Study Says Workplace Anxiety Is Not Bad Always

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Workplace anxiety is usually associated with the poor job performance of employees. However, a new study carried out by the researchers at the University of Toronto suggests that workplace anxiety is not always bad and can sometimes help employees in boosting their performance.

It is normal to have a certain amount of anxiety and stress at the workplace, according to aada.org. The problem only starts when an individual feels excessive and persistent stress at the workplace. Some of the main culprits of stress and anxiety at the workplace include work deadlines, interpersonal relationships, staff management, organizational changes, office politics, and unexpected situations. Excessive stress not only impacts employees’ performance and the quality of work at the workplace but also sometimes deteriorates their relations with peers and superiors.

In the new study, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, researchers analyzed various triggers of workplace anxiety and their impact on the performance of employees. They developed a new model of workplace anxiety called the theory of workplace anxiety, which covered dispositional and situational aspects of workplace anxiety. The dispositional aspects of anxiety are associated with individual personality traits, while the situational aspects are associated with specific job tasks.

The new model includes 19 theoretical propositions and highlights the conditions or processes through which workplace anxiety may result in debilitative/facilitative job performance. Drawing on the past theories, this model states that if a person already suffers from an excessive level of general anxiety, his/her experience with workplace anxiety will be different from those who don’t experience that much of anxiety. Similarly, some employees might feel more stress at workplace due to some specific tasks/conditions, such as, public speaking, job appraisals, etc., that would distract their focus and result in poor job performance.

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Based on the analysis, the researchers highlight that emotional intelligence, motivation, and ability are the critical conditions that decide whether workplace anxiety will facilitate or debilitate job performance. They propose that a moderate amount of anxiety can actually help boost the performance of employees, provided they learn how to self-regulate their behavior.

“Managing anxiety can be done by recognizing and addressing triggers of workplace anxiety, but also being aware of how to leverage it in order to drive performance,” says Bonnie Hayden Cheng, an assistant professor at Hong Kong Polytechnic University and the lead author of the study.

According to Cheng, anxiety at the workplace is somewhat similar to the case of athletes who are asked to harness their anxiety to keep themselves motivated and give their best results on the track. Similarly, if employees learn the art of monitoring their progress on a particular task and focus their efforts to complete the task, it will boost their performance.

“After all, if we have no anxiety and we just don’t care about performance, then we are not going to be motivated to do the job,” says Cheng.

Cheng also advises organizations to use a variety of strategies to help employees in dealing with their stress and improve performance. Some of these strategies may include, (1) providing training to employees to boost their self-confidence, (2) providing proper resources/tools to perform tasks at work, and (3) offering guidance and strategies that enable employees to manage feelings of stress through emotional intelligence development.