Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock

Social media can throw spotlighton stress at work

Study shows online activity offers a real-time snapshot of employees' mentality far more readily and consistently than any survey could

It is well-documented that stress can make for an unproductive workplace, causing employees to run late, fall behind, snap at co-workers, or quit when they just can’t take it anymore.

But little research has been done on the day-to-day patterns underlying employees’ feelings of stress—may be because it has been historically difficult to track people’s emotions and moods in real time as they correspond to their work environment.

However, the ubiquitousness of social media has enabled researchers to analyse large, representative samples of people who offer their observations immediately and without prompting. The authors of a new study, Twitter Analysis: Studying US Weekly Trends in Work Stress and Emotion, analysed a database of more than 2 billion tweets from almost 47 million individuals during an 18-month period. After filtering for only English-language tweets with the words “work" or “job" in the post, the authors were left with a sample of over 8 million work-related tweets, or about 3.65% of all the tweets that were sent during that time.

The analysis of the tweets revealed that everybody really does hate Mondays. Tweets with mentions of work and stress peaked on Mondays and slowly declined through Thursday. On Friday, there was a much steeper drop-off, suggesting that people are mentally ready to be out of the office, looking forward to the weekend.

Interestingly, the analysis also uncovered that stressful emotions and stress-related comments don’t decrease steadily from Friday through the weekend, but actually begin to pick up again on Saturday and increase markedly on Sunday. Clearly, the “Sunday blues" are not a myth—people begin fretting about their work as the weekend draws to a close and Monday morning approaches.

The authors also examined tweets related to positive work-related emotions, and found that these dipped to their lowest at mid-week, when people are presumably on the grind, but increased over the weekend, which indicates that the weekend does have a balancing, restorative power that leads many to tweet optimistically about work.

Thus, the study showed that online activity offers a real-time snapshot of employees’ mentality far more readily and consistently than any survey could. For managers, the study provides rich evidence that the average employee experiences different levels of stress throughout the work week.

Of course, keeping an eye on employees’ social media postings could also provide a valuable window into workforce morale.