1. Study suggests talking about the highs and lows of job hunting can aid a job search

    December 11, 2017 by Ashley

    From the American University press release:

    If you’re a job seeker driving your friends and family crazy with job search conversations, a new study finds you’re doing something right. New research co-authored by Serge da Motta Veiga, an assistant professor of management in the American University Kogod School of Business, found that people who talk about their job search with family and friends were more likely to stick to it.

    “Should we talk? Co-rumination and conversation avoidance in job search,” co-authored with Missouri State professors Dana L. Haggard and Melody W. LaPreze, and published in Career Development International, surveyed 196 graduating students preparing to enter the labor market. The researchers found that job seekers who engaged in repeated and excessive talk about job search issues with friends and family were more likely to engage in job search activities including revising resumes, applying for jobs and seeking job leads from their network.

    Survey participants who avoided talking about their job searches were more likely to procrastinate.

    “Our findings suggest that some positive behaviors might result from an increased amount of sharing and talking about one’s job search,” the researchers write. “It might be that any sense of urgency created by the repetitive discussions is overridden by the focus on understanding all about the job search and, as a result, potentially generating new ideas about the types of job search activities to be executed.”

    For da Motta Veiga, the findings illustrate that talking about a job search with close friends and family has a way of keeping the job seeker accountable.

    “It is important to understand that searching for a job, albeit an individual process, can benefit from some level of experience sharing with one another,” he said. “Indeed, simply talking about one’s job search experiences seems to help maintain a level of intensity in job search activities.”

    He also recommends career counselors take notice of the study to help job seekers reach career goals.

    “Career centers, at universities and elsewhere, could put together some job search mentoring or peer group programs to help job seekers navigate the ups and downs that come with the territory of searching for a job.”


  2. Study suggests employee-job personality match linked with higher income

    by Ashley

    From the Association for Psychological Science press release:

    coworker, managerAn employee whose personality traits closely match the traits that are ideal for her job is likely to earn more than an employee whose traits are less aligned, according to new research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

    “Our findings show that looking at the combination of personality traits and job demands is key to predict important outcomes, like income,” says lead researcher Jaap J. A. Denissen of Tilburg University. “This updates the notion that you only have to look at the personality traits of an individual to predict his or her life outcomes. Our results indicate that it’s more complex: You also have to take that person’s environment into account.”

    Findings from previous research have indicated that some personality traits are generally beneficial when it comes to a work environment. Being highly conscientious, Denissen notes, is associated with being hard-working, well-organized, and rule-abiding, qualities that are typically prized in employees.

    But Denissen and coauthors questioned the notion that there is an “ideal” personality type. They hypothesized that the match, or mismatch, between an individual’s traits and job demands might be critical when it comes to important outcomes like income.

    The researchers developed a novel strategy for directly comparing the fit between a given employee and a given job, using the well-established Big Five personality traits to quantify the traits that a job requires.

    Analyzing data from the nationally representative German Socio-Economic panel, the researchers examined personality profiles, annual income, and jobs of 8,458 individuals living in Germany. Due to the fact that men were more likely than women to be employed full-time in Germany at the time of the data collection, the sample was 68% male and 32% female, with a mean age of 43.7 years old.

    Each individual in the sample completed a brief version of the Big Five inventory in German, rating the degree to which they thought 15 personality-related statements applied to them (e.g., “I see myself as someone who has an active imagination” for openness to experience.

    Participants’ jobs were classified using the International Labour Organization’s International Standard Classification of Occupations. Two psychologists with extensive expertise in occupational issues (but who were unaware of the researchers’ hypotheses) then assessed each job for its ideal levels of Big Five traits. They determined, for example, that a bookkeeper required the lowest level of extraversion, whereas an actor or director required the highest level.

    The researchers used a statistical technique called response surface analysis to create a 3D model that identified how each employee’s personality traits and the ideal personality traits for each job contributed to employee income.

    The results showed that fit really does matter, at least when it comes to extraversion, agreeableness, and openness to experience. For these three traits, greater congruence between an employee’s own personality and a job’s demands was linked with higher income — what the researchers call a “fit bonus.”

