CHAPTER 6Individual Differences, Work Stress and Health

Norbert K. Semmer and Laurenz L. Meier

University of Bern, Switzerland


Despite many problems of individual studies, links between work stress and strain (i.e. physical and psychological health) are now quite well established (Sonnentag & Frese, 2003). With about 10% variance explained, the relationships found are typically not very strong, which is unsurprising, given the complex etiology of stress symptoms (Semmer, Zapf & Greif, 1996).

There can be no doubt that associations between stressors and strain do not hold for everyone in the same way (Spector, 2003). However, in current stress research there is a tendency to emphasize individual differences to the point where stress is being reduced to nothing but idiosyncratic appraisals and coping styles, rendering such concepts as ‘environmentally induced stress’ useless, as Lazarus and Folkman (1986, p. 75) asserted. This view tends to equate ‘interpretation’ with ‘confined to the individual’, and ‘environment’ with ‘physical environment’, and to neglect that the social environment is a powerful reality, where people in the same culture share ‘rules of appraisal’ (Averill, 1986) and ways of dealing with the world (Semmer, McGrath & Beehr, 2005; cf. Kahn & Byosiere, 1992). Thus, it should be kept in mind that not all individual differences found are only differences between individuals, but often differences between the (sub-) cultures they belong to.

This ...

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