below the mean) on the moderator variable (see Aiken & West,
1991).
Fig. 1. Signicant two-way interactions in the prediction of male employees well-being. (a) Interaction of organiza-
tional climate and self-esteem on emotional exhaustion. (b) Interaction of organizational climate and self-esteem on
mental distress.
548 A. Makikangas, U. Kinnunen / Personality and Individual Dierences 35 (2003) 537557
Inspection of Fig. 1(a) and (b) reveals some support for the plasticity-hypothesis among men.
The regression lines indicate that as organization climate worsened, emotional exhaustion and
mental distress increased for low levels of self-esteem. The relationship in levels of high self-
esteem showed a reverse pattern: well-being increased as organizational climate is for a worsened.
Simple slope analysis provided support for these interpretations and it revealed that the rela-
tionship between organizational climate and emotional exhaustion was signicant both among
low self-esteem male employees [B=0.15, t (201)=1.81, P <0.05] and among high self-esteem
Fig. 2. Signicant two-way interactions in the prediction of female employees well-being. (a) Interaction of time
pressures at work and optimism on mental distress. (b) Interaction of job insecurity and optimism on mental distress.
(c) Interaction of organizational climate and optimism on mental distress.
A. Makikangas, U. Kinnunen / Personality and Individual Dierences 35 (2003) 537557 549
male employees [B=0.16, t (201)=2.05, P <0.05]. The relationship between organizational
climate and mental distress was also signicant both among low self-esteem male employees
[B=0.22, t (199)=2.55, P <0.01] and among high self-esteem male employees [B=0.17,
t (199)=1.99, P <0.05].
Fig. 2 illustrates the buering eect of optimism. Optimism and psychosocial stressors pro-
duced three signicant interactions in predicting mental distress among female employees. Opti-
mism buered the eects of time pressures at work (b=0.14, P <0.05), job insecurity (b=0.22,
P <0.01) and organization climate (b=0.15, P <0.05) on mental distress for the womens
sample.
Fig. 2(a) indicates that when time pressures at work increased, mental distress increased among
low optimism female employees. Simple slope analysis supported this trend and showed that the
relationship between time pressures at work and mental distress was signicant among low opti-
mism female employees [B=0.22, t (197)=2.46, P <0.01] but non-signicant among high opti-
mism female employees [B=0.07, t (197)=0.73, NS]. The analysis indicated also that job
insecurity had a positive main eect on levels of mental distress among high optimism [B=0.33,
t (197)=3.08, P <0.01] but not among low optimism females [B=0.01, t (197)=0.17, NS]. In
addition, the relationship between organization climate and mental distress was signicant among
high optimists [B=0.16, t (197)=1.84, P <0.05], but non-signicant among low optimism
female employees [B=0.12, t (197)=1.32, NS].
3. Discussion
The present study was designed to examine the roles of self-esteem and optimism on the rela-
tionship between perceived psychosocial work stressors and well-being separately for men and
women. Based on previous moderator studies of self-esteem (Fernandez et al., 1998; Ganster &
Schaubroeck, 1991; Jex & Elacqua, 1999; Mossholder et al., 1981, 1982; Pierce et al., 1993;
Wiener et al., 1992) and optimism (Fry, 1995; Lai, 1996; Sumi, 1997; Sumi et al., 1997) our
hypothesis, that self-esteem and optimism would moderate the relationship between psychosocial
stressors and well-being after controlling prior well-being, did receive some support.
Specically, the relations between organization climate and mental distress and emotional
exhaustion were strongest for those male employees who reported low levels of global self-esteem.
These results are consistent with Brockners plasticity-hypothesis (1983; 1988) and studies on the
elaboration of plasticity theory (Fernandez et al., 1998; Mossholder et al., 1982; Pierce et al.,
1993). Plasticity-hypothesis indicates that low self-esteem employees are more easily aected by
organizational events because they are prone to regard social cues and environmental stimuli as
guides for their behavior than high self-esteem employees and, thus, they are more prone to
develop symptoms in response to stress.
Somewhat surprisingly, high self-esteem moderated the eects of poor organizational climate
on well-being in the opposite manner we would have expected: among men emotional exhaustion
and mental distress decreased as organizational climate and social support got worse. In addition,
high optimism moderated the relationship between poor organizational climate and mental dis-
tress in the same way among women as self-esteem among men. Fernandez et al. (1998) also
found in their study that high self-esteem individuals depressive symptoms decreased when social
550 A. Makikangas, U. Kinnunen / Personality and Individual Dierences 35 (2003) 537557
network stressors increased. These results can be explained in dierent ways. First, it could be
that employees with high personal resources use more adaptive coping-strategies and they nd
themselves challenged by adversity, as Fernandez et al. (1998) suggested. Second, emotional
support (e.g. conversations with fellow employees and employers) could be most benecial to
employees with low personal resources. High self-esteem and optimistic employees might nd
some other forms of support helpful in the workplace (e.g. informational support) as they could
get needed emotional support from other areas of life. Third, as Korman (see Brockner, 1988)
already found in the 1960s, self-esteem is related to vocational choice. Individuals with high
resources could be in higher positions and jobs with challenging decision-making than low
self-esteem employees, and thus they can nd it almost a burden to have constant conversa-
tions with other people in the workplace. Although in our study the leadership position was
controlled in the rst step. Or this nding can be simply due to defences which are used to
protect oneself against the dicult situation. However, this issue is an important research
target and should be studied from the viewpoint of the individual as well as organizational
units.
