When the Unimaginable Happens: A Retrospective Examination of the Impact of Employees’ Individual Characteristics on Cognitive Appraisal, Coping Strategies, and Well-Being Following Disasters
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Despite greater preparation efforts and improved disaster detection methods, we lack the ability to completely control or eliminate the occurrence and consequences of disasters. In New York alone, following Hurricane Sandy, approximately 245,000 employees (from over 23,000 businesses) were affected by the disaster. The known physical and psychological impact of disasters on people makes it critical we investigate how employees respond to disasters. Using the transactional stress theory as a foundation, I proposed and then empirically tested a theoretical model of the stressor-strain process for employees involved in disaster events. Specifically, I investigated how three individual characteristics—vulnerability, resiliency, and job classification (first responder or non-first responder)— relate to the cognitive appraisal process, subsequent coping strategy engagement, and well-being of employees. An online survey was administered, using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, and completed by 534 employees across the United States. The results illustrate that individual characteristics are most predictive when the type of individual characteristic and type of cognitive appraisal are in alignment. Additionally, in line with the goodness of fit hypothesis, both primary cognitive appraisals (threat and challenge) were predictive of their respective coping strategy. However, the relationship between secondary cognitive appraisal (controllable-by-self, controllable-by-others, and uncontrollable) and coping strategies did not always support the goodness of fit hypothesis. Contrary to predictions, the results also indicated that coping was not related to favorable well-being, and that perceptions of organizational support did not generally serve as a buffer.
Lomeli, Laura Christina (2015). When the Unimaginable Happens: A Retrospective Examination of the Impact of Employees’ Individual Characteristics on Cognitive Appraisal, Coping Strategies, and Well-Being Following Disasters. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A & M University. Available electronically from