Time, or Lack of It, Impacts Stress Levels

For most Americans, vacation is just a memory. The kids are back in school. The 9-5 routine is in full swing. There is less free time. And for many, that equals more stress.

Time – and the perception of time – and stress definitely are correlated, according to Dr. Tejinder Billing, an assistant professor of management in the Rohrer College of Business at Rowan University, Glassboro, N.J. And stress not only impacts individuals, it also affects families and employers.

“Work overload,” she said, “leads to excessive demands on an individual’s time and creates uncertainties about his or her ability to perform work effectively.”

According to Billing, an individual’s perception is as important in such a situation as reality.

“While objective workload associated with a given role is clearly important, it is the perception of the overload that is more important,” Billing said. “Individuals have a threshold level for workload, beyond which work is perceived as overload. When an individual’s workload exceeds the optimal level that he or she is comfortable with on a daily basis in the work situation, then psychological strain is the likely outcome.”

“While work and perception of amount of work is important, a silent variable is time,” she added. “The essence of work overload is to do too much work in given amount of ‘time.’ Although we all continually refer to time, we quite easily forget about it when reflecting on stressful events.”

Westerners, she said, are sensitive to time, in tune with the adage “time is money.” Latin American and Asian cultures tend to see time as abundant. “Like the flow of a river, it’s just going to keep coming, so why worry about it,” is how she explained their approach.

People need to keep that in mind when dealing with people from other cultures. “If I’m not sensitive toward time like in Western countries, I can be in trouble when everyone is sensitive,” Billing said. “If I’m time-driven and you’re taking me to Latin America where perception of is time is abundant, I’ll be stressed out.”

A key to making the most of time – perceived or real – and to reducing stress is to plan, according to the professor’s research. “For individuals who emphasize planning and scheduling, the strength of the relationship between stressors and psychological strain is weaker than for individuals who do not emphasize planning and scheduling,” she said.

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