This week’s guest blog is by Simone Willis, a postgraduate researcher at Cardiff Metropolitan University in the School of Sport and Health Sciences. Here, Simone outlines her research and findings on occupational stress and wellbeing in the performing arts, with a focus on classical musicians. 

Performing artists face a wide range of stressors in the workplace, which may be organisational, social or personal in nature. These include public exposure, technical difficulties and perfectionism. Additionally, performing artists often work in a freelance capacity, meaning they lack job security and must be adept at forming new relationships. 

We conducted a systematic review to synthesise current research on the relationship between workplace stressors and the wellbeing of performing artists.

Key findings

We included quantitative, qualitative and mixed-methods studies in our review. The quality of included studies was mixed, with few meeting the criteria for the Mixed Methods Appraisal Tool.

Low wellbeing 

Factors including touring, scheduling, and job security were associated with low wellbeing. The demands of touring, such as separation from family and friends and temporary accommodation, related to low wellbeing. Scheduling could cause difficulties for performers when multiple technically demanding projects were programmed concurrently. Additionally, low levels of independence were an issue for orchestral musicians, who may have little input into creative processes. A lack of job security and low pay were frequently reported and were associated with low wellbeing. 

High wellbeing 

Autonomy, skill variety and social support were related to high wellbeing. Those working in freelance settings had a greater level of autonomy in creative and management decisions, which contributed to wellbeing. The opportunity for career development and taking on additional responsibilities was welcomed by performing artists. Social support from family, friends and colleagues was also related to higher wellbeing.

Mixed wellbeing 

Performance, relationships with colleagues and career identification were linked to both positive and negative aspects of wellbeing. Positive performance experiences led performers to feel connected with the audience and to experience positive emotions. However, the opposite was true of negative performance experiences. Performing alongside colleagues with a shared interest was related to high wellbeing although incidents of bullying and transient relationships were associated with low wellbeing. Performing artists are often characterised as being passionate about their work, which was seen to contribute to higher wellbeing. However, during difficult times, such as periods of unemployment, this high identification with their careers was associated with lower wellbeing.

What does this mean for policy and practice?

We encourage performing arts organisations to promote a culture of openness to facilitate discussions around workplace stressors and the experiences of performing artists. We recommend that employees are signposted to organisations where advice and support is available. The wide variety of workplace stressors that performing artists face suggests that multiple interventions may be needed to effectively support their wellbeing.

Much of the research in this area has focused on the negative aspects of the workplace for performing artists. Our research shows that the evidence presents a mixed picture in the quality of that evidence and a need to consider positive factors. We suggest that researchers use contemporary wellbeing frameworks to investigate the relationships between workplace stress and wellbeing. This, in turn, will facilitate further research that evaluates the effectiveness of various interventions that aim to support the wellbeing of performing artists.

What’s next? 

The full article has been published in the Performance Science section of Frontiers in Psychology. We are currently investigating the impact of occupational demands on wellbeing in classical musicians through a longitudinal questionnaire study.

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