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Are Challenges Hindering Us? The Limitations of Models that Categorise Work Stressors

Special issue call for papers from Journal of Managerial Psychology

Are Challenges Hindering Us? The Limitations of Models That Categorise Work Stressors


Guest Editors:

Ben Searle, Macquarie University

Paula Brough, Griffith University

Michelle Tuckey, University of South Australia



This Special Issue examines the categorisation of work stressors; for example, whether stressors are considered “challenges” or “hindrances”. Work stressors were originally seen as similar only insofar as they were likely to provoke stress responses; otherwise, they were seen as distinct in their qualities, mechanisms and effects (Warr, 1987). Following the classifications of challenge stressors (e.g. time pressure and outcome responsibility; Cavanaugh, Boswell, Roehling, & Boudreau, 2000) and hindrance stressors (e.g. bureaucratic obstacles and task ambiguity), a large body of research has indicated a consistent pattern of effects differentiating these two types (Podsakoff, LePine, & LePine, 2007). The model has clear implications both theoretical (e.g., that the effects of each type occurs via a different mechanism) and practical (e.g., that employee wellbeing can and should be facilitated by increasing challenges and reducing hindrances). The model is easy to explain, intuitively appealing, and well-supported by research evidence.
Nevertheless, categorising stressors into a few simple “types” is an approach that has limitations. For example, although many studies show challenge stressors to have more positive effects relative to hindrance stressors, evidence is less clear regarding whether high levels of challenge stressors, on their own, yield meaningful benefits (e.g. Clarke, 2012). In some contexts, the benefits of challenge stressors may be outweighed by their costs.
Others have raised questions about whether a priori classification of stressors can be justified at all (e.g., Searle & Auton, 2015; Staufenbiel, & König, 2010). Different stressors within a single category have been seen to operate via different mechanisms, or follow different patterns of effect (e.g. linear vs curvilinear). The beneficial effects of demands categorised as “challenges” have been seen to emerge only if those stressors trigger a certain pattern of stress appraisals (e.g., Prem et al., 2018; Webster, Beehr, & Love, 2011), emotional responses (e.g. Rodell & Judge, 2009; Wood & Michaelides, 2016), or other processes. Alternatively, the anticipated effects of challenge and hindrance stressors may more or less apparent depending upon certain boundary conditions, such as individual or contextual moderators (e.g., Bakker & Sanz-Vergel, 2013; Tadić, Bakker, & Oerlemans, 2015;  Zhou, Yan, Che, & Meier, 2015). Given that many challenge stressors have the potential to be experienced as hindrances, does it still make sense to talk about “challenge stressors”?

This Special Issue will explore the limitations of theoretical models that utilise broad categories of work stressors. Submission is invited on (but not limited to) such topics as:
•    Comparisons between different approaches to categorising work stressors. For example, what are the merits and limitations of challenges/hindrances relative to the Demand Induced Strain Compensation model’s categories of cognitive/emotional/physical (de Jonge & Dormann, 2006)? What represents a theoretically justifiable basis for categorising characteristics of work?
•    Mechanisms underlying the effects of stressor categories. To what extent can the effects attributed to stressor categories be said to be due to cognitive, emotional, or behavioural processes, including but not limited to stress appraisal, affective states, energy depletion, learning/growth, or coping responses? Does an understanding of such process enhance our understanding of stressor categories, or does it undermine the use of categorical models?
•    Moderators of the effects of stressor categories. Under what conditions do stressor categories no longer have their expected effects? What are the characteristics of individuals, teams, occupations, organisations, or even societies and cultures, that influence whether, for example, challenge stressors appear to have positive effects? What do such moderation effects tell us about the way we have conceptualised these stressor categories?
•    Methods of measurement and analysis, and their implications for stressor categories. Do some forms of measurement or analysis accentuate or diminish the size of differences between different stressor categories? This topic includes analysis of non-linear effects, whereby effects of stressor categories, independently or interactively, appear (e.g. Long, Li, & Ning, 2015) or disappear when curvilinear effects are modelled. What do such findings tell us about the assumptions underlying our conceptualisation of stressor categories?
•    Ontology of stressor categorisation. Is categorisation of work characteristics unavoidable when attempting to research the complexities of working life? To what extent can categories be abandoned? What are the advantages and disadvantages of categorising stressors into a dichotomy such as challenges vs hindrances, compared to the use of systems with more categories (the challenge/hindrance/threat model of Tuckey et al., 2015)?
We encourage in particular the submission of robust empirical studies (e.g. longitudinal studies with large samples and valid measures) that contradict, extend, or otherwise broaden our current understanding of stressor categories. Theory/review papers are also welcome, provided they make appropriate use of empirical research published in this domain.

Submission Information

Deadline for submissions in November 30 2019. To submit your manuscript, please use the ScholarOne manuscript submission system 

Follow the author guidelines which are found here.



Bakker, A. B. & Sanz-Vergel, A. I. (2013). Weekly work engagement and flourishing: The role of hindrance and challenge job demands. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 83, 397-409.
Cavanaugh, M. A., Boswell, W. R., Roehling, M. V., & Boudreau, J. W. (2000). An empirical examination of self-reported work stress among US managers. Journal of Applied Psychology, 85, 65-74.
Clarke, S. (2012). The effect of challenge and hindrance stressors on safety behavior and safety outcomes: A meta-analysis. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 17, 387-397.
de Jonge, J., & Dormann, C. (2006). Stressors, resources, and strain at work: A longitudinal test of the Triple-Match principle. Journal of Applied Psychology, 91, 1359-1374.
Long, C., Li, Z., & Ning, Z. (2015). Exploring the nonlinear relationship between challenge stressors and employee voice: The effects of leader–member exchange and organisation-based self-esteem. Personality and Individual Differences, 83, 24-30.
Prem, R., Scheel, T. E., Weigelt, O., Hoffmann, K., & Korunka, C. (2018). Procrastination in daily working life: A diary study on within-person processes that link work characteristics to workplace procrastination. Frontiers in Psychology, 9, 1087-1097.
Podsakoff, N. P., LePine, J. A., & LePine, M. A. (2007). Differential challenge stressor-hindrance stressor relationships with job attitudes, turnover intentions, turnover, and withdrawal behavior: a meta-analysis. The Journal of Applied Psychology, 92, 438-454.
Searle, B. J., & Auton, J. C. (2015). The merits of measuring challenge and hindrance appraisals. Anxiety, Stress, and Coping, 28, 121-143.
Staufenbiel, T., & König, C. J. (2010). A model for the effects of job insecurity on performance, turnover intention, and absenteeism. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 83, 101-117.
Tuckey, M. R., Searle, B., Boyd, C. M., Winefield, A. H., & Winefield, H. R. (2015). Hindrances are not threats: Advancing the multidimensionality of work stress. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 20, 131.
Tadić, M., Bakker, A. B., & Oerlemans, W. G. (2015). Challenge versus hindrance job demands and well‐being: A diary study on the moderating role of job resources. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 88, 702-725.
Warr, P. (1987). Work, Unemployment, and Mental Health. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Wood, S. J., & Michaelides, G. (2016). Challenge and hindrance stressors and wellbeing-based work–nonwork interference: A diary study of portfolio workers. Human Relations, 69, 111-138.
Zhou, Z. E., Yan, Y., Che, X. X., & Meier, L. L. (2015). Effect of workplace incivility on end-of-work negative affect: examining individual and organizational moderators in a daily diary study. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 20, 117-130.