In the driven U.S. social scene of full-time jobs, after-school children’s activities, volunteer obligations and just managing the day-to-day, many find that they are under increased stress.
Research conducted by a faculty member at New Jersey-based Rowan University suggests that the way people perceive time can either increase or decrease that stress.
Dr. Tejinder Billing, assistant professor of management in the Rohrer College of Business has studied the correlation between stress, time and work-family conflict in three different countries: the U.S., her native India and Venezuela.
Through her research, she has determined that while objective workload may represent a certain reality, the perception of that workload by an individual is more important.
“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,” she said
A silent variable in this equation of work and perception of work, according to Billing, is time.
“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,” she said.
Billings’ studies into time and workload commenced while she was studying at the University of Memphis and realized that people in the U.S. are “driven by the clock.”
“I actually didn’t find one single room in my school that didn’t have a clock. In India, clocks are not of such importance,” she noted, adding that cultural differences and attitudes toward time affect the way people manage time and deal with stress.
While Latin American and Asian cultures view time as an abundant resource, their Western counterparts are much more sensitive to the boundaries of time, Billings said, adding that people need to be aware of these differences when dealing with 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 time is abundant, I’ll be stressed out.”
Billings said that people in the U.S. who put high emphasis on planning are better able to deal with work overload than those who do not emphasize planning and scheduling of activities in both their work and non-work lives.
In both the Indian and Venezuelan cultures, though, planning did not produce the same positive impact, which points to impact of perception of time across cultures.
Billings suggested that a key finding of the research is that people in the U.S. can manage and reduce stress more effectively by planning. “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.
Research indicates that other factors influence our perception of time such as whether we were brought up to do things in sequential order or multi-task.
“We all have different attitudes toward time. We have different senses of time. And as a result we perceive and use time differently,” Billings noted.
One concept about time and perception rang true for all three cultures. Research revealed that people in the United States, India and Venezuela all feel stress when they perceive themselves as having too much work and too little time in which to get it done.
The differences are revealed in how they experience stress.
Source: Rowan University