Relax or learn? Coping with stress at work

September 28, 2017 by Greta Guest
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Work stress can lead to a whole host of problems for employees and organizations. While our own intuition and some studies suggest the value of relaxation techniques such as meditation or exercise, there's another alternative that could work even better.

University of Michigan researchers found that doing more on-the-job learning led to less counterproductive behavior in reaction to stress than relaxation.

"When jobs are consistently stressful, managers may feel that they are rather constrained in trying to reduce transgressions in the workplace," said David Mayer, an associate professor of management and organizations at the Ross School of Business.

Workplace deviance refers to behavior such as taking company property, acting rudely, or discussing confidential information inappropriately that threatens the well-being of the organization.

In two studies with U.S. employees working in a variety of industries such as finance, healthcare and education, Mayer and his co-authors Chen Zhang and Eun Bit Hwang, both doctoral students, found that learning buffered the , while relaxation did not.

"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," Zhang said. "When an individual comes out of relaxation activities at work and realizes the hasn't changed, it may generate frustration and reverse the benefits of ."

Relaxation is useful in helping employees reduce fatigue or to calm the mind. But when it comes to applying it to the workplace deviance issues, managers and employees may not find it useful.

"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 ," said Zhang.

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.

Explore further: Coping with stressful organisational change

Related Stories

Coping with stressful organisational change

September 27, 2017

Stress is not a recent phenomenon, but the modern work environment seems to highlights its detrimental effects on employees. This is no more obvious than during times of organisational change. Research published in the International ...

Recommended for you

How to cut your lawn for grasshoppers

November 22, 2017

Picture a grasshopper landing randomly on a lawn of fixed area. If it then jumps a certain distance in a random direction, what shape should the lawn be to maximise the chance that the grasshopper stays on the lawn after ...

Plague likely a Stone Age arrival to central Europe

November 22, 2017

A team of researchers led by scientists at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History has sequenced the first six European genomes of the plague-causing bacterium Yersinia pestis dating from the Late Neolithic ...

Ancient barley took high road to China

November 21, 2017

First domesticated 10,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East, wheat and barley took vastly different routes to China, with barley switching from a winter to both a winter and summer crop during a thousand-year ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.