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‘Stress bragging’ at work can backfire

Bragging at work about how stressed you are may can not only make you seem less competent and likeable, it can also burn out your coworkers.

Merritt Melancon-U. Georgia • futurity
May 24, 2024 5 minSource

New research finds people who brag about their stress levels are seen as less competent and less likable by their coworkers.

“This is a behavior we’ve all seen, and we all might be guilty of at some point,” says Jessica Rodell, a professor of management at the University of Georgia Terry College of Business and lead author of the study in the journal Personnel Psychology .

“When I was wondering about why people do this, I thought maybe we are talking about our stress because we want to prove we’re good enough. We found out that often backfires.”

Complaining coworkers

In an initial survey, 360 participants compared statements from imaginary coworkers who just returned from a conference. Participants rated their imaginary coworker on likability, competence, and the likelihood they would help the coworker at work.

In the survey, the stress-bragging colleague described the conference as “just one more thing on my full plate. And I was already stressed to the max… you have no idea the stress that I am under.”

Participants rated that person as significantly less likable and less competent than someone who said work had been stressful or who just talked about how great the conference was. Participants also said they would be less likely to help the complaining coworker if they were overburdened at work.

“People are harming themselves by doing this thing they think is going to make them look better to their colleagues,” Rodell says.

Rodell’s team found similar results when surveying an additional 218 real-life employees about their experiences with stress braggarts.

But the researchers also found employees with coworkers who stress brag often reported higher levels of personal stress and burnout.

Bragging breeds more stress

Bragging about stress creates the perception that chronic high-stress levels are an expected and normal part of the work culture, Rodell says.

“When somebody is constantly talking about and bragging about their stress, it makes it seem like it is a good thing to be stressed,” Rodell says. “It just spills over onto the coworker next to them. They wind up feeling more stressed, which leads to higher burnout or withdrawal from their work. Think of it as this spiraling contagious effect from one person to the next.”

Equally important was what they didn’t find, Rodell says. People who discussed their stress levels in passing or employees perceived as being stressed didn’t generate the same ill will from their coworkers. And they didn’t stress their coworkers out.

“It’s not the being stressed part that’s a problem,” she says. “We found that if I perceive you as stressed, I actually see you as more competent.”

The takeaway for employees is to think twice before boasting about their heavy workload or overloaded schedule, Rodell says.

“If you genuinely feel stressed, it’s OK to find the right confidant to share with and talk about it,” she says. “But be mindful that it is not a badge of honor to be bragged about—that will backfire.”

It might be more important for managers to recognize the behavior, Rodell says.

“It’s not benign,” she adds. “It not only harms the bragging coworker. If employees see somebody bragging about their stress, it will have a spillover effect that can have bigger implications for the workplace.”

Source: University of Georgia

The post ‘Stress bragging’ at work can backfire appeared first on Futurity .

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