The Stress Busting Power Of Learning At Work

On a recent visit to the Grenoble Ecole de Management I heard from Dominique Steiler, leader of the Mindfulness, Well-Being at Work and Economic Peace Chair at the school.

The school attempt to integrate mindfulness and similar practices into their business teaching in a way that few other schools match.  Central to the aims of the stream is to promote ‘economic peace’ and a new way of cooperative working that is a bit less dog eat dog, but there is also a strong element of stress reduction.

As such, they recommend students, and indeed employees practice mindfulness on a regular basis.  I sat in on a demonstration, and whilst I wouldn’t want to poo poo the concept, it was hard to shake the feeling that it was all a bit hokey.

Learning to reduce stress

A recent study from the University of Michigan suggests an alternative stress buster that is much closer to my heart.  The study found that doing more learning at work can help to reduce stress at work.

“When jobs are consistently stressful, managers may feel that they are rather constrained in trying to reduce transgressions in the workplace,” the authors say.

It’s well known that when we’re stressed, as willpower often gets reduced, which can often lead to deviant behaviors such as theft or rudeness.  To test the buffering impact learning at work has, the researchers deployed their theory in a number of organizations across finance, healthcare and education.  The analysis suggests learning is more effective at buffering stress than relaxation.

“When it comes to addressing negative emotions and actions in stressful work environments, building positive resources by learning something new at work could be more useful than relaxing,” the authors say. “When an individual comes out of relaxation activities at work and realizes the stressful situation hasn’t changed, it may generate frustration and reverse the benefits of relaxation.”

Now, that isn’t to say that relaxation has no value, and the authors stress that it can be very useful in helping to fight fatigue or to calm the mind, but in terms of reducing deviant behavior, it was not so helpful.

“Managers may want to offer opportunities for employees to learn new things in their work. Similarly, employees who wish to prevent their own conduct from falling prey to stressful factors can also seek ways to learn something new in their everyday work,” the authors conclude.

Although our body may tell us to rest when under stress, this research suggests that doing something positive such as learning may overcome some of the perils of stress.