    Importantly, the data also revealed that it’s possible to have too much of a good thing: Employees who were more agreeable, more conscientious, or more open to experiences than their jobs required actually earned less than people who had congruent levels of those traits.

    The model showed that, in some cases, having too little of a given trait was actually less costly than having too much:

    “Personality characteristics that have long been thought of as universally adaptive were not very beneficial or even detrimental, given particular job characteristics,” says Denissen. “For example, highly conscientious individuals whose jobs did not demand such levels actually had lower earnings than individuals who were low in conscientiousness and had jobs that demanded high levels.”

    The researchers note that additional studies will be required to understand how individual job experiences, job satisfaction, and job performance might sway the association between individual-job personality fit and income. The results of the current study do suggest that achieving the right fit requires a more nuanced approach to assessing both individual traits and job-related traits than previously thought. Paying attention to these nuances could have important implications for both employees and employers.

    “From a practical perspective, companies should be interested in these results because they imply that it’s really important to invest in solid personality assessment,” Denissen explains. “And individuals should care because our findings suggest that if they manage to find jobs that fit their personalities, they can earn more money.”


  3. Study suggests humility from the boss may encourage employee activity

    December 7, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Ohio State University press release:

    It’s good to be humble when you’re the boss — as long as that’s what your employees expect.

    Researchers studying workplaces in China found that some real-life teams showed more creativity if the employees rated their bosses as showing more humility.

    “Whether leader humility is a good thing really depends on the team members’ expectations,” said Jia (Jasmine) Hu, lead author of the study and associate professor of management and human resources at The Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business.

    Humble leaders are most effective when team members expect a low degree of distance between the leaders and followers, Hu explained. When there is low power distance, employees share power with their boss in a collaborative way.

    But humility may be seen as a weakness when the power distance is high and employees expect their boss to be dominant, take charge and give strong direction, she said.

    “One practical implication for managers is that they need to understand what their team members expect and value from them,” Hu said.

    The study, conducted with colleagues at Ohio State, Portland State University, and Renmin University of China, was published online recently in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

    For the study, the researchers collected data on work teams and team leaders from 11 information and technology companies in a major city in northern China at three time points over six months. In all, the final study sample included 354 members from 72 teams.

    At the beginning of the study, team members rated their leaders’ humility on a six-item scale. Workers rated how much they agreed with statements like “Our team leader is open to the advice of others.”

    Humble leaders were those who gave employees a chance to speak up and have a voice in the decision-making process and who also acknowledged their own limitations,” Hu said.

    Power distance between team members and leaders was measured by asking workers how much they agreed with statements like “When a performance appraisal made by the supervisor does not fit with subordinates’ expectations, the employees should feel free to discuss it with the supervisor.” The more employees agreed with a statement like this, the lower the measured power distance assigned by the researchers.

    Three months later, team members rated how much they shared information with each other. And six months after the start of the study, team leaders rated how creative their teams were.

    Results showed that humble leaders promoted higher levels of creativity on their teams when team members had low power distance values.

    The reason appeared to be that these teams exchanged and shared more information with each other than did other teams.

    Leaders who scored higher on humility tended to facilitate information sharing between team members,” Hu said.

    “And when they shared more information with each other, they broadened the scope of team skills, more actively looked for novel solutions to problems, and were more creative.”

    While this study was done in China, Hu said the results should be applicable to the United States. Other research has shown that, both in the United States and China, there is a wide variation in what employees expect from their managers and what they think their relationship should be like.

    Other studies have also shown that levels of leader humility are similar in Chinese and U.S. samples.

    One lesson from these results should be that a business leader’s success is not dependent only on his or her attributes, she said.

    “It is not as easy as saying humility is always a good or a bad thing for leaders,” Hu explained.

    “We often ignore the contextual factors that explain the failure or success of leaders. Leadership is not just about how leaders behave, but also about their team members and what they want and expect.”

    Hu’s co-authors were Kaifeng Jiang, associate professor of management and human resources at Ohio State; Berrin Erdogan and Talya Bauer of Portland State; and Songbo Liu of Renmin University.


