Rishika Sharma, Department of Psychology, University of Central Florida. Giselle Chaviano, Department of Psychology, University of Central Florida. Michael J. DiStaso, M.S. Industrial-Organizational Psychology, Department of Psychology, University of Central Florida.
Individuals? levels of emotional exhaustion can vary based on the work they anticipate (Casper & Sonnentag, 2019; DiStaso & Shoss, 2020). Employees choose how to best cope with their future workload, and it is important to identify how these anticipatory coping strategies affect well-being. The purpose of this study is to examine the impact of planning for anticipated workload on emotional exhaustion. We tested the following hypotheses: H1: Anticipated workload will be positively associated with emotional exhaustion ten days later. H2: Planning moderates the positive relationship between anticipated workload and emotional exhaustion, such that the relationship will be strong and positive when planning is low, and non-significant when planning is high.
In occupational stress research, planning is an anticipatory coping strategy that involves the identification and organization of steps toward achieving a goal (Casper & Sonnentag, 2019). Planning is particularly important at work because many jobs have complex tasks and variable workloads, and workers often devise strategies to address complex tasks. However, we still know little about the particular effect planning has on workers? well-being when employees anticipate high workloads. A recent study conducted by Casper and Sonnentag (2019) studied employees? anticipated workload, and hypothesized planning after work reduced emotional exhaustion the following day. They found no evidence that planning buffered the relationship between anticipated workload and emotional exhaustion, despite theory suggesting that planning is an adaptive coping strategy. Our study extends existing research on work-related planning by assessing workers? expected workload and planning behavior during a two-week period rather than on a day-to-day basis.
This completed study consisted of a two-part online survey that was distributed on an online research participation system. Part 1 asked participants to report their anticipated workload over the next two weeks. Ten days later, participants reported their levels of work-related planning during the previous two weeks and emotional exhaustion. In total, 130 participants completed both surveys. Moderation analyses were used to test our hypotheses. Measures can be found in Table 1.
The results displayed a positive main effect of anticipated workload on emotional exhaustion (b = .23, SE = .09, 95% CI [.05, .41]). We then tested the interaction of anticipated workload and planning; we found that this interaction was statistically significant (b =.26, SE = .12, 95% CI [.03, .50 ]). We explored this interaction by computing the simple slopes of the anticipated workload – emotional exhaustion relationship at high (+1 SD) and low (-1 SD) levels of planning. When planning was high, the effect of anticipated workload on emotional exhaustion was strong (b =.44, SE = .13, 95% CI [.20, .69)]. On the other hand, when planning was low, the effect was weak (b =.02, SE = .14, 95% CI [- .26, .29]). Thus, Hypothesis 2 was not supported; planning intensified the effect of anticipated workload on emotional exhaustion rather than buffering the effect.
H1 was supported; evidence suggested that workers? anticipated workload over the following two weeks predicted emotional exhaustion levels. This finding extends existing work conducted by Casper & Sonnentag (2019) who examined people?s anticipated workloads on a day-to-day basis. This finding reflects a strength of the study (i.e., testing coping behavior over a new timeframe), and suggests that workers think about their tasks beyond the following day, and their stressor expectations over longer timeframes impact well-being. However, findings did not support H2. When employees put more effort into planning for their anticipated work, they felt higher levels of emotional exhaustion. This could be because planning itself requires a lot of cognitive effort, later causing more emotional exhaustion when the work actually comes around. The unexpected finding could also relate to a limitation of this study. We specifically use a measure of quantitative workload (i.e., how much work an employee expects), rather than qualitative workload (i.e., the difficulty of expected work). This distinction (Bowling & Kirkendall, 2012) may be critical. It is possible that planning is an adaptive coping strategy for difficult work, but not large amounts of work. In terms of practical implications, results suggest that planning for high workload periods may exhaust employees. We acknowledge that planning may be critical for some job roles. Therefore, managers should be aware that employees in these job roles may exhaust themselves by using their cognitive resources for planning ahead.
The more workload an employee expects, the more emotionally exhausted they will feel. Contrary to our expectations, results indicated that high levels of planning for a high workload leads to more emotional exhaustion. Future studies could explain this finding by taking a more nuanced perspective on planning or a more nuanced perspective on workload. It is possible that planning consumes too many cognitive resources, and it is also possible that the quantitative-qualitative distinction of workload is important. In sum, planning appears to be a complex anticipatory coping strategy that requires nuanced investigation.