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Painting a Picture: The Importance of Subjective Measures

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Measurement of stress in occupational health settings can be grouped into two general measurement methodologies, objective and subjective measures. Perrewe and Zellars (1999) argued subjective measures are more valuable than objective measures, while Frese and Zapf (1999), and Schaubroeck (1999) provided opposing insights, stating that it is unrealistic, time-consuming and costly to account for subjective responses which can be generally covered by objective measurement. I would consider the following, subjective and objective methodology are both important measures which are complementary of one another and thus should not be considered in separate vacuums (Frese & Zapf, 1999). Subjective measures, however, provide context and a narrative which objective measures on their own, only have little to no means of interpretation. I will argue that subjective methodology provides a context in which to understand the raw data and to develop new theories, but that subjective and objective measures are intended to be complementary of one another, with an emphasis on subjectivity measures providing insightful, practical information for which Industrial-Organisational psychologists can implement interventions on. Transactional Model Lazarus (1968) created a model based on the idea that stress was not strictly related to a person, or to their environment but occurs when there is a transaction between a particular environmental setting or situation, and a person.

I would interpret this idea as stress being the outcome between an objective variable, the environment, and an individual’s perception of that environment. Perrewe and Zellars (1999) did not dismiss the importance of objective measures when assessing workplace stress but that subjectivity measures that involve appraisals of the situation and the personal perception of the stressor were the crucial components in determining an appropriate coping strategy to manage the stressor. Workspaces are evolving As workspaces evolve and become more open planned with hot-desking policies and the breakdown of cubicles, and the promotion of an agile work environment, I suggest that taking into account employees perspectives on such changes would be valuable to their organisation, in terms of ensuring that the change is, indeed beneficial to those who work there. There has been an increasing adoption of agile working, in both increasing the type of workplace settings, to the increase in mobile workspaces and opportunities for employees (Keeling, Clements-Croome & Roesch, 2015). Agile workspaces are a current craze with studies arguing that the work environment promotes productivity and well-being of employees however, Keeling and colleagues (2015) also found, through measuring perceptions of satisfaction, privacy and workplace crowding of employees, found that also agile workspaces led to improved information control; as well as employees who worked on a more mobile basis actually showed a greater preference for privacy, than employees who were office-bound. Measurement of employee’s perceptions of such changes, allows data collection to move beyond the straightforward measurement of office space density, to looking for an understanding of office density impacts employees. Surveys implemented by Jegen and Chevret (2017) noted the lack of privacy and the increase in the level of ambient noise were considered to be the main sources of discomfort in open-plan offices. If a company wants to do what is best for their employees, I would argue that it is sensible to consider the opinions of those who work for the company, rather than cold, empirical statistics on productivity or employee turnover, which may or may not suit their organisations work values.

Subjectivity is complex Schaubroeck (1999) inferred that subject measures were too complex, and overemphasised specific transitory states or particular events, and therefore, objective data was economically best for longitudinal research. However, this assumes there is a global universality of what people consider to be stressors; but how do you measure for discrimination within a workplace? Perceptions of employees who belong to minority groups could provide valuable insight into work experience and culture which might be overlooked when focusing on the overall picture. Should we even be objectively measuring experiences of discrimination? I believe the complexity of subjective measures is what makes it valuable. we spend a good portion of our lives at work and therefore, want to work in an environment and for a company that values us as humans, who have emotions, and are unique in how we navigate our environment. Daldy, Bridget, Poot, Jacques and Roskruge (2013) investigated self-reported discrimination in the workplace using data gathered from interviews with New Zealanders, which without measuring perception of discrimination, would have prevented valuable information regarding workplace discrimination at the micro level, which cannot be uncovered using objective data alone.


Without subjective measures, personal opinions and experiences are lost, and objective data lacks a story to bring the information to life. I argue that both subjective and objective measurement methods provide unique perspectives and contributions to I-O research, and highlights that for research to produce a whole picture, both are required. However, for progress to be made, to be able to learn from past mistakes, or to be able to provide. Objectivity provides a template, which is coloured in by subjective measures.

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