  4. Study looks at how office workers perceive sitting down all week

    December 6, 2017 by Ashley

    From the James Cook University press release:

    A James Cook University study has found nearly three quarters of office workers believe there is a negative relationship between sitting down all day at work and their health — and that bosses are crucial to helping solve the problem.

    PhD candidate Teneale McGuckin is a lecturer in Sport and Exercise Science at JCU. She surveyed 140 office workers on what they thought was the relationship between sitting time and health.

    “One hundred people said that more sitting time worsened their health. Back complaints were the most common worry, then neck aches and loss of muscle tone. People also talked about weight gain and that sitting down all day reduced their motivation.”

    Ms McGuckin said that science supported the view that sitting is bad for you.

    “Increased sitting time has been associated with an elevated risk of cardiovascular disease and reduced life expectancy. Links to weight gain, some cancers, type 2 diabetes, and breathing difficulties, have also been identified.”

    The office workers were also asked what they thought could be done about the problem and suggested a variety of behaviour change strategies.

    These included alarms or alerts to prompt standing, or computer software which freezes the computer for a selected period of time, standing in meetings or in the lunchroom, and standing desks.

    “But whatever the strategy used, the focus groups said it needed to include education on the benefits and it needed buy-in from management. People said the breaks have to be seen as a normal activity and there shouldn’t be criticism if they are away from their desks,” said Ms McGuckin.

    She said that it was plain a ‘one size fits all’ approach would be unlikely to succeed due to personal preferences.

    “Interventions have to include a variety of strategies that are individually tailored and in which the people involved have the opportunity for input. If people feel they have control of the situation in this way, the strategy is more likely to work.”

     


  5. Study suggests more needs to be done to ensure 24-hour working is not the new norm

    December 3, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Surrey press release:

    Employers should do more to ensure employees do not feel pressured into working outside of their contractual hours and offer more support regarding how they work flexibly, a new study in the International Journal of Management Reviews reports.

    During the comprehensive evidence-based review, led by the University of Surrey in collaboration with Birkbeck, University of London and the University of Exeter, researchers scrutinised 56 studies examining the use of technology during non-working hours. They found that a ‘one size fits all’ approach to the use of technology outside working hours, such as switching off email servers outside of office hours, is not conducive to the needs of every employee.

    Researchers identified a number of factors that contribute to people choosing to work outside of hours. The internet and improvements in ICT have made non-manual work increasingly portable and accessible, resulting in employees finding it far easier to work during non-contractual hours.

    It was found that many employees felt pressure from their organisation to be constantly available and to engage in work during non-work time, which was exacerbated when expectations about what was required was vague. A desire to prove dedication and ‘go the extra mile’ were also found to be reasons why people were working more than their contracted hours.

    An employee’s behaviour may in turn also shape what is expected and lead to additional out of hours working (e.g. a colleague who has been available at all times is expected to be available in the future).

    However, the researchers also found that increased access to technology and working outside of office hours is actually preferred by some employees, who felt it gives them greater flexibility and control over their workload, leading to increases in self-reported efficiency and performance. The study also found that employees appreciated the benefits of being able to monitor continuously the information flow and stay on top of their work.

    To overcome this disparity in how employees chose to work, researchers recommend that employers give individuals control over their working patterns and actively involve them in any decisions or policies about technology use so employees can reap the benefits of modern technologies without being enslaved by them.

    Lead author Svenja Schlachter from the University of Surrey said:

    “A failure to disconnect from work can negatively impact on a person’s wellbeing and health. Many individuals report feeling pressured into logging in after hours to complete work, a task that is becoming more commonplace with the advance of technology. However, the flip side of this is that some actually prefer the flexibility this offers.

    “Although employers implementing policies such as restricting accessibility to emails outside of office hours take a step in the right direction to ensure a good work/life balance for their workers, such regimented approaches to when you should and shouldn’t be working do not work for everyone. Employers need to work with their staff to understand their individual needs wherever possible. However, employees also need to take responsibility for their working behaviour, as it is ultimately up to them if they switch their phone off or not.”

