Can stress help employees perform better?

There's a plethora of literature out there, coaching employees and HR leaders on how to handle workplace stress

Can stress help employees perform better?
It seems as if there’s a plethora of literature out there, coaching employees and HR leaders on how to handle workplace stress. But can some stress actually help improve your abilities?

In the world of HR, ‘stress’ is a naughty word. It can have connotations of being depressed, of being over-worked and under-appreciated. However, a study from Daniela Kaufer and Elizabeth Kirby, in 2013, found that stress can actually propel you forward and help you meet a challenge. The scientists found that “some amounts of stress are good to push you just to the level of optimal alertness, behavioural and cognitive performance".

Speaking to Chris Edmonds, world-renowned author on organizational culture and employee engagement, he revealed to us why he believes some stress can aid workplace productivity.

“Stress is not a bad thing,” he told us. “In purposeful, positive, productive work cultures, stress can inspire aligned teamwork and creative problem-solving, to ensure that the company, its employees, and its customers are well-taken care of in the moment.”

Edmonds went on to explain how most stress in the workplace is down to anxieties over fear and punishment – which has been proven to be a purely short-term benefit.

“In essence, it works as long as the punishment is present,” continued Edmonds. “As soon as the leader leaves, to go punish another player or team, people stop performing. They wait and observe and listen. When the leader returns, effort increases.

“Fear and punishment has never been shown to boost discretionary energy or proactive problem-solving.”

Research from Statistics Canada found that one in four workers report being highly stressed in their roles, with an additional 46% reporting slight stress on a day-to-day basis. Risks associated with prolonged exposure to stress include depression, heart disease and substance abuse.

With that in mind, what should HR leaders be doing to encourage collaborative problem-solving rather than high-intensity stress in the workplace?

“What does boost discretionary energy and proactive problem-solving is consistent trust, respect, and validation,” added Edmonds.

“Stress occurs because of market demands, customer demands, and pace demands. I’d much rather reside in a values-aligned, high performance culture when stress hits - then I’ll have trusted colleagues beside me to address the opportunities.”

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