Stress or Distress Which Is It?

When is stress good for your productivity?

Businessman stressed out at work in casual office

Stress, stressors, burnout, and conflict, these words are all too common in the workplace every day. There has been a lot of organizational research stating that stress in the workplace is killing us! But is it really? Maybe workplace stress is really not as bad as we believe it is.

Watch this video from Harvard Business Review, click here to open the link.

This video sums up a performance concept called the Yerkes Dodson Law, where an individualā€™s performance is based on a certain amount of stress.

The Yerkers Dodson Law states that stress is a variable and if there is not enough stress your performance may not reach a peak, if you have too much stress your performance will decrease. The amount of workplace stress an individual may feel is also dependent on the type of work being done. Some stress does help us focus and get things accomplished, especially if the work is not simulating. However, the reverse is true, if the work is complicated: too much stress will reduce your workplace performance.

The word stress does have a bad rap in the workplace, but perhaps we should chose more appropriateĀ language to explain our feelings. At work we should use the word stress if it adds or sharpens our performance and use the word distress when the psychological pressure leads to poorer or impaired performance.

Like many things at work it will help if the HR department has a solid understanding of what can affect an individual or an organizations performance. We should not just use the word stress when we are feeling overwhelmed, but analyze all aspects before giving the emotional feeling a label.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Think about the last time you had a project at school or a task at work to complete and you felt stressed out? Was it stress or was it distress that you were feeling? Did the stress help you perform better or worst on the project or task?
  2. How would you present this concept of the Yerkers Dodson Law to a workplace that was saying it was stressed out?
  3. Research to see if there are any workplace stress tests that would be valuable for you to administer in the workplace as an HR practitioner

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