    Dr Almuth McDowall, from Birkbeck, University of London said: “Our research stresses two facts. First, there is no blanket solution to how to maximise technology use for communication. Second, we need to put the issue on the table and spell out expectations about what is reasonable. Then agree on some boundaries whilst retaining flexibility.”

    Professor Ilke Inceoglu, from the University of Exeter Business School, said: “We have found the internet and new technology can give people flexibility in the way they work, and they feel this can make them more efficient and feel empowered. But other people feel enslaved by the constant need to check and reply to emails, and managers must lead by example to ensure their wellbeing is protected.”


  6. Study finds high-pressure expectations may lead to unethical behavior

    November 30, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Georgia press release:

    It can happen in the branch office or the boardroom. Volkswagen did it to pass emissions tests. Wells-Fargo did it to squeeze more profits from their customers. Some school districts have it done it to boost their standardized test scores. Workplace cheating is a real and troublesome phenomenon, and new research from the University of Georgia explains how it starts — and how employers can help prevent it.

    “It’s the desire for self-protection that primarily causes employees to cheat,” said Marie Mitchell, an associate professor of management in UGA’s Terry College of Business. “Employees want to look valuable and productive, especially if they think their job is at risk.”

    In a recently published paper in the Journal of Applied Psychology, Mitchell and her co-authors examined performance pressure in the workplace and the behaviors that result from it. They found when employees feel their job depends on meeting high benchmarks, some fudge results in order to stay employed.

    For example, when Wells Fargo employees were told to meet new goals that included opening sky-high numbers of new accounts, thousands began to open fraudulent accounts in order to meet their quotas. Wells Fargo was fined $185 million in 2016 and publicly scorned as a result. Similar scenarios can play out across all industries, Mitchell said.

    “We’ve seen it in finance, we’ve seen it with educators and test scores, we’ve seen it in sports, it’s everywhere,” she said. “Performance pressure elicits cheating when employees feel threatened. Even though there is the potential of getting a good payoff if they heighten their performance, there’s also significant awareness that if they don’t, their job is going to be at risk.”

    This is especially true when employees feel they cannot meet expectations any other way. That perception leads to anger, which in turn leads to unethical behavior, Mitchell said. This crucible of pressure and anger causes employees to focus on doing what is beneficial to them — even if it harms others.

    “Angry and self-serving employees turn to cheating to meet performance demands. It’s understandable,” Mitchell said. “There’s a cycle in which nothing is ever good enough today. Even if you set records last month, you may get told to break them again this month. People get angry about that, and their self-protective reflex is elicited almost subconsciously.”

    An expert on “dark side” behaviors and a former human resources manager, Mitchell has been interested in cheating phenomena since her graduate school days.

    “There were individuals in law school who would race to get to law journals before anyone else and tear out certain pages so that other students couldn’t be as prepared in class,” she said. “So I know cheating happens. I’ve seen it. But the research on this has taken place in behavioral labs, and that doesn’t always translate well to the workplace. I wanted to find out a bit more about what actually happens at work.”

    To do so, her research team devised three studies. The first created a measure of workplace cheating behavior through a nationwide survey that asked participants about cheating behavior at work — what it is and if they’d seen it. The second and third studies were time-separated field surveys in which employees were asked about their performance pressure at one point in time, then were asked about their feelings and perceptions of the pressure and their cheating behaviors about a month later.

    The findings led to a breakthrough. The key, Mitchell said, is for managers to understand the potential threat of performance pressure to employees. If they coach employees on how to view pressure as non-threatening and focus on how to enhance performance ethically, cheating may be prevented.

    “It could be that if you pair performance pressure with ethical standards and give employees the right kind of assurance within the workplace, it can actually motivate great performance,” she said. “There have been many scholars who have argued that you need to stretch your employees because it motivates them, makes them step outside of their normal boxes and be more creative. Our research says that it could, but it also might cause them to act unethically.”

    The paper, “Cheating Under Pressure: A Self-Protection Model of Workplace Cheating Behavior,” was co-authored by Michael D. Baer of Arizona State University, Maureen L. Ambrose and Robert Folger of the University of Central Florida and Noel F. Palmer of the University of Nebraska-Kearney.


