Workplace anxiety can sometimes boost performance

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A team of Chinese and Canadian researchers have been working on the relationship between workplace anxiety and performance. Even though anxiety has mostly negative effects, they have also discovered its “good sides”.

The negative consequences of anxiety have been demonstrated many times, but for the first time, a scientific study has shown the positive aspects to this state of stress.

Researchers at the University of Scarborough (Canada) and the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (China) examined both the triggers of workplace anxiety and its relationship to employee performance. Their findings, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, are rather surprising.

First, the researchers found that the highest levels of anxiety were observed in jobs requiring a constant dialogue and suppression of emotions (nurse, receptionist…), as well as those with “dead-line” or frequent organizational changes.

In addition, many parameters influence the response to anxiety: age, sex, duration of employment, but also if the person experiences anxiety in general or is particularly sensitive to anxiety related to situations such as speaking in public or work assessments.

The authors of the study explain that this state of stress can distract the employee, prevent him or her from performing his or her tasks, or even lead to burnout.

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However, in some cases, the observations are completely different: moderate levels of anxiety can facilitate and boost performance. This state of stress is able, to a certain extent, to facilitate concentration and self-regulation.

The authors refer to athletes who are trained to use anxiety to fuel their motivation. “After all, if we do not have anxiety and we do not care about performance, we will not be motivated to do the work,” says Bonnie Hayden Cheng, lead author of the study. “You have to learn how to manage your stress, what triggers it and how you benefit from it,” he added.

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Emy Torres

Emy holds a degree in Political Science from the University of Michigan and currently freelances part-time for The Talking Democrat.