How Can We Handle Stress At Work?

It’s easy to believe that stress is both natural and constant at work, and that it’s therefore something we can do little about.  With the cost of stress so high, both for organizations and individuals, however, any attempts to help employees to manage stress more effectively has to be welcomed.

Research led by the University of East Anglia has resulted in the creation of a new tool to help organizations better assess the ability of staff to manage stress at work.  The tool revolves around the ability to measure self-efficacy, which measures the belief we have in our capabilities to achieve a goal.  This has a well known impact on our motivation and general well being levels.

Measuring self-efficacy

Many previous attempts to measure self-efficacy have revolved around job tasks rather than the various emotional and interpersonal aspects of working life.  The researchers wanted to fill that gap and assess how emotions, empathy and assertiveness influenced self-efficacy.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the work confirmed that confidence in our ability to complete a task had a positive impact on our stress levels, but it also emerged that the better able staff felt they could manage stressful and conflict situations, the less stressful they were.  What’s more, their ability to understand the moods and states of their colleagues also had an impact, both in their personal stress levels but also their willingness to help their colleagues.

“Our results also showed that the more employees perceive themselves as capable of speaking up for their rights and ideas, what we call assertive self-efficacy, the more they seem to engage in counterproductive work behaviour targeting the organisation as a whole. This seems to suggest that assertive self-efficacy should be considered as a risk factor,” the authors continue.

The work underlined the importance of regarding organizations as complex interactions of individuals, even in terms of self-efficacy.  For instance, when employees had high assertive self-efficacy and high task self-efficacy they were able to buffer the impact of negative emotional and empathic self-efficacy.  Indeed, these individuals seemed to be the ones that would go the extra mile for their colleagues.

The team hope that their tool will better enable managers to understand the impact stress has on their workforce, and to subsequently mitigate that risk wherever possible.

By using the scale, management and Human Resources may gain an all-round understanding of their employees over the course of their career, and may assess and monitor individuals’ beliefs in relation to different self-regulatory capabilities,” they explain.

“For example, in the recruitment process, it may provide relevant information to understand how potential employees may adjust to the work environment. It can also be used in the appraisal system as a self-reflective tool.”