Media Releases

Do creative work activities create stress? A new study identifies the challenges for the boundaries between work and family.

June 9, 2010

TORONTO, ON – The demands asso­ci­at­ed with cre­ative work activ­i­ties pose key chal­lenges for work­ers, accord­ing to new research out of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to that describes the stress asso­ci­at­ed with some aspects of work and its impact on the bound­aries between work and fam­i­ly life. 

Researchers mea­sured the extent to which peo­ple engaged in cre­ative work activ­i­ties using data from a nation­al sur­vey of more than 1,200 Amer­i­can work­ers. Soci­ol­o­gy pro­fes­sor Scott Schie­man (UofT) and his coau­thor and PhD stu­dent Marisa Young (UofT) asked par­tic­i­pants ques­tions like: “How often do you have the chance to learn new things?”; “How often do you have the chance to solve prob­lems?”; “How often does your job allow you to devel­op your skills or abil­i­ties?” and “How often does your job require you to be cre­ative?” They used respons­es to these ques­tions to cre­ate an index that they label “cre­ative work activ­i­ties.” 

The authors describe three core sets of find­ings: 

  • Peo­ple who score high­er on the cre­ative work index are more like­ly to expe­ri­ence exces­sive job pres­sures, feel over­whelmed by their work­loads, and more fre­quent­ly receive work-relat­ed con­tact (emails, texts, calls) out­side of nor­mal work hours;
  • In turn, peo­ple who expe­ri­ence these job-relat­ed pres­sures engage in more fre­quent “work-fam­i­ly multitasking”—that is, they try to jug­gle job- and home-relat­ed tasks at the same time while they are at home.
  • Tak­en togeth­er, these job demands and work-fam­i­ly mul­ti­task­ing result in more con­flict between work and fam­i­ly roles—a cen­tral cause of prob­lems for func­tion­ing in the family/household domain. 

Accord­ing to Schie­man, “these stress­ful ele­ments of cre­ative work detract from what most peo­ple gen­er­al­ly see as the pos­i­tive sides of cre­ative job con­di­tions. And, these process­es reveal the unex­pect­ed ways that the work life can cause stress in our lives—stress that is typ­i­cal­ly asso­ci­at­ed with high­er sta­tus job con­di­tions and can some­times blur the bound­aries between work and non-work life.” 

This research also dis­cov­ered that peo­ple who score high­er on the cre­ative work index are more like­ly to think about their work out­side of nor­mal work hours. How­ev­er, when this occurred, many said that they didn’t feel “stressed out” by these thoughts. Schie­man adds: “There are aspects of cre­ative work that many peo­ple enjoy think­ing about because they add a sense of accom­plish­ment and ful­fill­ment to our lives. This is quite dif­fer­ent from the stress­ful thoughts about work that keep some of us awake at night: the dead­lines you can’t con­trol, some­one else’s incom­pe­tent work that you need to han­dle first thing in the morn­ing, or rou­tine work that lacks chal­lenge or feels like a grind.” 

The full study, “The Demands of Cre­ative Work: Impli­ca­tions for Stress in the Work-Fam­i­ly Inter­face,” appears in the Spring 2010 issue of the jour­nal Social Sci­ence Research.


 For more infor­ma­tion please con­tact:

Scott Schie­man, lead author

April Kemick
Media Rela­tions Offi­cer