In this study dispositional optimism and self-esteem measures correlated a great deal (r=0.75
for men and r=0.73 for women) and also moderated the relationship between organizational
climate and well-being in a similar way. This also raises the question about the connection of
these concepts although our results show that optimism and self-esteem are linked dierently for
the health of men and women. Scheier et al. (1994) have also brought some evidence that self-
esteem and optimism are separate personality factors which can lead to dierent health outcomes.
They showed that the relationships among optimism, coping and depression remain signicant
when the eects of self-esteem, neuroticism, perceived control and anxiety were controlled. It has,
however, been suggested by Judge and Bono (2001) that these two personal constructs are part of
a core self-evaluation construct (including also self-ecacy, neuroticism and locus of control).
However, there is no empirical evidence considering optimism as part of a larger resource con-
struct and this requires further research.
Furthermore, time pressure at work was most strongly related to mental distress among female
employees reporting low optimism. This result may be explained by dierent coping strategies
used by optimists and pessimists. One explanation could be that optimists tend to use more
problem-focused coping strategies (e.g. information seeking) than do pessimists (Scheier et al.,
2001). When using emotion-focused coping, optimists use adaptive strategies such as acceptance,
humor and positive reframing while pessimists use denial and behavior disengangement (Aspin-
wall & Taylor, 1992; Harju & Bolen, 1998; Scheier et al., 1986, 2001).
The relationship between job insecurity and optimism on mental distress appears to be more
complex. It was revealed that the negative eects of increased job insecurity on mental well-being
were more detrimental for high levels of optimism among women, although the overall level of
mental distress was higher for low optimists. It could be that accumulation of negative events,
such as a prolonged threat of losing ones job and consequent worries about the future can be
even more disturbing for optimists than for pessimists due to their dierent expectations of life
events. Job insecurity, compared with the time pressures or social relations at work, may not be
amenable to active coping. Thus, job insecurity is based more on structural factors (e.g. unem-
ployment and economic situation), and as these factors are out of personal control, they can be
particularly harmful to high optimists.
A. Makikangas, U. Kinnunen / Personality and Individual Dierences 35 (2003) 537557 551
Although psychosocial work stressors have been consistently related to occupational well-being
(e.g. Burke & Richardsen, 2001; Maslach, Schaufeli, & Leiter, 2001; Spector, 1997), our study
indicates that after controlling for the dependent variables own eect, only the demographics
and some stressors predicted well-being among female employees. Good organization climate
predicted higher job satisfaction and increased age, high level of education, no subordinates and job
security predicted lower levels of emotional exhaustion. Neither self-esteem nor optimism explained
well-being directly among women. For the male employees, only personality characteristics predicted
mental distress and emotional exhaustion, after controlling for well-beings own eect, the demo-
graphics and psychosocial work stressors. When considering these results, it must be remembered
that the dependent variables own eect at Time 1 accounted for a signicant proportion of variance
in well-being indicators at Time 2, meaning that well-being was relatively stable over time.
One important nding in this research was related to dierences in how personality character-
istics impact upon stress and well-being for males and females. Analyses without an examination
of gender dierences, i.e. using the total sample, would have resulted in dierent or even mis-
leading results. Gender dierences can also explain why prior empirical results of moderator
eects have been mixed. For example, Janssen et al. (1999) did not nd any moderating eects of
self-esteem, which may be due to the fact that the sample in question consisted almost entirely
(91%) of females. Studies which have provided support for the plasticity-hypothesis (Ganster &
Schaubroeck, 1991; Pierce et al., 1993; Wiener et al., 1992) have investigated mostly men.
