A new study says your anxiety can make you better at your job

A new study may help anyone with high-functioning anxiety feel a little better as researchers from the University of Toronto found that anxiety (in small doses) can help you to be more productive at work. It can help workers focus better and stay motivated. In other words, a small amount of anxiety can keep you on your toes and working hard. 

Photo by Laurenz Kleinheider

As someone who has dealt with anxiety their whole life, I know that it often contributes to some not so great moments in my life. However, a new study may help anyone with high-functioning anxiety feel a little better as researchers from the University of Toronto found that anxiety (in small doses) can help you to be more productive at work.

It helps workers focus better and stay motivated — in other words, a small amount of anxiety can keep you on your toes and working hard.

“If you have too much anxiety, and you’re completely consumed by it, then it’s going to derail your performance. On the other hand, moderate levels of anxiety can facilitate and drive performance,” said co-author Julie McCarthy from the Department of Management at U of T Scarborough and the Rotman School of Management.

Without anxiety, you won’t be motivated

McCarthy compares workers with high-functioning anxiety to athletes who are “trained to harness anxiety in order to remain motivated and stay on task. Likewise, if employees engage in something called self-regulatory processing, that is monitoring their progress on a task and focusing their efforts toward performing that task, it can help boost their performance.”


Ladders is now on SmartNews!

Download the SmartNews app and add the Ladders channel to read the latest career news and advice wherever you go.


In fact, lead study author Bonnie Hayden Cheng says that if anxiety is totally absent, you aren’t going to be motivated to do the job. Luckily, the absence of anxiety is pretty rare these days in the workplace as according to the study’s press release, 72% of Americans experiencing daily anxiety.

The study, which is published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, found that the main triggers for workplace anxiety were jobs that require constant expression or suppression of emotions, jobs with high-pressure deadlines, frequent organizational change, office politics and lack of control in the workplace. The authors also found that age, gender and job tenure can also play a role in workplace anxiety.

The authors did make clear that they do not think invoking anxiety should be used as a tool to get employees to work harder and that employers should actually address how to manage triggers for employee anxiety. Cheng says employers should consider training sessions to help increase employee confidence and helping them manage their anxiety.

Meredith Lepore|is the Deputy Editor of Ladders and can be reached at mlepore@theladders.com.