Working in more than one team at the same time is a daily occurrence on the work floor of large companies and government agencies. For experienced employees, multiple-team membership makes work more challenging and interesting. But for newer colleagues, the simultaneous membership of different teams leads to problems. They experience unhealthy stress levels and as a result, are more often ill. These are the conclusions of Joost van de Brake, who will be awarded a PhD by the University of Groningen on 28 February.
Organizations see the simultaneous membership of different teams as a good way to optimally use employees’ knowledge and skills. This working method forces employees to constantly switch between different teams, for example because as experts they can contribute to more than one simultaneously ongoing project. The influence that multiple-team membership has on individual performance and psychological wellbeing is strongly dependent on the experience that employees have built up in their organization, concludes van de Brake.
Employees with little experience in an organization are more often confused about what is exactly expected of them. This so-called role ambiguity is stronger when the employee is actively involved in a greater number of simultaneous teams. It can lead to lower performances and higher absenteeism. However, for employees with a lot of experience in an organization, the situation is very different. They do not experience role ambiguity, but rather see multiple-team membership as a positive challenge. This improves their work performance.
Van de Brake advises employers to ‘protect’ their new employees for the first few years of their appointments. Do not immediately make them work in a trendy traineeship or multiple-project rotation system, even though this is usual nowadays and even if they want to. ‘If you have to work on multiple projects at the same time, you are placed under different expectations and have multiple clients, multiple project leaders and very many colleagues. From my research, it appears that employees with little experience – generally, young employees – handle this less well than people with higher-than-average work experience. For new employees, this leads to stress and absenteeism.’
Managers are good at limiting the multiple-team membership of employees that have to perform well in the short term, says van de Brake. In the long term, however, an employee can benefit from a gradual increase of the amount of teams that they work in. This can offer new perspectives and possibilities for a range of teams. An employee can profit from this if they have become accustomed to working simultaneously in several teams.
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