Our gender-specic ndings could be due to cultural gender roles and dierent sources of personal
resources among men and women (Kling, Hyde, Showers, & Buswell, 1999; Schwalbe & Staples,
1991). Many qualities associated with the male role (e.g. self-condence and self-perceived compe-
tence) are consistent with high self-esteem. Interdependence and seeing ones own value through
others may be more important to the self-concept of women, whereas dominance and positive indi-
viduation may be more central to mens self-concept (Block & Robins, 1993; Joseph, Markus, &
Tafarodi, 1992). For example, Rosenbergs self-esteemscale measures intrinsic emotion of self-liking,
while several items of the LOT-Roptimismscale are more about relations to others. To illustrate, the
itemOverall, I expect more good things to happen to me than bad does not necessarily propose that
I think I will be responsible for the good things that will happen to me. Positive outcomes could also
be attributed to the actions of other people. In addition, one possible explanation could be that men
and women handle stressful situations dierently from a psychological point of view; men act and do
something concrete, while women concentrate on their feelings which predisposes them to depression
and psychological symptoms (Seligman, 1991). Consequently, in depressing situations, optimism
functions as a resource for women which buers against strain, and deserves further exploration.
Consequently, in general, work is a more important source of self-esteem for men than for women.
At least two methodological limitations concerning our study must be acknowledged. In this
study, self-esteem and optimism were measured by global, context-free measures. Pierce et al.
(1993) pointed out that self-esteem measures should be framed in the same context as the other
measures used in the study. A more specic measure (i.e. organization-based self-esteem, situa-
tional optimism) would be more appropriate in studying personality characteristics in occupa-
tional settings. An organization-based self-esteem measure might reveal a stronger link between
self-esteem and occupational well-being. In addition, exploitation of all three dimensions of
burnout, instead of using only emotional exhaustion would have produced a more holistic picture
about personality and occupational well-being.
552 A. Makikangas, U. Kinnunen / Personality and Individual Dierences 35 (2003) 537557
The second limitation concerns the susceptibility of personality measures to socially desirable
responses, causing scores to be skewed towards high self-esteem and optimism. Particularly in
this study response bias is possible because the optimism measure used did not include those four
ller items recommended by Scheier et al. (1994) (see also Harju & Bolen, 1998). Also, individuals
who are pessimistic and have low self-esteem may be unable to admit to themselves or to others
that they feel unworthy and incompetent. However, the majority of personality measures are still
self-reports and it is dicult to obtain non-self-report measures of such personal constructs as
self-esteem and optimism. One possibility would be the use of more idiosyncratic measures
(Rentsch & Hener, 1992).
In addition, these moderator ndings must be considered in the light of statistical issues.
Although there were signicant interactions between personality characteristics and psychosocial
work stressors on well-being, these eects were quite small and explained only 25% of the var-
iance in the well-being indicators after controlling for the main eects as well as the dependent
variables own eects at Time 1. However, both McClelland and Judd (1993) and Parkes (1994)
have noted that moderator eects are dicult to detect and that even 1% contribution of the
total variance should be taken into account. In this study, the moderator eects were especially
dicult to detect, because of the high explanation proportion of main eects. Due to this fact,
these results should be considered particularly noteworthy.
Based on the evidence from the present study it is tempting to conclude that optimism and high
self-esteem are always to be desired over pessimism and low self-esteem. Although it has been
argued that optimism can be learned (e.g. Seligman, 1991). We must consider the fact that certain
personality characteristics do not exist in a vacuum. Instead, they are integrated into personality
and related to a variety of other personality traits, temperament and past experiences as Norem
and Chang (2001) stated. Self-esteem and optimism reect only two dimensions of personality and
in the future we need to adopt a more holistic personality framework when studying its link to
occupational well-being (Seibert & Kreimer, 2001). It is also important to pay attention to gender
dierences in occupational studies. As Sherman and Walls (1995) noted, gender is not just an
important variable, but it can in fact be the most critical variable. In this study, we did not examine
coping-strategies which could be an important link in the relationship between personality and
occupational well-being.
From a practical point of view, this study highlights that stress interventions should be attrib-
uted to individual and work-related factors. Optimism and self-esteem should not be thought of
as intrinsic values because they do not make people happy or social as such. They should, how-
ever, be seen as important resources because they inuence what choices an individual makes and
what instruments are used to cope in dierent kinds of situations. Employers should be aware
that good social relationships are an important resource in the workplace, especially to those
employees who have low personal resources. It appears that good social interaction in the work-
place not only provides support to lower self-esteem and pessimistic individuals, but also miti-
gates the eects of job strain. These results also suggest that dependent on dierent personality
characteristics, individuals may benet from dierent job tasks. For example, low self-esteem
individuals may benet from teamwork, and high self-esteem and optimistic employees could
manage well in tasks which require independence and decision-making. In addition, proper
vocational training and well-timed feedback could be ways to increase personal accomplishment
and consequently improve self-esteem.
A. Makikangas, U. Kinnunen / Personality and Individual Dierences 35 (2003) 537557 553
Acknowledgements
The research project Economic crisis, Job insecurity and the Household (grant no. 62056)
was nancially supported by the Academy of Finland.
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