Previous research has established that high levels of negative news consumption can have a harmful effect on mental health. However, little is known about how this phenomenon specifically impacted employees during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the early weeks of the pandemic, participants in this study (Andel et al., 2021) completed eight weekly surveys. Results of the study show that higher levels of COVID-19-related news consumption were associated with higher levels of anxiety, which in turn were related to lower levels of work engagement. The researchers also found that a factor called “occupational calling” influenced this relationship.
THE ROLE OF OCCUPATIONAL CALLING
Prior research has established two drivers of occupational calling: purposeful work and prosocial orientation. Purposeful work is “self-focused” and refers to being called to work because it provides a sense of personal meaning and purpose. Prosocial orientation is “others-focused” and refers to being called to work because it allows for helping others.
In this study, people who scored higher on the purposeful work dimension were able to stay more engaged at work despite increased anxiety that resulted from negative news consumption. This may be because a job can provide valued resources like meaning, satisfaction, or self-esteem. These factors are important to protect, especially when other resources are threatened.
On the other hand, people who scored higher on prosocial orientation were more vulnerable to the negative impact of anxiety on engagement. In this case, anxiety that arose from negative news consumption was associated with more pronounced decreases in work engagement (compared to people lower on prosocial orientation). These people may have become frustrated by their inability to help others during the pandemic and were therefore less able to stay engaged when faced with anxiety.
Additionally, the researchers found that having greater work engagement in the current week was associated with having lower levels of anxiety in the next week for most people, but this finding did not hold for people higher on prosocial orientation.
PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS FOR ORGANIZATIONS
The researchers suggest several practical implications of these findings. One implication is that organizations should educate their employees about how it is important to limit their news consumption during a crisis. This will help employees protect their mental health and energy. Additionally, researchers suggest that organizations should promote the self-focused benefits of work. For example, employers could enhance the variety of skills employees use on the job in order to foster a sense of meaningfulness.
Andel, S. A., Arvan, M. L., & Shen, W. (2021). Work as replenishment or responsibility? Moderating effects of occupational calling on the within-person relationship between COVID-19 news consumption and work engagement. Journal of Applied Psychology, 106(7), 965–974.