Occupational Health Science

, Volume 3, Issue 3, pp 205–238 | Cite as

Stress as Offense to Self: a Promising Approach Comes of Age

  • Norbert K. SemmerEmail author
  • Franziska Tschan
  • Nicola Jacobshagen
  • Terry A. Beehr
  • Achim Elfering
  • Wolfgang Kälin
  • Laurenz L. Meier
Review Article


Stress is related to goals being thwarted. Arguably, protecting one’s self, both in terms of personal self-esteem and in terms of social self-esteem, is among the most prominent goals people pursue. Although this line of thought is hardly disputed, it does not play the prominent role in occupational health psychology that we think it deserves. Stress-as-Offense-to-Self theory focuses on threats and boosts to the self as important aspects of stressful, and resourceful, experiences at work. Within this framework we have developed the new concepts of illegitimate tasks and illegitimate stressors; we have investigated appreciation as a construct in its own right, rather than as part of larger constructs such as social support; and we propose that the threshold for noticing implications for the self in one’s surroundings typically is low, implying that even subtle negative cues are likely to be appraised as offending, as exemplified by the concept of subtly offending feedback. Updating the first publication of the SOS concept, the current paper presents its theoretical rationale as well as research conducted so far. Research has covered a variety of phenomena, but the emphasis has been (a) on illegitimate tasks, which now can be considered as an established stressor, and (b) on appreciation, showing its importance in general and as a core element of social support. Furthermore, we discuss implications for further research as well as practical implications of an approach that is organized around threats and boosts to the self, thus complementing approaches that are organized around specific conditions or behaviors.


Self-esteem Offense to self Illegitimate tasks, illegitimate stressors, appreciation, subtle offense Boosts to the self 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

On behalf of all authors, the first author declares that there are no conflicts of interest.


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of BernBernSwitzerland
  2. 2.Institut de Psychologie du Travail et des OrganisationsUniversity of NeuchâtelNeuchâtelSwitzerland
  3. 3.Central Michigan UniversityMount PleasantUSA

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