Are you, your colleagues or your employees stressed at work?

Stress is a psychological state of mind where one feels that no matter how hard you try it is impossible to complete your deliverable on time or to please your boss or, that you feel excessively challenged, or feel overburdened, tired, anxious and irritable all the time. While minor amounts of stress increase productivity, it typically decreases it and lets you make silly mistakes which will impact your physical and emotional health.


This state of mind is present in every workplace and is often created intentionally. Typically, this means that either there is too much work to do or that one’s task is extremely challenging. Before we look into how to get out or get others out of a stressed state of mind, let’s review the preconditions to be in flow:


  1. Goals, objectives and/or tasks are clear
  2. Feedback is rapid and unambiguous
  3. An individual feels that they are in control of their actions and output
  4. Skill and challenge level are reasonably high and matched with each other


If any of these conditions are not adequately met, please review the articles about Clear GoalsContinuous FeedbackSensation of Control and Balanced Challenges for how to do so. Once they are adequately met, bringing one into a flow zone involves increasing their skills, providing more resources or reducing the challenge of the workload.


Before we get into the topic of bringing people out of stress let’s take a quick look at benefits of being minorly stressed. A little bit of stress can help you stay focused, energetic, and able to meet new challenges in the workplace. In fact, it is the most critical element involved in the growth of an individual – emotional, psychological or even physical. Steven Kotler, in his 2014 book, The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance, hypothesizes that you are at an optimal flow zone if your challenge level is 4% greater than your skill level. While there is debate about the previous statement, every psychologist agrees that flow, growth, and consequently increased performance, happens only if the perceived challenge is greater than perceived ability to execute it.


If your stress levels or those of your colleagues or employees are high for long periods of time, let’s tone it down to minimize risk of a burnout. Common ways of doing so are to provide additional resources and the requisite training. Ex: In soccer, we want to improve our free kick ability and during practice we find that no matter what we do the goalie keeps stopping us. We may think that scoring of a free kick is the hardest thing in the world and would want to give up. This is when a coach needs to step in and show him how to swing the ball and how to use his team to score. All of a sudden you have provided him some additional training and opened up more resources for him to score a goal while decreasing the perceived challenge of scoring of a free kick.