Understanding Stress as a Form of Institutional Maintenance and Disruption Work

  • Penny DickEmail author


Mainstream approaches to organisational or occupational stress tend to treat this phenomenon as a relatively unproblematic psychological or physiological reaction to (perceived) adverse working conditions. Yet there is a small though very underdeveloped stream of literature that has argued that the experience of stress cannot be disentangled from cultural processes in organisations that operate to define how professionals should behave and who they are. This stream has focused on analysing how the experience of stress is influenced by professional ideologies (Meyerson 1994; Dick 2000; Harkness et al. 2005). Meyerson (1994), for example, illustrates that medical ideologies in hospitals influence how individuals interpret their emotional reactions to their work as either legitimate or abnormal, thus exerting a regulatory effect. Such effects, I suggest, are discernible because professional ideologies are constitutive of professional identities, the array of attributes and characteristics that together provide individuals with a sense not only of who they are but who they should be (Fournier 1999). Thus, when professional ideologies influence how individuals think of themselves and in turn what they do and how they act, as appears to be the case in terms of their influence on stress, we can think about the relationship between stress and professional identity as illustrating a form of institutional work, defined by Lawrence and Suddaby (2006: 119) as “the practices of individual and collective actors aimed at creating, maintaining, and disrupting institutions”.


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© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Work PsychologySheffield University Management SchoolSheffieldUK

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