Anyone reading yesterday’s news article, ‘Rats taught to drive tiny cars to lower stress levels’, would be forgiven if, like me, you had to double check that the publication date for the article was indeed October 24th and not April 1st.
After watching the video for the fifth time, and not knowing whether to marvel or despair at the realisation that the rat appears to be better at parallel parking than I am, I got to thinking about the results of the research. All of the rats who had been taught to drive were found by the scientists to have higher levels of an anti-stress hormone, which the scientists believe could be linked to the satisfaction of learning a new skill.
In the workplace, for most employees, learning new skills is likely to have an impact on stress levels but it’s not always a given that this impact will be positive. For some, the opportunity to learn new skills is something that will help them thrive and will trigger positive thoughts and emotions. These employees may even start to experience a stress response when they don’t have enough challenge and opportunity to learn. However, for others, the thought of being pushed out of their comfort zone is enough to trigger feelings of a loss of control, which in turn can cause a spike in stress hormones.
We’re all different, and we all have a different capacity to cope with adversity at work, perceived or otherwise. Employees need to be as self-aware as possible and understand their own patterns of thinking. Managers need to apply a human lens to every situation and understand and acknowledge the fears, emotions and self-doubts faced by some employees being asked to learn something new or indeed facing any sort of change. Companies need to put themselves in the shoes of their employees, and these shoes come in all different shapes and sizes, and they need to help employees help themselves when it comes to managing stress and those situations that commonly trigger a stress response.
Back to the driving rats! What I’d really like to see now is some research on the stress levels of the University of Richmond team who lead the rodent riding research. If teaching humans to drive is one of the most stressful jobs you can do, I can only imagine the patience needed to teach rats…..