No matter how much we love our job, stress can play a big part in many facets of our daily work-lives; from how well we perform in tasks, our interactions with other employees to our longevity within the organisation. In this way, stress is not always a negative feeling; overcoming a stressful proposal or client meeting at work can (for some people) be why we love our jobs. However, too much stress, or a tendency to react to stress in an inappropriate way can have far reaching negative impacts on mental, physical and emotional health long after the work day has ended.
Dealing With Stress
Wait, I can hear yourself asking, don’t we all react to the same stressful situations in the same way? The organisational psychology community has been investigating how we interpret, or appraise, stressful situations (stressors) for over 30 years and the most prominent and longstanding theory groups our appraisals to individual stressors into 2 different types- challenge appraisals and threat appraisals. Challenge appraisals are situations in which individuals feels that the stressor is an opportunity to prove themselves, gain skills or better their personal situation with money or status, while threat appraisals are perceiving a situation to have the potential to cause personal harm or loss.
In the workplace this is paramount to how well the business operates with threat appraisals limiting the ability for employees to complete their daily work requirements effectively and at a consistent standard over longer periods of time. Especially in this day and age, where the requirements to be ‘always on’ meaning that the ability for someone to sit at their desk and engage completely in their work without interruptions like meetings, emails and phone calls getting in the way.
A recent study by researchers at Macquarie University looked into how a group of participants appraised two of the biggest pain points in modern work- meeting time demands and interruptions and how easily team proficiency affected the prevalence of these threat or challenge appraisals. It was found that as team member proficiency increased the likelihood of a threat appraisal for both meeting time demands and interruptions decreased.
Out of this study there were other interesting variables that produced significant results, with team proactivity having a positive effect on challenge appraisals of meeting time demands and interruptions. Participants were followed over a 4-day period using an online survey completed daily and it should be noted however, that the entire sample size for the study was 309 participants which may have effected the results. Remember that in scientific study nothing is conclusive so these results will need to be repeated and verified by other groups.
So what does this mean for my business?
The results of this study mean that the Learning and Development of your employees is now even more important than ever, with improving team proficiency at the tasks required in their job roles through training exercises, thereby equipping your employees with the ability to get work done in a more efficient manner and be less likely to have a threat response to any interruptions or meeting time demands in the future.
An extension of training your employees in job related proficiency, education in stress management styles may also assist in lowering the likelihood of threat appraisals of future stressors by promoting recognition of automatic appraisals and allowing an internal cognitive analysis of stress response.
There are also other initiatives that can be undertaken within an organisation to help boost team proactivity such as eliminating job role confusion. NSW Workcover states that job confusion is a major stressor present in modern organisations, by focusing on role conflict and making sure that all employees understand what is required from them in their job you allow them the ability to be proactive in the way they go about working.