  7. Study suggests workplace bullying, violence are risk factors for type 2 diabetes

    November 29, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Diabetologia press release:

    Workplace bullying and violence may increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, for both men and women, according to new research published in Diabetologia (the journal of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes [EASD]).

    Previous analyses have noted that issues, such as job insecurity and long working hours, with the consequent psychological impacts, are associated with a moderately higher risk of diabetes. It has also been shown that bullying and violence can affect personal resources, such as self-esteem and the ability to cope. In this study — carried out by Tianwei Xu, Department of Public Health, University of Copenhagen, Denmark and her collaborators from Denmark, Sweden and Finland — the prospective relationships between workplace bullying or violence and diabetes risk were considered.

    The study population was derived from four cohort studies: the Swedish Work Environment Survey (SWES), the Swedish Longitudinal Occupational Survey of Health (SLOSH), the Finnish Public Sector Study (FPS) and the Danish Work Environment Cohort Study (DWECS). Questionnaires were used to establish exposure to workplace bullying, defined as unkind or negative behaviour from colleagues, and workplace violence, defined as having been the target of violent actions or threats of violence, in the previous 12 months (note: the Finnish study referred to current bullying and did not measure violence).

    The study included people employed and aged 40 to 65 years; younger participants being excluded to minimise the possible inclusion of persons with other conditions, such as type 1 diabetes. Persons diagnosed with diabetes at baseline were also excluded. The final sample consisted of 19,280 men and 26,625 women.

    Incidence of type 2 diabetes (T2D) was obtained from nationwide health registers using the unique personal identification numbers for the participants in each country. Statistical analysis included adjustment for possible confounders, such as educational level and marital status (used as an indication of social support outside work). Adjustment for alcohol consumption, mental health problems and body mass index (BMI) were also considered, although the authors note the possible causal link between workplace negative interpersonal relationships and these factors.

    Nine per cent of the participants reported exposure to workplace bullying. During a mean follow up of 11.7 years, 1,223 incident cases of T2D were identified. After adjustment, being bullied at work was associated with a 46% higher risk of T2D (61% for men and 36% for women). Adjustment for alcohol consumption and mental health difficulties did not affect this association. Adjustment for BMI removed one-third of the risk increase. Some 12% of participants had experienced violence or threats of violence in the preceding 12 months. During a mean follow up of 11.4 years, 930 participants were found to have T2D. After adjusting for confounders, workplace violence was associated with a 26% higher risk of diabetes, for both men and women. Again, adjustment for alcohol consumption and mental health problems did not affect this result.

    The authors note that, whilst both bullying and violence represent negative interpersonal relationships, they appear to constitute different concepts and are distinct social stressors. Bullying is psychological aggression, including behaviours such as unfair criticisms, isolation and humiliating work tasks. It is most often perpetrated by people from inside, such as colleagues. Violence, on the other hand, is more likely to involve physical acts such as pushing or kicking, or the threat of these, and is generally perpetrated by people from outside, such as clients, patients etc. Bullying and violence are distinct behaviours and consequently their induced emotions can be different.

    According to the authors, “Being bullied is regarded as a severe social stressor that may activate the stress response and lead to a range of downstream biological processes that may contribute towards the risk of diabetes.” They suggest that changes caused by stress hormones may be one possible causal pathway. Also, metabolic changes and obesity may be a mechanism for the increased risk, as the stress response may be linked to the endocrine regulation of appetite, and/or because workplace bullying or violence, and the resulting negative emotional experience, might induce comfort eating behaviours.

    The authors say: “There is a moderate and robust association between workplace bullying, violence and the development of type 2 diabetes. As both bullying and violence or threats of violence are common in the workplace we suggest that prevention policies should be investigated as a possible means to reduce this risk.”

    They add: “Further study of possible causal pathways, for example weight gain, negative emotions and the psychological stress response, would help to provide an understanding of the causal mechanisms and to develop cost effective interventions.”


