Consequences of Stress at Work

At individual level, when we feel too much stress it is physically uncomfortable. It actually shifts how we look at the world and process information. So it really narrows our attention to think about the problems in our environment. In that narrowing of attention, stress impedes or undermines our creativity or productivity.

There are studies that show that when we are really stress out, we can’t remember information as effectively and we can’t retrieve what we have been exposed to. Stress impedes our capacity to connect with others, to engage in open conversations. And to form those networks that are so vital to innovation and the high quality of work.

Stress manifests in a social style where we seem nervous, distracted and agitated. And other people will find us less trustworthy and less likely to collaborate. Stress affects our social behaviour that can really undermine the quality of collaborative work. Stress narrows what we attend to in other people and we don’t hear their out-of-box thinking as effectively. It really biases us to be suspicious of other people and not trust others, which is a foundation of good work in organizations. Stress amplifies our tendency to blame, and to overestimate how much conflict there is and be less likely to smooth over the rough edges in social relationships at work.

Stress sort of spreads through teams and it makes teams less effective and efficient. It undermines problem-solving and information sharing. Stress can then spread out to the organisation. When there is a lot of stress people working for that organization are more likely to take days off. They feel disengaged, burnt out, uncommitted to their work, and there is a lot of turnover.

We know that stressed out organizations are less agile, they are not able to think outside of the box, to adapt to different kinds of context and changing markets. Stress is going to harm the interface with other clients and with other constituencies and produce poor service and various kinds of mistakes in organizations that harm the quality of work.