HOW DO WE PERCEIVE THE STRESS OF OTHERS IN OUR WORKPLACE?
The stress is often talked about. What is stress ? How to manage your stress ? How to succeed in living in a stressful environment? How to take on a job with a manager or supervisor whose stress we perceive and suffer? So many questions that feed topics of conversation, internal questioning or articles from the specialized press.
All adults know this biological and psychological state, which is a set of responses of our body when it is subjected to pressures or constraints. Many medical consultations are related to stress and a lot of sources of stress come from our social and professional life.
A new study from Tel Aviv University (Israel) – to be published in January 2018 in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology – reveals that people often project their own stressful experiences on their colleagues and employees, resulting in poor communication and, often, missed opportunities.
This study is the first to show that our own psychological state of mind determines how we judge others’ responses to stress specifically, whether we perceive stress as positive or negative.
POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE POINTS OF STRESS
This research assesses how entrepreneurs and employers assess the ability of their employees to take on different workloads. It can also enlighten us about our relationships with our spouses or with our children. For example, a typical ” tiger mom ” is sure that stress is a good thing, but she just does not see how exhausted her child is.
Experiments conducted by researchers have shown that a person’s state of individual stress determines how they perceive health, work productivity, and burnout .
For example, if a manager perceives that a certain employee is not suffering from stress, this manager will be more inclined to consider the employee as worthy of promotion. But because the manager feels that stress is a positive quality that leads to self-sufficiency, the manager will also be less likely to offer assistance if the employee really needs it.
To complete this study, researchers recruited 377 US employees for an online questionnaire on work stress. Participants were invited to read a description of an employee’s story. A fictitious employee who works long hours, has a management position and must do several things at once. Employees then assessed their burnout levels and completed a stress mentality questionnaire about this fictitious character.
As a result, the more participants saw stress as positive and rewarding, the more they perceived the character as having less burnout and therefore more worthy of being promoted.
CAN WE CHANGE THE PERCEPTION WE HAVE OF THE STRESS OF OTHERS?
Researchers also wanted to see if they could change people’s perception of stress and thereby change the way they perceive others’ stress. They conducted a series of other experiments among 600 Israeli and American employees to determine if their stress state of mind can be cultivated or changed.
Researchers randomly assigned employees to “improver” or “debilitating” stress mentality groups of 120 to 350 people. Using a specific technique, they encouraged participants to think of the word “stress” in positive or negative terms. Also, participants were asked to write about past stress experiences at the positive and negative levels. They were then asked to read a description of a fictitious employee’s workload and to evaluate the exhaustion, productivity rate, and psychosomatic symptoms of this fictional character. The researchers also asked participants whether the fictitious employee should be promoted and whether they would be willing to help him with his workload.
Study participants who were prone to having a positive stress state noted that the fictitious employee suffered fewer stress-related symptoms and was therefore more likely to recommend him for promotion, they were also less likely to offer him help. But those who seem to feel that the stress was negative felt that the fictitious employee was more exhausted and therefore less able to be promoted.
Finally, your stress state of mind will affect your judgment on other people’s stress responses. But researchers have shown that while stress can affect you positively, it can distort the way you perceive your colleagues, employees, spouse, or your own children.
DO NOT JUDGE TOO QUICKLY THE STRESS OF OTHERS
Much is known about stress and its resulting tension – with negative outcomes such as burnout or health – but not about how we perceive the tension of others and the results of these perceptions. For the first time, the researchers in this study included literatures available to study the effect of different forms of stress, and the state of mind on the social judgments of a specific target.
The researchers argue that tax collectors can project their own state of mind onto others, leading to egocentric judgments of the latter’s tension. They have predicted and found evidence that, regardless of the effects of mood , people with a stressed state of mind are less likely to judge the stress of a person experiencing a heavy workload such as suffering from exhaustion, or somatic symptoms.
In conclusion, the researchers emphasize that it is necessary to be very careful when assessing the stress levels of those around us . The results provide a foundation for future work on the accuracy of judgment of the stress experience of others.