  8. Study suggests employees want to sit down less and walk more during work days

    November 27, 2017 by Ashley

    From the BioMed Central press release:

    Desk-based workers would like to spend less time sitting down and more time walking or doing physical activity as part of their working day, research published in the open access journal BMC Research Notes suggests. To match these preferences, health promotion activities to reduce sitting time in the workplace should not only offer options for employees to stand up more, but also offer opportunities for walking, according to researchers at German Sport University Cologne and colleagues.

    Dr Birgit Sperlich, lead author of the study said: “To our knowledge this is the first study to investigate how long desk-based workers actually want to sit, stand, walk and be physically active. So far, plans to increase physical activity in the workplace primarily focus on health outcomes without asking the target group what they prefer. Interventions to reduce sitting time may need to include more options for walking rather than only for standing.”

    Participants reported spending 73% on average of their working day sitting down, 10.2% standing, 12.9% walking and 3.9% doing physically demanding tasks. However, they wanted to spend 53.8% of their working day sitting down, 15.8% standing, 22.8% walking and 7.7% doing physically demanding tasks. The desire of employees to spend about half of their working day (4.0 hours) sitting differs considerably from the time they actually report to spend sitting (70% or 5.4 hours). On average, employees wanted to spend an additional 46 minutes per eight-hour working day walking and an additional 26 minutes per eight-hour working day standing.

    The researchers interviewed 614 desk-based workers across Germany by phone to find out about their actual and desired levels of sitting, standing, walking and doing physically demanding tasks at work. They found that the more hours per day a person spent working, the greater the differences between the actual time they spent sitting down and the time they wanted to spend sitting down, indicating that the longer an employee spends working, the less time they want to spend sitting down. By contrast, the longer employees spent working, the smaller the difference between the time they actually spent standing and the time they wanted to spend standing.

    The authors caution that the findings rely on self-reported data and employees may not have correctly estimated the 73.0% of time they reported to spend sitting during working hours and that the study did not assess pre-existing health conditions that could influence desired sitting time which would need to be addressed in future studies.

    Nonetheless, the findings suggest that health promotion activities to reduce sitting time in the workplace are supported by desk-based workers, which could be a helpful foundation when implementing strategies to enhance wellness in the workplace.

    The authors of the study conclude: “Our results lend some support to the recommended reduction of sitting time to 50% of the work day which seems feasible in light of workers’ preferences for sitting, standing and walking that we have identified. Alternatively, these results may reflect respondents’ awareness of recent guidance about occupational sitting time. Either way, interventions that take into account workers’ personal preferences for sitting, walking and physical activity could help reduce the risk for various negative health outcomes.”


  9. Study suggests stress faced by emergency call handlers damaging to long term health

    November 23, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Surrey press release:

    During this innovative study, researchers from the University of Surrey, University of Dundee, Anglia Ruskin University and Kingston University/St George’s, University of London investigated areas that impacted on the psychological health of call handlers.

    Previous research on how stress affects healthcare workers is largely focused on frontline staff i.e. paramedics and firefighters, however little is known on the impact on call handlers who make critical decisions in assessing what type of emergency response is required.

    Examining 16 studies from across the world, researchers identified key factors which cause operatives stress and potentially impact on their psychological health. Exposure to traumatic and abusive calls was found to negatively affect call handlers, because although they are not physically exposed to emergency situations, evidence demonstrated that they experienced trauma vicariously. In one study, participants reported experiencing fear, helplessness or horror in reaction to 32 per cent of the different types of calls that they received.

    A key stressor for call handlers was a lack of control over their workload due to the unpredictability of calls and a lack of organisational recognition of the demands of managing their assignments. One study reported that ambulance call handlers felt out of control of their workload after returning from rest breaks, which led them not taking scheduled breaks, leading to exhaustion. A lack of high quality training in dealing with pressurised calls was identified by some handlers as contributing to stress levels, with police call handlers in one study showing concern about their performance in handling fluid situations such as robberies in progress or suicidal callers, in case they did not make the correct decisions.

    Co-author of the paper Mark Cropley, Professor in Health Psychology at the University of Surrey, said:

    “Call handlers across different emergency services consistently reported their job as highly stressful, which in turn affects their psychological health. This undoubtedly impacts on their overall wellbeing, leading to increased sickness and time away from work, putting additional strain on the service and their colleagues.

