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How workplace stress can enhance productivity and effectiveness

  • 6 Min Read

With a large number of people at work, feeling stressed the majority of the time. We look at how there are some positives behind being stressed.

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With a large number of employees being stressed in the UK, many companies have seen this as a stark issue that instantly needs to be tackled. However, many studies have highlighted the benefits of stress at work. And how it can be used to increase productivity and effectiveness of a workforce.

Research from an experience management companyQualtrics, found that 90% of the UK workforce feel stressed, with 50% saying that they are stressed most of the time. So it is apparent that stress is a common thing. However, studies by the University of California Berkeley have highlighted that some stress is good for you.

Daniela Kaufer, associate professor of integrative biology at the University of California, Berkeley says “Some amounts of stress are good to push you just to the level of optimal alertness, behavioural and cognitive performance.” through studies and research, they have found that certain events could do the opposite to what everyone expects from stress, and actually helps the brain to remain focused. She continues by saying “I think intermittent stressful events are probably what keeps the brain more alert, and you perform better when you are alert,”

She concludes their research, saying “Stress can be something that makes you better, but it is a question of how much, how long and how you interpret or perceive it.”

So it could be said that a moderate amount of stress in the office could continue to boost productivity and engagement. This moderate amount of stress could also be the answer to the significant number of employees in the UK that are coasting. As Laura Matthew, a workplace wellbeing consultant at Barnett Waddingham goes on to discuss. “A large proportion believe they are coasting (32%) or struggling (7%) in their careers. There are two types of coasters; conscious coasters who are content just plodding along, able but unwilling to put more effort in, and disengaged coasters, who want to make a difference by contributing more but feel restricted in their ability to achieve this in their role.” So without a significant number of UK employees being stressed at work. If this wasn’t the case, then this number of ‘coasters’ could potentially increase.

Beth Crane, founder of Slow Living LDN goes on to discuss the idea of stress, saying “Throughout our careers, we’re encouraged to strive towards the perfect ‘work-life balance’. Yet, to do so is to set ourselves up for failure. Why? Because such a binary phrase ignores the idea that stress, like a rollercoaster, rises and falls in intensity, and that ‘life’ (everything outside work) can also create its own challenges. However, noticing when you’re ascending the rollercoaster can sometimes offer a catalyst to make more long-term lifestyle changes.”

Stress has been said to be a reaction caused by the body and brain when a threat of challenge emerges. There are two types of stress, the positive side can affect your overall performance. This can be directly compared to a athletes performance. When an athlete is but under threat from other opponents, it is said to motivate and encourage the individual, enhancing their level of performance.

Beth continues by talking about how to turn stress positive, saying “When it comes to turning stress into something more positive, it’s good to consider Professor Stew Friedman’s notion of work-life integration – rather than balance – which encourages finding better harmony between the four key aspects of our lives: work, home, community and self. By making positive changes in one area, he explains how we can create a knock-on effect in others: a “four-way win”.”

She goes onto reinforcing examples into combatting this, saying  “exercising before work will most likely positively impact your productivity in the office, self-esteem, health and how you interact with others in general.”

“When riding towards a stress peak, being mindful and considering the macro view may allow you to feel better prepared and energised in dealing with both the present and subsequent peaks in the future.”

So although there are some positives to stress, if not managed well it still leaves a crucial threat. Ian McVey, Enterprise Lead for Northern Europe at Qualtrics, discusses what employers could potentially do to manage this “ Employers should think carefully about how they can help their staff manage work-life balance. If managers are going to get the most out of their staff, they need to work to alleviate stress by championing a better work-life balance, and providing support on how to manage a demanding workload.”

When looking at how most people deal with stress at the workplace. Reports by Reboot Digital Marketing Agency have found that 76% of participants complained to friends/families or colleagues. 73% took some time off of work, and a surprisingly 70% chose to take frequent toilet breaks.

When looking at how we can manage stress in order to turn this into positivity, Ian Robertson, cognitive neuroscientist as well as an author of the book ‘The stress test: How pressure can make you stronger and sharper’ he believes that there is a way to train our brain so much so that it can cope with stress. He said to Quartz “there’s a sweet spot in the middle where if you have just the right amount, the Goldilocks zone of noradrenaline, that acts like the best brain-tuner, As long as it’s not too stressful, we can build stronger brain function. If we have stronger brain function we’ll be happier, we’ll be less anxious, less depressed and we’ll be smarter”

Ian in a separate talk, discusses the importance of anxiousness behind challenges, talking about how comedians and athletes use this to their advantage, saying “Many comedians and performers worry if they don’t feel that edge of anxiety before a performance. Tiger Woods says if he doesn’t feel anxious before a match he knows he’s going to do badly.”

So although stress is a significant issue that is prominent amongst the UK workforce. If managed well, it could prove to enhance productivity and ability. A spokesperson from Heath Saftey Executive discussed ways in which employees can manage their stress well, saying “As well as organisational, preventative measures, employers can provide a number of measures such as training managers in awareness of stress, how to support people experiencing issues, recognising the signs of stress etc. Other interventions include coping mechanisms such as resilience training and mindfulness training to help people understand how stress may impact on them and learning techniques to reduce that impact. There are many ‘stress tools’ offered by consultants and other enterprises, but the most effective interventions seem to be holistic approaches that include an organisational approach and a selection of other measures designed to manage stress and provide support or treatment for individuals that become affected.”

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