How to fight stress: Learn something new

September 7, 2018

Writing in Harvard Business Review, Professor David Mayer explains how more common solutions are often less effective.

David M. Mayer

How do you cope with stress at work? Maybe you simply decide to power through it, or maybe you like to take a break and try to refresh your mind?

Those typical solutions might not be the most effective options, according to a new article in Harvard Business Review. Research by Michigan Ross Professor David Mayer and his colleagues concluded that a third, perhaps counterintuitive, solution works better: Focus on learning.

Mayer conducted the research and coauthored the paper with two former PhD students at Michigan Ross, Chen Zhang and Chris Myers.

“This can mean picking up a new skill, gathering new information, or seeking out intellectual challenges,” the researchers write. “In two recent research projects, one with employees from a variety of industries and organizations, and the other with medical residents, we found evidence that engaging in learning activities can buffer workers from detrimental effects of stress including negative emotions, unethical behavior, and burnout.”

David Mayer is a professor of management and organizations at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business. Chen Zhang is an assistant professor of leadership and organization management at Tsinghua University’s School of Economics and Management. Christopher G. Myers is an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University on the faculty of the Carey Business School, School of Medicine, and Armstrong Institute for Patient Safety & Quality.

This article was originally published as a Ross Thought in Action article.