Preventing stress is no strain for behavioral expert

Exploring the concept of preventive stress management caught James Campbell Quick’s attention as a graduate student at the University of Houston. But it was a question from his brother, a public health physician, that became the catalyst for his research.

“Jonathan asked me if I would like to become rich and famous by taking the notion of preventive health to the organization level,” says Dr. Quick, who’s now a John and Judy Goolsby Distinguished Professor and a professor of organizational behavior at The University of Texas at Arlington.  “I asked him, ‘How about settling for one of the two?’ ”

Thus began the brothers’ collaboration on preventive stress management in organizations. Their most important contribution may be the idea of preventive emotional and mental health in the context of organizational stress management. The concept has been taught in private, military and government organizations.

Quick describes the stress process model in his book Stress and Strain as beginning with “a stressor such as pressure, conflict or trauma” and ending “with one or more manifestations of medical, behavioral or psychological strain.”

He and co-author Cary L. Cooper note that in the United States and developed countries, “the 10 leading causes of death account for about 80 percent of all deaths. Stress is implicated in four causes (heart disease, strokes, injuries and suicide/homicide) and indirectly implicated in another three (cancer, chronic liver disease and emphysema/chronic bronchitis).”

Quick’s research shows that stress-related problems play a role in more than half of all human deaths. Further research led him to address stress factors and emotional health in the workplace.

In his most recent book, The Financial Guide to Executive Health, Quick and his co-authors provide information to help managers and executives build on their strengths and “develop strategies to combat the weakness.”

The book states that “the health of executives around the world is at risk as a result of two opposing forces placing them in a vice-grip”—competitive pressure and job insecurity.

Quick and his colleagues emphasize the importance of balance between love and work, which derives from Freud’s answer to what constitutes a healthy, happy life. Research conducted by Quick proved that the most consistently successful people have one common factor: strong social connections and support.

He conducted much of his research with senior executives, both men and women, and in the military.  As an Air Force officer, he used his expertise to smooth the transition at Kelly Air Force Base when former President Clinton closed the San Antonio Air Logistics Center.

“I proposed to Commanding General James Childress that he open a position for a psychologist on his senior staff to help the displaced personnel,” Quick said. “Childress saw the need and sent me to Washington, D.C., to find the right person for the job.”

As a result, Quick said, the base personnel didn’t experience any suicides or life-threatening situations following the stress of shutting down the Air Force’s largest depot.

Quick credits his maternal grandfather—a man he describes as ahead of his time in understanding the importance of psycho-analysis to a healthy life—for his success in preventive mental health research. Quick defines psychoanalysis as “the process of exploring the depth and range of the human soul.” He said the term comes from the original German words and that their true meaning has been lost in translation.

Quick’s discoveries concerning preventive emotional health have helped organizations throughout the world build healthier work environments.

— Kim Pewitt-Jones