The Good and the Bad of Workplace Anxiety

By: Marie Donlon

Just the right amount of anxiety about work is good for performance, so says research from the University of Toronto.

Being too worried about your job, according to the research, can drain you more quickly, which will inevitably affect performance. Yet, worrying just enough so that you distribute your energy more efficiently can help improve workplace performance because you are not too comfortable with the task.

“If you have too much anxiety, and you’re completely consumed by it, then it’s going to derail your performance,” says Julie McCarthy, professor of organizational behavior and human resources management at U of T Scarborough and the Rotman School of Management. “On the other hand, moderate levels of anxiety can facilitate and drive performance.”

According to the study, emotionally intelligent people are better at recognizing anxiety and are, consequently, better at using it to their advantage. Reacting to anxiety depends on emotional intelligence and on what triggers the anxiety in the first place.

Most likely to cause anxiety in the workplace, according to the study, is having to suppress and/or force expression of emotions (imagine being forced to smile through a situation that doesn’t necessarily make you want to smile) and, of course, deadlines.

Bonnie Hayden Cheng, co-author of the study, said: “Managing anxiety can be done by recognizing and addressing triggers of workplace anxiety, but also being aware of how to leverage it in order to drive performance.”

The study is published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.