Stress is bad, right? Well, it turns out the truth is not quite so simple. People at work have a range of “stressors” which affect them, some of which improve their well-being and some of which damage it. In effect stressors come in two flavours (eg Podsakoff et al, 2007):

  1. Challenge Demands. These are stressors which put pressure on an employee but which seem to have an intrinsic reward. The three most commonly cited challenge demands are:
    * Pressure of workload
    * Pressure of processing lots of information
    * Pressure of solving problems.
  2. Hindrance Demands. These stressors put pressure on the employee but tend to get in the way of either getting the job done or enjoying the job. These include:
    * Role ambiguity. I’m not really sure about what success looks like in my job.
    * Role conflict. Different people want me to do different things and achieve different
    goals which are not really compatible.
    * Emotional demands. The way people are acting makes me feel bad emotionally
    possibly because they are conflicting with each other or being disrespectful to me.

Engagement is a good measure of employee well-being. When employees are highly engaged they tend to be very connected to their work, their team, the leader and their organisation and bring energy and vitality to the way they tackle their tasks. The relationship between the stressors mentioned above and engagement is interesting.

As found in International research and confirmed by a primary study we undertook just before Christmas of last year the higher challenge demands tend to be the higher the level of engagement of the staff member. In other words if I’m doing a meaningful job where I have lots of work to do, I am solving problems, and I’m processing lots of information that I’m likely to have higher levels of engagement. After all, hard work never killed anyone!

If on the other hand I have high levels of hindrance demands – I’m not really sure what I’m supposed to be achieving, I’m being pulled in multiple directions and people are acting badly around me and giving me grief then I am likely to have low levels of engagement.

Understanding the difference between good stress and bad stress is really useful for leaders, especially if it informs their interactions with staff. Learn more about how to measure staff engagement.

Podsakoff, N. P., LePine, J. A., & LePine, M. A. (2007). Differential challenge stressor-hindrance stressor relationships with job attitudes, turnover intentions, turnover, and withdrawal behavior: A meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 92, 438–454.

Andrew Marty