Study sheds light on how employees manage stressful situations at work

A multi-university study has shed light on how employees manage stressful situations at work. The study involved development of a new tool geared towards benefiting organisations and their staff enabling them to assess employees’ beliefs about how they manage challenging and stressful situations at work.

Scientists point out that self-efficacy – the belief in one’s capabilities to achieve a goal or an outcome – is a key variable for understanding how people manage themselves and their behaviour at work, given its influence on motivation, well-being, and personal achievement and fulfilment.

Employees must not only accomplish tasks but also manage their negative emotions as well as interpersonal relationships. Despite this, self-efficacy has mainly been assessed in relation to job tasks, not emotions and interpersonal aspects.

This research aimed to fill the gap by developing and testing a new work self-efficacy scale to assess individuals’ perceived ability not only in managing tasks, but also negative emotions, being empathic and being assertive.

Results from two studies, involving a total of 2892 Italian employees, provide evidence of the added value of a more comprehensive approach to the assessment of self-efficacy at work. They also suggest the new scale has practical implications for management and staff, for example in recruitment and appraisal processes, as well career development and training.

The findings, published in Journal of Vocational Behavior, show that:

  • The more employees perceive themselves as able to manage their tasks and effectively fulfil their goals (task self-efficacy), the better they perform and the less they are likely to misbehave at work;
  • The more employees perceive themselves as able to manage their negative emotions in stressful and conflict situations (negative emotional self-efficacy), the less they report physical symptoms and the less they experience negative emotions in relation to their job;
  • The more employees perceive themselves as able to understand their colleagues’ moods and states (empathic self-efficacy), the more they are likely to go the extra mile in their working lives and help their colleagues.

In particular, the findings showed that when employees have high assertive self-efficacy along with high task, negative emotional and empathic self-efficacy, they actually did not show higher counterproductive work behaviour. On the contrary, they are those helping and going the extra-mile as well as those showing high well-being. The opposite is instead true for those employees with high empathic self-efficacy but low task, negative emotional and assertive self-efficacy.

Results also showed that when employees have high task self-efficacy but they do not perceive themselves as able to manage negative emotions in stressful and conflictual situations, understand others’ needs and mood, or speak up for their rights and ideas, they undoubtedly perform well in their job but they ‘pay the price’ in terms of well-being.

Steven Anderson

About Steven Anderson

Steven is an explorer by heart – both in the physical and the digital realm. A traveler, Steven continues to visit new places throughout the year in the physical world, while in the digital realm has been instrumental in a number of Kickstarter projects. Technology attracts Steven and through his business acumen has gained financial profits as well as fame in his business niche.

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