Well-being strategies in many forward-thinking organisations now aim to manage excessive stress through improved quality of workplace relationships, better resourcing of workloads, and tighter management of change. A few employers have also concentrated on building resilience levels of their staff to prevent elevated levels of absence, disengagement, and reduced productivity. At the same time, the impact of minor stresses impacting individuals’ well-being on a daily basis, including those hassles existing outside work, is not understood enough to empower employees – and potentially their employers – to address it effectively.
This article in The Economist reports on the results of an analysis of the effects of unpleasant daily experiences on individual stress levels, published in Psychological Science.* In addition to a wider area of research focusing on critical life events (death of a family member or divorce, for example), this US study examined the impact of arguments, situations in which participants felt they could have argued but chose to pass, problems at work, problems at home, or feeling upset over a problem that a friend was struggling with.
The researchers used national survey data on daily stressors and emotional well-being in 1995, and then contacted the participants again with the same questions ten years later. After analysing the answers from over 700 individuals, the study found that the more individuals were affected by daily stressors, the higher were their chances of having developed a psychological disorder over the decade – provided they had not been treated for mental health issues in the interim.
While classifications of the minor hassles affecting well-being have been attempted since the 1980s, this stream of research is right to focus on individual reaction to stress. It argues that the nature of the emotional response to the stressor – or ‘affective reactivity’ – rather than the event’s type underlies the long-lasting effect of the seemingly minor daily hassles. Frequent exposure to stress, rather than the strength of a single negative event, chips away at emotional well-being.
Although further research is needed to establish conclusively the mechanism explaining the effect of daily stressors on mental health, the researchers emphasise that their findings challenge a widely-cited Nietzsche’s maxim, ‘that which does not kill him makes him stronger’, sometimes used to justify stressful experiences. If the research interpretations hold true, they should inform organisational strategies for resilience training, challenging the excess of ‘positive stress’ that employees can sustain in the longer term.
* Original Source: http://pss.sagepub.com/content/early/2013/03/25/0956797612462222.