Too much, too little, just right: Stress at work, and the Goldilocks Principle — Andrew Yap

Asst. Prof. at INSEAD and former MIT Sloan Lecturer Andy Yap

From WBUR Cognoscenti

Stress used to be a dirty word. Study after study has shown that stress makes workers less productiveless satisfiedless healthy — and, therefore, more likely to call in sick. For many years, the message to managers was simple: Stress causes burnout; avoid it for yourself and for those who work under you at all costs.

Nowadays, however, the message is more complex. A growing body of research indicates that some stress is good for workers. Perhaps more important, studies have found that too little stress can be bad. Stress related to boredom leads employees to engage in counterproductive work behavior, such as spending aimless time on the Internet for non-work reasons, gossiping about colleagues, and taking way too much time completing work assignments.

So: Excessive stress leads to mental exhaustion and poor health, but not enough stress results in boredom and demotivation. What’s a manager to do? The answer lies in the Goldilocks Principle. The optimal level of stress is not too much, not too little, but an amount that’s just right.

Moderate levels of stress bring out the best in employees. Research indicates that employees operating under a moderate amount of stress learn faster, are more resilient and are able to juggle multiple tasks. Cultivating a work environment of energized employees thriving on ‘just the right amount of stress’ requires a deft touch. Here are some tips and techniques to consider:

Read the full post at WBUR Cognoscenti.

Andy Yap is Asst. Prof. of Organisational Behaviour at INSEAD and former Lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management. 

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