Introduction to Workplace Stress Management

What you’ll learn to do: Describe how theories and concepts around work–life balance affect notions of workplace stress management

How much stress is good stress? As we discussed earlier, a certain amount of stress is expected and motivating for an individual. Set goals should be challenging and incent the employee to work a little harder. That’s good stress. But when they become intimidating, that’s too much stress. That’s when things start to fall apart.

Back in 1908, psychologists Robert Yerkes and John Dodson developed a theory about stress and performance. They proposed an “inverted-U” relationship between arousal and performance, crediting heightened states of arousal with optimum performance. At a certain point, that performance takes a turn for the worse, with anxiety, illness and breakdown setting in.

The theory is popular and somewhat intuitive, even if there isn’t a lot of empirical support for it. But for the purposes of this, it illustrates the manager’s quandary: what’s the right amount of challenging, “good” stress for her employees?

Diagram of Yerkes and Dodson's proposed relationship between arousal and performance. It indicates that performance is strongest at a mid point of arousal. When arousal is low, workers are not yet interested enough to perform optimally. When arousal is too high, workers have impaired performance because of strong anxiety.

Setting the right level of goals, making sure the job design is balanced and that work environments are supportive and encouraging—these are some of the challenges managers face daily in order to control stress in the workplace. They can also provide the employee with healthy choices to manage her own stress levels via programs and benefits that encourage self-care.

It’s all about work–life balance: the balance an individual needs between time allocated to work and time allocated to family and personal life.

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