You Really Should Stop Bragging About This at Work

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Man irritated by co-worker
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Talking about how much money you earn long has been viewed as a workplace faux pas. But another behavior might be even worse.

Grousing about how stressed out you are — sometimes known as “busy bragging” — can make you seem less competent and less likable in the eyes of co-workers, according to recent research from the University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business.

Researchers asked a panel of 360 participants to respond to statements from imaginary co-workers who had just returned from a conference.

One statement was an example of busy bragging, with the co-worker complaining that the conference was “just one more thing on my full plate. And I was already stressed to the max … you have no idea the stress that I am under.”

In another statement, a co-worker simply said work had been stressful recently. And a third co-worker described how great the conference was and did not complain about stress.

The co-worker who engaged in busy bragging was viewed as significantly less likable and less competent than the other two co-workers. In addition, the survey respondents said they would be less inclined to help the busy bragger with work.

In a summary of the findings, Jessica Rodell, lead author of the study and a professor of management in UGA’s Terry College of Business, says:

“People are harming themselves by doing this thing they think is going to make them look better to their colleagues.”

The researchers also interviewed 218 workers about their real-life experiences with busy braggers, and the results were similar to those of the initial survey.

However, workers describing actual workplace interactions added that listening to busy bragging left them feeling burned out and more personally stressed.

Rodell says such feelings might be the result of how busy bragging builds a perception that chronic levels of stress are simply a normal part of daily life at work. In the summary, she says:

“When somebody is constantly talking about and bragging about their stress, it makes it seem like it is a good thing to be stressed. It just spills over onto the co-worker next to them. They wind up feeling more stressed, which leads to higher burnout or withdrawal from their work. Think of it as this spiraling contagious effect from one person to the next.”

It is noteworthy that those who simply complained about stress — but not in a bragging way — did not elicit such a negative reaction, Rodell says. In fact, those who said they were stressed actually appear to be more competent, she says.

In addition, those who simply complained about their stress levels did not cause their co-workers to feel stressed themselves.

The findings suggest that it is the bragging about stress levels — not the reporting of stress itself — that turns off co-workers.

Rodell says workers who are stressed should not shy away from confiding in others about how they feel. Rather, they should avoid wearing stress as “a badge of honor to be bragged about — that will backfire.”

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