More employees are working from home due to COVID-19, and the disruption in workflow could prove detrimental to job performance, according to a UCF study.
The abrupt shift to remote work poses new challenges, such as juggling tasks and mastering new technologies. New research suggests these challenges may hurt employee performance when experienced inconsistently. If workers cannot anticipate big projects or assignments, they are more likely to perform poorly and act out on the job.
“Tasks that would normally be considered a growth opportunity may instead be frustrating for employees during this pandemic,” says study co-author Shannon Taylor, an associate professor in management at UCF’s College of Business. “Things like taking on a greater workload, meeting tight deadlines, and complex job duties are especially likely to be seen as hindrances, given all of the uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus.”
Understanding stress is more important than ever when working remotely, according to Taylor. His study categorizes stressors into two types: hindrances and challenges. While challenge stressors represent opportunities that lead to higher learning and achievement, such as added job complexity or accountability, hindrance stressors interfere with personal accomplishments or goal attainment. Examples of hindrance stressors include bureaucratic red tape, office politics or job insecurity.
What seems like an invigorating challenge may actually be a hindrance depending on the timing and employee’s perception of the stressful event. Managers may assume more challenges will help their employees grow, but Taylor warns that workers may become frustrated or anxious as their tasks pile up with no end in sight.
“Now more than ever, managers should strive to provide their employees with some predictability and consistency. Otherwise, tasks that seem like exciting challenges will simply be overwhelming.”
“No one knows how this pandemic will unfold or how long we’ll need to adapt,” Taylor says. “Now more than ever, managers should strive to provide their employees with some predictability and consistency. Otherwise, tasks that seem like exciting challenges will simply be overwhelming.”
The study surveyed more than 150 employees from the restaurant industry over a period of eight weeks. Participants were asked about their perceived stress levels and whether their stress had positively contributed to their professional goals. Employees who experienced wavering levels of challenge stressors were less attentive, more anxious and had trouble completing tasks. For restaurant workers, examples of stressors included additional shifts or pressure to work faster.
In the second part of the study, researchers surveyed 325 employees of a public university in the United States. Like the first group, participants were asked to assess their stress levels over time and indicate how prepared they felt for upcoming challenges at work. Employee well-being showed similar declines when challenge stressors varied throughout the study.
Both groups of participants demonstrated notably lower job performance when faced with varying levels of challenge stressors over time.
“Managers want their employees to feel some stress to help them develop, but that stress needs to be predictable or it will hurt their growth,” Taylor says. “Given all the uncertainty amid this global pandemic, some consistency at work would go a long way toward improving employees’ performance and well-being.”
Study co-authors included Michael S. Cole, a professor of management at Texas Christian University’s Neeley School of Business; Nikolaos Dimotakis, an associate professor in the Department of Management at Oklahoma State University; Christopher S. Reina, an assistant professor at Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Business; Christopher C. Rosen, a professor at University of Arkansas’ Walton College of Business; Lauren S. Simon, an associate professor at University of Arkansas’ Walton College of Business, and Troy S. Smith, an assistant professor of management at University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s College of Business.