The Effects of Stress on Productivity
Understanding types of stressUnfortunately, managers who attempt to find an optimal stress level for their work groups frequently find their efforts produce inconsistent or downright negative results. One reason for this may be that stress comes in more than one flavor. Red tape, organizational politics and bureaucracy are classified as “hindrance-oriented” stressors. These sources of stress do not usually contribute to the overall mission fulfillment of an organization but rather serve as distractions to it. “Challenge-oriented” stressors include things such as high work load, deadlines and time pressure and directly contribute to the purpose of the organization. Even if we identify the sources of stress, how can managers be expected to use this knowledge in their quest to increase the effectiveness of their employees?
So what is missing?The answer may lie in a deeper understanding of attention theory and how other, perhaps less obvious considerations, may play into the relationship between stress and productivity. Research has identified these considerations and suggests that managers can have a role in preparing for periods of high stress. Some of the factors that impact individual employees’ responses to stress may be both understandable and controllable. In addition to stress level, organizational commitment and experience in the job interact to impact an employee’s productivity level.
CommitmentIndividuals with high levels of organizational commitment view the goals, tasks and mission of the organization as important and worthwhile. They experience a sense of satisfaction when they believe that their efforts help to achieve organizational goals. This commitment provides the motivation for employees to expend effort but not necessarily the know how to direct their energies in the most productive way.
Practice doesn’t always make perfectOf course, experience alone does not equal greater productivity. While experience on a job provides an opportunity for skill improvement and mastery, it may also result in bad habits becoming more and more ingrained. Most everyone can remember a college instructor whose numerous years of experience were overshadowed by a painfully obvious inability to effectively communicate the subject matter to students. Experience that leads to greater productivity is defined by a mastery of important skills and the knowledge about which tasks are truly important to goal attainment. When both organizational commitment and experience are high, job stress tends to focus employees motivation on tasks critical to goal attainment and energies toward those value rich tasks over which they have mastery.
What can be done?Managers who try to manipulate the stress level of a position may be missing the boat in terms of employee motivation and subsequent productivity. Managers can engage in the following proactive tasks to maximize performance:
- Identify and Buffer Employees Against “Hindrance-Oriented” Stressors
- Facilitate Mastery of Skills Which Contribute to Attainment of Organizational Goals
- Increase Organizational Commitment Through Employee-Centered Behaviors
DeGarmo GroupThis was a summary of the research and practice implications from: Hunter, L., Thatcher, S.M. (2007). Feeling the heat: Effects of stress, commitment, and job experience on job performance. The Academy of Management Journal, 50 (4),953-968.