Is Work Making You Stressed? An EMA Study.

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Are you stressed at work? Do you think that negative work events make your stress worse? You might be right!

In this EMA study, researchers at the University of Bamberg and the University of Erlangen in Germany examined the effect of negative work events (NWEs) on physiological and psychological distress responses. Eighty-three German clinical staff members participated in the 3 day study and answered prompts regarding NWEs one hour after starting work, right after finishing work, and any time in between the fixed occasions when NWEs occurred.

Additionally, the participants collected salivary cortisol samples with cotton swabs throughout the day and stored them in containers with electronic track caps. Samples were collected:

  • At wake
  • 1 hour after starting work
  • Right after finishing work
  • Every time a NWE was reported between fixed samples

Prompts occurring at the end of the work day also surveyed daily negative affect and daily emotional exhaustion.

The researchers used the cortisol samples to analyze the physiological impact of NWEs, while questions regarding negative affect and exhaustion were used to examine the psychological impact of NWEs. They found that…

  • Diurnal cortisol output was not associated with NWEs or time of waking.
  • There was no significant relationship between cortisol levels and NWEs after finishing work.
  • There was a significant positive relationship between negative affect and NWEs after finishing work.
  • There was a significant positive relationship between emotional exhaustion and NWEs after finishing work.

While the relationship between psychological factors and NWEs was confirmed, this study did not find a relationship between physiological distress levels and NWEs. Additional research is needed to further understand occupational stress, but this study was the first to investigate physiological and psychological stress responses to daily NWEs.

So, if you think that problems at work make you stressed, you are right!

Volmer, J., & Fritsche, A. (2016). Daily Negative Work Events and Employees’ Physiological and Psychological Reactions. Frontiers in Psychology, 7.