Did you know that the New Zealand company, Perpetual Guardian, has implemented a new work model with a work schedule of 4 days - 8 hours per week? If you are wondering the why of such a decision, the answer in one of the biggest problem that companies struggle with on a daily basis - stress and how it affects employee productivity.
If productivity is an indicator of performance, it’s also a determinant of organizational efficiency and is used as a measure of growth for a company. As such, we can easily see connections between the level of productivity presented by employees and organizational stress.
This connection between stress and productivity, has three distinct phases:
- Alert phase - productivity and creativity are still unchanged.
- Resistance or adaptation phase - productivity and creativity are reduced, loss of motivation and concentration, and change in work capacity.
- Exhaustion/exhaustion phase - sudden drop in productivity and creativity, loss of concentration and motivation, excessive irritability, incapacity for work, absenteeism ...
We can also point out, as effects of prolonged organizational stress, problems such as the increase in the number of accidents at work, more aggressive and authoritarian attitudes, conflicts, social isolation and negative organizational climate.
The more stress we feel, the less productive we are, and as such it becomes important to use stress management strategies – such as time management, diversified tasks or environmental suitability - to keep employees happy and therefore increase organizational productivity.
What is stress?
If you think that stress is something you should aim to be eliminated completely, think again! Stress can have a positive or negative impact on productivity. How many people do you know who leave everything to the last minute because they feel that that’s the only way they can work? And how many people do you know that with the accumulation of stress freeze?
At its core, stress is a reactionary response to a threat – like a real threat from a thief who points a knife to us or a psychological threat like a deadline that gets closer and closer.
Stress is so powerful that it translates into active responses in the brain, glands, hormones, immune system, heart, blood, and lungs. As such it is responsible for physical/motor responses (response fight/flight), mental/cognitive (increased attention, quick thinking) and physiological (heart accelerates, cold sweats, muscle tension).
Although stress is not truly classified as a disease, it becomes a cause of illness - that headache that constantly assaults you? Maybe it's time to analyse its cause ... Stress might be at its core.
If after reading these facts, you are thinking that your colleague who leaves everything to the last hour is crazy it’s important to note that, in fact, at moderate levels stress can lead to increased productivity, increase professional engagement, generate incentives and motivation.
But, attention! Over time, and with a chronic expression, stress can be extremely negative for the professional and the organization.
Causes and Effects of Stress
What kind of causes do you find for stress? Psychologists present several lists, based not only on internal situations - that depart from the person and their perception - and external - that occur to the person, including environment, noise, pollution, temperature and nutrition.
For good stress management, the first step is to identify the problem, recognize the effects and adopt the strategies that will solve it.
Some of the most common causes are:
- Exposure to threatening or abnormally intense and enduring situations. (for example, when someone is robbed on the street)
- Rumination or misinterpretation of the situations you face. (for example, when you spend more time pondering everything that can go wrong, than what will actually happen)
- Intense physiological activation to situations that do not require it - that causes wear and production of unused hormones. (for example, when you see a shadow and get scared and flushed by adrenaline, only to realize that this shadow belongs to the vase you have on the table. There is no reason for an extreme reaction, but you already produced adrenaline that will not be used)
- Misaligned responses to the situation - either by obstacles to appropriate behaviour, or by not having a range of strategies grandiose enough to give the appropriate response. (for example, autistic children suffer extreme stress in social situations because they do not have a range of responses and behaviours appropriate to situations)
Stress also weakens the body, causing memory failure, poor concentration and focus on activities, insomnia, discouragement and physical, emotional and mental fatigue. It can also cause moodiness and irritability, all factors that become detrimental to performance and productivity, translating into poor outcomes.
Productivity in Organizations
Reducing stress levels leads to increased productivity and performance ratios, raising the company's bottom line and putting it in a better competitive position.
Do you still remember the Perpetual Guardian company we talked about in the beginning? The 4-day/8-hour-a-week experience resulted in a 7% decrease in generalized employee stress, a 5% increase in satisfaction level (including encouragement, commitment and sense of empowerment in the workplace), and an increase of 20% in productivity. Employees also indicated a better balance between personal and work life (78%).
This is an example of how companies increasingly perceive that investing in employees' quality of life, and in the quality and management of the organizational environment, results in higher quality products and services, and increased productivity - translated into financial results.
Strategies to combat stress - how to increase productivity.
The key to proper stress management is to create a balanced life with defined times of work, relationships, rest and fun. The central strategy translates into a single concept: Control. Control over thoughts, emotions, agendas, external environment, and how you deal with problems.
To this strategy we must also add the capacity for resilience and persistence in order to deal with situations of pressure and to face the challenges.
In managing stress you can change the situation or change your reaction. When deciding which option to choose, consider four aspects:
- Avoid (will you avoid this situation?),
- Change (what you can change to manage stress?),
- Adapt (how can I adapt to the situation?),
- And, accept.
Although activities and actions such as smoking, drinking alcohol, controlling portions of food, wasting time in front of the computer / television, sleeping, or using medication, can temporarily help deal with stress, these are TEMPORARY solutions that can actually be worse to you in the long run.
So, take time for yourself - identify sources of stress in your life; analyse your feelings, behaviours and thoughts. Explore in depth from where your stress may be coming: for example, your concern is about deadlines, but what is the source? Does it come from your requirements? Or how much work you have?
Accept responsibility for your role in the stressors - take control of your life and watch your productivity increase.
Inês Cabral | Project Manager