    “Although handlers are not experiencing trauma first-hand the stress that they experience when responding to such calls should not be overlooked.”

    Co-author Professor Patricia Schofield, of Anglia Ruskin University, said: “Call handlers are the front line of emergency care but are often overlooked when it comes to studies about stress affecting the police, fire and ambulance services. This study finds evidence that staff are at risk of burnout, due to high workload, inadequate training and a lack of control.

    “It’s important that these staff are considered and interventions made to ensure that they can cope with their workload — these people make vital decisions which affect lives.”

    Co-author Professor Tom Quinn from Kingston University & St George’s, University of London, said:

    “Most people probably don’t recognise the stressful conditions under which emergency call centre staff work. Now that we have explored and summarised the evidence to identify the challenges these important staff face, we plan to develop and test interventions to reduce the burden on them and improve their wellbeing.”


  10. Study looks at how well we perceive other people’s stress levels in the workplace

    November 21, 2017 by Ashley

    From the American Friends of Tel Aviv University press release:

    A new Tel Aviv University study finds that people often project their own experiences with stress onto their colleagues and employees, causing miscommunication and, often, missed opportunities.

    “This study is the first to show that our own psychological mindset determines how we judge other peoples’ responses to stress — specifically, whether we perceive stress as positive or negative,” said principal investigator Prof. Sharon Toker of TAU’s Coller School of Management.

    The research was published online in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

    The positives and negatives of stress

    “This research informs the way managers assess their employees’ ability to take on different workloads. It may also inform our relationships with our spouses — or with our children,” Prof. Toker says. “For example, a typical ‘tiger mom’ is sure that stress is a good thing. She may simply not see how burned out her child may be.”

    Experiments conducted by Prof. Toker and researchers Prof. Daniel Heller and Nili Ben-Avi, also of TAU’s Coller School of Management, found that a person’s individual stress mindset colors the way he or she will perceive a colleague or employee’s health, work productivity and degree of burnout.

    “If a manager perceives that a certain employee doesn’t suffer from stress, that manager will be more likely to consider the employee worthy of promotion,” Prof. Toker says. “But because the manager believes that stress is a positive quality that leads to self-sufficiency, the manager will also be less likely to offer assistance if the employee needs it,” Prof. Toker says.

    Prof. Toker and her colleagues recruited 377 American employees for an online “stress-at-work” questionnaire. Participants were asked to read a description of “Ben,” a fictitious employee who works long hours, has a managerial position and needs to multitask. The employees then rated his burnout levels and completed a stress mindset questionnaire about Ben.

    The more participants saw stress as positive and enhancing, the more they perceived Ben as experiencing less burnout and consequently rated him as more worthy of being promoted,” Prof. Toker says.

    Changing minds

    The researchers also wanted to see whether they could change people’s perceptions of stress and consequently change the way they perceive other peoples’ stress. They conducted a series of further experiments among 600 employed Israelis and Americans to determine whether their stress mindset can be cultivated or changed.

    The researchers randomly assigned the employees to “enhancing” or “debilitating” stress mindset groups of 120-350 people. Using a technique called “priming” — prompting participants to think of the word “stress” in either positive or negative terms — the participants were asked to write about past stress experiences in either a “positive/enhancing” or “negative/debilitating” way. They were then asked to read a description of Ben’s workload and assess Ben’s burnout, rate of productivity and psychosomatic symptoms.

    Participants were also asked whether Ben should be promoted and whether they would be willing to help him with his workload.

    “Study participants who were primed to have a positive/enhancing stress mindset rated Ben as suffering less from stress-related symptoms and were consequently more likely to recommend Ben for promotion. They were also less likely to offer him help,” Prof. Heller says. “But those primed to feel as though stress was debilitating/negative felt that Ben was more burned out and consequently less fit to be promoted.”

    “Your stress mindset will affect your judgement of other people’s stress responses,” Ben-Avi concludes. “But we have shown that even if stress affects you positively, it can distort the way you see your colleagues, your employees, your spouses, even your own children. We should be very careful about assessing other people’s stress levels.”