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Relationship between mental toughness, stress appraisal, and innovation performance of R&D personnel

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Four hundred and two R&D personnel were surveyed through questionnaires to study the relationship between mental toughness, stress appraisal (including experience of stress and stress control), and innovation performance. The findings reveal a significant negative correlation between mental toughness and stress experience and a significant positive correlation between mental toughness and both stress control and innovation performance. Furthermore, although the experience of stress was negatively correlated with innovation performance, stress control had the opposite effect. Experience of stress and stress control were the mediating variables for mental toughness and innovation performance, respectively. There was also a significant interaction effect between stress appraisal and mental toughness.
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1 INTRODUCTION
Nowadays, the ability to innovate is an indicator of
how competitive an enterprise is. Innovation perfor-
mance has also become a topic of concern for a long
time. This is especially so for the case of R&D per-
sonnel, because their innovation performance is an
important factor that contributes towards the innova-
tion performance of enterprises. In today’s hi-tech and
increasingly competitive world, researchers are facing
more stress at work than ever before. While an appro-
priate amount of stress at work is a good way to moti-
vate staff to be enthusiastic and creative, sustained and
excessive work stress often causes job burnout and
leads to a detriment in the staff’s physical and mental
health, which in turn seriously affects their work effi-
ciency.
Mental toughness refers to the quality which deter-
mines to a large extent how people deal effectively
with challenge, stress, and pressure regardless of pre-
vailing circumstances (Clough & Strycharczyk, 2012,
p.1). It encompasses four aspects: commitment, con-
trol, challenge, and confidence (Clough, Earl, & Sew-
ell, 2002). Commitment refers to the belief in one’s
purpose and meaning in life; sense of control is the
belief that one is able to influence the things that hap-
pen around oneself through one’s effort; challenge
refers to the ability to comprehend negative situations
and regard it as a motivating force; and confidence
includes having faith in one’s abilities and in-
ter-personal skills.
Previous research has shown that individuals with a
higher degree of mental toughness were able to handle
stress more effectively (Kaiseler, Polman, & Nicholls,
2009; Nicholls, Polman, Levy, & Backhouse, 2008)
and perform more optimally (Jones, Hanton, & Con-
naughton, 2007). Earlier studies relating to stress and
innovation performance also generally found that
stress was a major factor holding back researchers
from achieving their full potential (e.g., Rager, 2005;
Bunce, 1996). In view of that, we hypothesized that
researchers with strong mental toughness would be
better able to manage stress and handle adversity,
thereby experiencing less pressure and achieving bet-
ter innovation performance. The following assump-
tions were made for this study: (a) mental toughness is
negatively correlated with stress experience but posi-
tively correlated with stress control and performance
innovation; (b) stress experience and stress appraisal
are the mediating variables for mental toughness and
innovation performance respectively; and (c) there is a
significant interaction effect between stress appraisal
and mental toughness. The last assumption was made
because very few studies had examined this issue and
we would like to confirm it. To verify the above-stated
assumptions, we examined the relationship between
Relationship between mental toughness, stress appraisal, and innovation
performance of R&D personnel
Jin Feng
Southwest Jiaotong University, Chengdu, Sichuan
,China
ABSTRACT:
Four
hundred and two R&D personnel were surveyed through questionnaires to study the rela-
tionship between mental toughness, stress appraisal (including experience of stress and stress control), and inno-
vation performance. The findings reveal a significant negative correlation between mental toughness and stress
experience and a significant positive correlation between mental toughness and both stress control and innovation
performance. Furthermore, although the experience of stress was negatively correlated with innovation perfor-
mance, stress control had the opposite effect. Experience of stress and stress control were the mediating variables
for mental toughness and innovation performance, respectively. There was also a significant interaction effect
between str
ess appraisal and mental toughness.
Keywords
: mental toughness; researchers; stress; innovation performance
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© The Authors, published by EDP Sciences. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the
Creative
Commons
Attribution License 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).
the mental toughness and stress appraisal of research-
ers and their innovation performance.
2 METHODS
2.1 Respondents
A total of 426 researchers responded to the web-based
survey that we conducted. Of the submitted question-
naires, 402 were deemed valid. Of the 402 participants,
195 (48.5%) were men, and 207 (51.5%) were women;
further, 98 (24.4%) were 30 years and below, 124
(30.8%) were 3140 years, 105 (26.1%) were 4149
years, and 75 (18.7%) were 50 years and above. Par-
ticipants were employed in universities (158; 39.3%),
research institutes (113; 28.1%), or corporations and
enterprises (131; 32.6%).
