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When Challenges Hinder: An Investigation of When and How Challenge Stressors Impact Employee Outcomes

Journal(s): Journal of Applied Psychology
Published: October 10, 2020
Author(s): Christopher C. Rosen, Nikolaos Dimotakis, Michael S. Cole, Shannon G. Taylor, Lauren S. Simon, Troy A. Smith, Christopher S. Reina

General Description
Stress can actually improve employee performance, but consistency is key. Research conducted by Dr. Troy Smith, assistant professor of management, and his colleagues studied on-the-job stress among employees at restaurants and a university.

“Some level of stress can be good. Others are more conflicting and get in the way of accomplishing goals. That type of stress is difficult and makes it very challenging to perform at a high level.”
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Academic Abstract
Over the past two decades, accumulating evidence has indicated that individuals experience challenge and hindrance stressors in qualitatively different ways, with the former being linked to more positive outcomes than the latter. Indeed, challenge stressors are believed to have net positive effects even though they can also lead to a range of strains, eliciting beliefs that managers can enhance performance outcomes by increasing the frequency of challenge stressors experienced in the workplace. The current article questions this conventional wisdom by developing theory that explains how different patterns of challenge stressor exposure influence employee outcomes. Across 2 field studies, our results supported our theory, indicating that when challenge stressors vary across time periods, they have negative indirect effects on employee performance and well-being outcomes. In contrast, when employees experience a stable pattern of challenge stressors across time periods, they have positive indirect effects on employee performance and well-being outcomes. These results, which suggest that the benefits of challenge stressors may not outweigh their costs when challenge stressors fluctuate, have important implications for theory and practice. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2020 APA, all rights reserved).

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