Anxiety can be uncomfortable and in severe causes sometimes even crippling. But new research has suggested that a small amount of anxiety at work can be a good thing.
Researchers from the University of Toronto found that too much worrying about work can hinder an employee’s performance, but a moderate dose can help drive improvement.
“If you have too much anxiety, and you’re completely consumed by it, then it’s going to derail your performance,” says Julie McCarthy, professor of organizational behaviour and human resources. “On the other hand, moderate levels of anxiety can facilitate and drive performance.”
Co-author and assistant professor at the University of Hong Kong, Bonnie Hayden Cheng believes that certain workers can harness their apprehension in the same way that athletes harness their nerves in order to perform better under pressure.
People who are emotionally intelligent can recognise their anxiety and use it to better perform a task.
“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,” explains Cheng. She adds that those who are experienced at their job are also less likely to have anxiety affect their performance.
The study, which is published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, also explained some of the triggers for workplace worry.
At the top of the list were jobs that require constant expression or suppression of emotion (usually customer service jobs). Close behind that was jobs with frequent deadlines or changes in organisational structure.
While not everyone will experience anxiety in the workplace it is a growing issue. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 72% of Americans experience daily anxiety, saying it interferes with their work and personal lives.
It’s important to note that this study does not suggest that anxiety should be induced in the workplace in order to motivate employees. It can simply serve as a reminder that a small amount of apprehension can be used in a positive way if harnessed correctly.
“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,” explains Cheng.
If you are experiencing anxiety at work it is important that you reach out and talk to someone.
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