It would be unusual to find anyone working in the long-term care industry who wouldn’t regularly think of themselves as stressed. It’s not hard to find the cause: Whether it’s gearing up for Phase 2 regulations, worrying about what the current administration might or might not do to healthcare, or the weight on your chest related to staffing or budgeting, who wouldn’t be stressed?
But — and I’m the first to admit this — how we perceive our individual stress impacts how we see our coworkers or employees. Journalists, along with nurses, in my experience are particularly terrible at this. We celebrate how we thrive on crisis, deadlines and stress and yet we let it cloud our views of our colleagues who, at least externally, seem more chill.
But don’t take my word for it. In a series of experiments, researchers at American Friends of Tel Aviv University created scenarios in which they looked at how someone’s stress mindset influenced their perception of stress in others, and whether they saw perceiving stress as enhancing. Results appeared in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.
“This study is the first to show that our own psychological mindset determines how we judge other peoples’ responses to stress — specifically, whether we perceive stress as positive or negative,” said principal investigator and professor Sharon Toker, Ph.D., of TAU’s Coller School of Management.
In the study, workers who perceived their colleagues as having low levels of stress were less likely to help them out. On the plus side, managers saw the more relaxed employees as more worthy of promotion.
However, the researchers found in their experiments that such perceptions can be manipulated. When they primed the study participants to have a positive view of stress, these participants rated a fictitious employee called “Ben” as a good target from promotion and someone who suffered less from stress. When they were primed to see stress as negative, they saw “Ben” as burned out and less fit to be promoted.
But Ben’s fictitious, so let’s talk about the employees around you. Interestingly, the researchers noted that managers tend to see their female employees’ work-home conflict levels as higher than those of their male employees, while the female employees themselves didn’t line up in the same way. The reason this matters is because when we overestimate a female employee’s work-home conflict, i.e. “She has a lot on her plate/Her husband’s out of work/she has a lot of kids to manage,” we are less likely to see the person as promotable.
If this still seems too obscure, especially if you don’t manage many employees, Toker points out the view of the “Tiger Mom,” i.e. a mother who sees stress as a way to light a fire under her child because that’s what would have motivated her. She’s not likely to see whether her child is burned out. On the flip side, parents who see their child as happy-go-lucky and not stressed may not see the need to offer help.
Ultimately, this is similar to “walking a mile in other people’s shows” when thinking about employees. Remember that your perception of stress and workload may not reflect how your employees feel, or what they need.
Follow Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman @TigerELN.