Research has long demonstrated that certain job demands, such as role conflicts or daily hassles, can have negative effects on employee health and lead to burnout. At the same time, recent research suggests that job demands can trigger work achievement in certain situations. For example, time pressure is related to work engagement, as deadlines could lead employees to be more focused and involved in their work.
Researchers (Kronenwett & Rigotti, 2019) recently investigated the conditions under which job demands are motivating versus hindering. They examined how emotional demands and time pressure can impact work achievements (formally called “task-related achievements”) and prosocial achievements. The latter refers to interpersonal success, such as improving a coworker’s situation or helping a coworker make progress on a goal. The researchers also examined impacts of emotional demands and time pressure on work engagement.
The authors examined the impacts of the two job demands in situations where employees dealt with low numbers of unnecessary tasks versus higher numbers. Examples of unnecessary tasks are irrelevant meetings or having to write reports nobody will read.
The authors had a sample of 323 participants from a variety of industries (production, health, social services). Over four consecutive weeks, participants completed a weekly survey assessing the current week. The survey included questions addressing the variables discussed below.
Impacts on Achievement
The researchers found that the higher the emotional demands, the higher prosocial achievement tended to be when unnecessary tasks were low. This is an interesting finding since we tend to think of emotional demands as a hindrance to work achievement. However, the authors explain that in a profession such as nursing, taking care of others is the core of the job, so emotional demands could be experienced as motivating rather than hindering.
The researchers also found that the greater the time pressure, the higher the work achievement was likely to be when unnecessary tasks were low. It is likely that the fewer the unnecessary tasks that employees dealt with, the more they were able to put their resources toward work responsibilities.
Impacts on Work Engagement
As we might expect, the researchers found that the higher the work engagement, the higher that both prosocial and work achievement tended to be. In addition, when unnecessary tasks were low, prosocial achievement tended to increase when emotional demands increased, and when prosocial achievement increased, work engagement also tended to increase.
Lastly, when unnecessary tasks were low, work achievement tended to increase when time pressure increased, and when work achievement increased, work engagement also tended to increase.
In short, the researchers found that when unnecessary tasks were low, emotional demands and time pressure actually show their motivational nature. In this study, these demands led to increased work engagement.
Given the study findings, the authors suggest that organizations and managers can foster employee engagement by minimizing unnecessary tasks. This can be done through redefining jobs and working toward efficient processes. By reducing unnecessary tasks, employees can have more resources to put into their actual work.
In addition, the authors suggest it could be beneficial to support and train employees in setting and reaching goals, and encouraging employees to engage in prosocial behavior to experience interpersonal achievement. This could be especially important for employees interested in moving into administrative positions.
Kronenwett, M. & Rigotti, T. (2019). When do you face a challenge? How unnecessary tasks block the challenging potential of time pressure and emotional demands. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 24(5), 512-526.