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Stress and Creative Work

July 15, 2010 - Research from the University of Toronto published in Social Science Research found that stress associated with creative work has a particular impact on the interface with family life. Researchers used data from a survey of more than 1200 North American workers, analyzing responses to questions such as:

  • "How often do you have the chance to learn new things?"
  • "How often do you have the chance to solve problems?"
  • "How often does your job allow you to develop your skills or abilities?" and
  • "How often does your job require you to be creative?"

Co-authors Scott Schieman, professor of sociology and Marisa Young, PhD student used the results to develop a 'creative work activities' index. They found that individuals with higher scores on the index are more likely to experience excessive pressure at work and feel overwhelmed by their workloads. They receive more work-related contact (emails, texts, calls) outside normal hours. When at home they are involved in more frequent attempts to juggle job- and home-related demands simultaneously. The combination of work pressures and work-family multitasking may lead to increased conflict between roles and dysfunctional family relationships.

Scott Schieman said:

"These stressful elements of creative work detract from what most people generally see as the positive sides of creative job conditions. And, these processes reveal the unexpected ways that the work life can cause stress in our lives - stress that is typically associated with higher status job conditions and can sometimes blur the boundaries between work and non-work life."

The researchers also found that individuals who score higher on the creative work index are more likely to think about work outside normal hours but many respondents did not associate this phenomenon with undue stress.

Scott Schieman explained:

"There are aspects of creative work that many people enjoy thinking about because they add a sense of accomplishment and fulfilment to our lives. This is quite different from the stressful thoughts about work that keep some of us awake at night: the deadlines you can't control, someone else's incompetent work that you need to handle first thing in the morning, or routine work that lacks challenge or feels like a grind."

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