2.2 Materials
(1) Mental toughness. This was measured using the
Mental Toughness Questionnaire48 (MTQ48), a
questionnaire with a 5-point response scale that was
established by Clough et al. (2002). For this study, the
internal consistency reliability for the overall scale of
the questionnaire and its six dimensions ranged from
0.750.87, indicating a relatively high degree of relia-
bility.
(2) Stress appraisal. Respondents were asked to
rate their experience of stress over the past two weeks
prior to the survey. A 7-point rating scale was adopted,
ranging from 1 (did not feel any stress at all) to 7 (felt
extremely stressed). A 7-point rating scale was also
used to measure their level of stress control, ranging
from 1 (completely out of control) to 7 (completely
within control).
(3) Innovation performance. This was measured
by using three factors proposed in the study by Brown
and Eisenhardt (1995). Respondents were asked to
rate, on a 7-point scale, their own standing relative to
their peers and competitors in terms of: (a) developing
new products or technologies often and regularly, (b)
rapidly marketing their new products or technologies,
and (c) developing high-quality new products or
technologies.
(4) Procedure. A web-based survey was conducted,
where respondents were invited to voluntarily com-
plete a questionnaire posted on a designated web site.
The collated statistics were analyzed using SPSS 16.0
(SPSS Inc., Chicago, IL).
3 RESULTS
Firstly, the scores for mental toughness, experience of
stress, stress appraisal, and innovation performance
were studied, and the average values and standard
deviations derived (see Table 1). It was found that the
stress level faced by researchers was generally high
(M = 5.096, SD = 2.122), while their ability to manage
stress was relatively low (M = 2.936, SD = 2.312).
Further analysis showed that stress control (r = .326,
p < .05) and innovation performance(r = .496, p < .01)
were both positively correlated with mental toughness,
while experience of stress was negatively correlated
with mental toughness (r = -.215, p < .05). However,
stress control and innovation performance were both
negatively correlated with the experience of stress.
Lastly, there was a significant positive correlation
between stress control and innovation performance
(see Table 1). The above-stated findings verified the
Table 1
. Scores for mental toughness, stress appraisal, and innovation performance and
relationship between mental toughness,
stress appraisal, and innovation performance (N = 402)
Subscale
Maximum
Minimum
Mean
Standard Deviation
ES
SC
IP
MT
ES
SC
IP
4.856
7.000
7.000
6.748
1.936
1.000
1.000
3.854
3.796
5.096
2.936
4.869
0.583
2.122
2.312
.643
-.215
**
.326
**
-.517
***
.496
***
-.612
***
.397
**
Note.
MT: mental toughness; ES: experience of Stress; SC: stress control; IP: innovation performance.
All values are Pearson’s
correlation co
efficients.
(
* p < .05, ** p < .01, *** p <.001)
Table
2. Mediating variables for stress appraisal with mental toughness and innovation performance
Regression Equation
SE
Regression Coefficient
with MT and SC
y = .434x
m = .425x
y =.353x
+.379m
.076
.059
.042
.045
t=6.597
***
t=5.794
***
t=3.987
***
t=4.795
***
Table
3. Mediating variables for the experience of stress with mental toughness and innovation performance
Regression Equation
SE
Regression Coefficient
gression for IP with MT and ES
y = .434x
m = .549x
y = .386x
-.419m
.076
.068
.058
.062
t=6.597
***
t=7.794
***
t=4.675
***
t=5.869
***
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assumptions that we had made for the study.
A mediating effect test (Wen, Zhang, Hou, & Liu,
2004) found that stress control was a partial mediating
variable for mental toughness and innovation perfor-
mance (see Table 2). The experience of stress is an-
other partial mediating variable for mental toughness
and innovation performance (see Table 3). Again, the
assumptions of this study have been verified.
Using two-factor variable analysis, a significant in-
teraction effect was found between the experience of
stress and mental toughness (F(13, 216) = 35.629, p
< .01), as well as between stress control and mental
toughness (F (13,216) = 53.918, p < .01). Those who
scored among the top and bottom 27% for mental
toughness were extracted and categorized into the high
and low mental toughness groups, respectively. Anal-
ysis of the simple effects of stress experience and
stress control for these two groups (Table 4) found no
obvious difference between the innovation experience
of both groups when stress experience was high (≥5).
However, as the level of stress experienced reduced,
the disparity in the innovation performance between
the two groups gradually increased until it reached
significance (see Figure 1).
Table 4. Effect of Mental Toughness on the Level of Stress
Experience and Stress Appraisal
Experience
of Stress
F
p
Stress
control
F
p
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
12.034
11.159
10.264
7.895
5.518
2.032
.609
.007
.013
.021
.034
.048
.301
.732
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
.038
.363
1.969
1.891
7.653
8.791
10.435
.970
.831
.415
.453
.035
.027
.015
Figure 1. Interaction effect between mental toughness and
experience of stress
When stress control was low (<4), there was no ob-
vious difference between the innovation performance
of both groups However, the difference between the
two groups became increasingly significant as stress
control increased, with the high mental toughness
group faring much better (see Figure 2).
