Effects of expressive writing about workplace events on satisfaction, stress, and well-being.

Author:Sadovnik, Amparo

    Multiple studies support the idea that expressive writing (EW) interventions, where participants are asked to write about difficult or distressing experience(s), can be used as successful tools to improve on a variety of criteria (Lyubomirsky, Sousa & Dickerhoof, 2006; Pennebaker, Kiecolt-Glaser, & Glaser, 1988). Given that most of the research on this technique has taken place in laboratory, clinical, and medical settings (Broderick, Junghaenel, & Schwartz, 2005; Emmerik, Kamphuis, & Emmelkamp, 2008; Kallay & Baban, 2008; Pennebaker, Kiecolt-Glaser, & Glaser, 1988; Smyth, Stone, Hurewitz, & Kaell, 1999), and applications to other areas such as work settings remains limited. Recent research in the workplace setting indicates it is not uncommon for individuals to encounter acts of verbal, and sometimes even physical, aggression and hostility from their peers and supervisors (Barlin, Dupre, & Kelloway, 2009; Keashly, Trott, & MacLean, 1994). Studies also indicate that individuals who are exposed to aggression, incivility, and hostility at work are more likely to experience decreased job satisfaction (Bandow, & Hunter, 2007; Lapierre, Spector, & Leck, 2005), and that workplace mistreatment (e.g., including but not limited to abuse from supervisors or co-workers), as well as excessive job demands and stress are related to diminished well-being (Penhaligon, Louis, & Restubog, 2009; Dupre & Barling, 2006; Holman, 2002). Therefore, taking expressive writing interventions from a laboratory setting to the work place may help individuals deal with workplace problems including stress and hostility, and perhaps improve their work satisfaction as well as their perceived well-being.


    Research conducted by Barclay and Skarlicki (2009) indicates that even though many individuals experience organizational injustice, they have limited outlets to express their feelings and thoughts about their experiences. Barclay and Skarlicki's research also indicates that by helping employees express their emotions in conjunction with their thoughts about the situation, they are more likely to experience an improved perception of their well-being. The use of writing interventions could in fact serve as an innovative tool to help organizations and employment counselors provide employees with an instrument to deal with and attempt to make sense out of the negative experiences encountered by them in their work setting. However, additional research involving workplace issues is needed in order to determine whether expressive writing interventions such as free-writing, journaling, or letter writing are in fact beneficial to work attitudes and experiences. This study will evaluate whether variations of EW interventions (i.e., letter writing versus multiple session writing) are effective, and extend research on EW to work-related variables including job satisfaction, perceived well-being, and stress.

    EW is a set of techniques where participants are asked to articulate in writing their feelings, thoughts, and ideas about a situation, person, or events in their lives that may be causing them distress. In some EW studies (e.g., Manier and Olivares, 2005) participants are asked to write for three to five consecutive days for a predetermined amount of time (approximately 15 to 30 minutes) about a personal event or situation. Often participants are asked to focus on thoughts or feelings associated with the challenging experience. In addition to the classical, multi-session, timed version of EW, there is also literature that supports that writing a letter directed to a specific person or situation that may have caused the individual's distress may be as beneficial and more economical (Mosher & Danoff-Burg, 2006) than the classical intervention. Writing about the distressing situation or writing a letter to the potential aggressor (co-worker, boss) may allow participants to restore balance and experience less negative behaviors against those who have mistreated them, which may also result in a decrease of displaced aggression and deviant behavior. The purpose of this study is to compare the effectiveness of traditional multi-session EW to a one-time letter writing intervention to assess if this less time consuming intervention has the same effectiveness on measures of workplace variables including stress and job satisfaction. If both techniques are equally effective, it would be safe to assume that expressive letter writing may be more economical and easier to implement in an organizational or workplace setting.

    2.1 Benefits of Expressive Writing

    Researchers have demonstrated the effectiveness of EW on a variety of criteria. Among these are measures of general psychological well-being and general feelings associated with healthiness (Pennebaker, Kiecolt-Glaser, and Glaser 1988; Mosher and Danoff-Burg (2006), reduced feelings of depression (Kallay & Baban, 2008), decreased physical symptoms of disease (e.g., rheumatoid arthritis Smyth, Stone, Hurewitz, and Kaell, 1999; fibromyalgia, Broderick, Junghaenel, and Schwartz, 2005), decreased anxiety (Barrett and Wolfer, 2001; Margola, Facchin, Molgora, and Revenson, 2010), better adjustment in adult caregivers (Mackenzie, Wiprzycka, Hasher, & Goldstein, 2008), effectiveness of smoking cessation interventions (Ames et al., 2007), decreased symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (Lowe, 2006), coping with job loss (Soper and Von Bergen, 2001). Despite the vast literature on EW, research in the area of EW in a workplace setting and in relation...

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