Figure 2. Interaction effect between mental toughness and
stress control
4 DISCUSSION
The findings of this study show that innovation per-
formance was negatively correlated with the experi-
ence of stress, but positively correlated with stress
control. Generally, the level of stress experienced by
researchers was high, while their stress control was
low. Earlier studies have also shown that they experi-
enced high levels of stress, and that there was a nega-
tive correlation between stress and innovation perfor-
mance (Liu et al., 2010). Most researchers have
pointed out that it is crucial to have their stress levels
reduced, for example, through assignment of a rea-
sonable role, clear definition of job scope, enhanced
social support, etc. This study found that mental
toughness was positively correlated with stress control,
but negatively correlated with the experience of stress.
Hence, in addition to the recommendations made by
earlier studies, we propose that programs be intro-
duced to assist staff in improving their mental tough-
ness and stress control, while reducing their experi-
ence of stress. These measures will lead to better in-
novation performance. Although this study has estab-
lished the relationships between mental toughness and
both stress control and experience of stress, it did not
clarify whether the results were due to high and low
mental toughness groups adopting different methods
of coping with stress, or the high mental toughness
group simply having better coping mechanisms. This
issue would need to be studied further in order to es-
tablish the theoretical foundation needed to formulate
a strategy to increase the mental toughness of staff.
Next, our study found that stress control and the
experience of stress were partial mediating variables
for mental toughness and innovation performance.
Specifically, the stronger one’s mental toughness and
stress appraisal were, the less pressure one would face,
leading to the achievement of higher standards of
innovation performance. This finding supports our
assumptions on the relationships between the mental
toughness and stress appraisal of researchers and their
innovation performance. Most of the empirical re-
search on mental toughness was done in relation to the
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ability to cope with stress. For example, the study by
Kaiseler et al. (2009) found that mental toughness was
negatively correlated with the level of stress experi-
enced by an individual. Other earlier studies on the
relationship between mental toughness and innovation
performance have also arrived at a similar conclu-
sionthat both were positively correlated (Jones et al.,
2007). Using these earlier studies as a foundation, this
study went one step further and attempted to clarify
the relationship between mental toughness, stress, and
innovation performance, while considering stress con-
trol as a partial mediating variable for both mental
toughness and innovation performance. It should be
noted that the experience of stress and stress control
were partialbut not completemediating variables
for mental toughness and innovation performance,
respectively. This shows that, in addition to the factor
of stress control, mental toughness was able to affect
the innovation performance of researchers through
other means. Previous studies have established a posi-
tive correlation between mental toughness and opti-
mism (Nicholls et al., 2008) and risk-taking (Bull,
Shambrook, James, & Brooks, 2005) etc. The mediat-
ing effects of other factors would have to be deter-
mined in future studies.
The two-factor variable analysis indicated that
mental toughness interacted separately with mental
control and experience of stress to affect the innova-
tion performance of staff. On one hand, when the ex-
perience of stress was very low or when stress control
was very high, the difference in innovation perfor-
mance between staff in the high and low mental
toughness groups was especially apparent. This further
illustrates that other mediating variables besides stress
control and stress experience were involved in the
relationship between mental toughness and innovation
performance. On the other hand, when the experience
of stress was very high or when stress control was
very low, there was no apparent difference in innova-
tion performance between staff in the high and low
mental toughness groups. This illustrates that staff
members who were mentally tough were able to en-
dure more stress and had better stress control. Howev-
er, when the level of stress exceeded manageable lev-
els, mental toughness had little impact on innovation
performance. This finding further illustrates the need
to reduce stress faced by staff, even as their mental
toughness is being enhanced. However, it should be
noted that this study only observed the overall experi-
ence of stress faced by staff and their stress control
and did not study the relationship between different
types of stress and the overall experience of stress and
stress control. As such, we are not able to claim whe-
ther it is necessary to consider the different types of
stress when reducing stress faced by staff, nor how the
different types of stress can be separately managed.
Future research into these areas will be needed in or-
der to arrive at a theoretical basis for the reasonable
reduction of stress.
5 CONCLUSION
There was a significant negative correlation between
mental toughness and stress experience and significant
positive correlations between mental toughness and
both stress control and innovation performance. Fur-
thermore, the experience of stress was negatively cor-
related with innovation performance, but stress control
had the opposite effect. Experience of stress and stress
control were the mediating variables for mental
toughness and innovation performance respectively.
There was also a significant interaction effect between
stress appraisal and mental toughness.
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