The difference between bad stress and good stress

The only way to build resilience is through stress and hardship, says psychologist Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic

CREDIT: This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared on Management Today

Tomas Chamorro Premuzic has his opinions about ‘corporate wellbeing’ and its relationship with performance; Silicon Valley can keep its bean bags, free sweets and ping pong tables.

This approach to engagement erroneously assumes people need to be happy in order to perform, which implies that stress is always a negative. But people are more productive, learn more and perform better when there’s inner tension, says the psychology professor and ManpowerGroup chief talent scientist, and they can only build up resilience by experiencing some form of hardship. 

That’s all well and good but, at the height of a pandemic, when anxiety levels have gone up, how can managers spot that stress levels may have gone too far? “Firstly, if you as a manager are stressed – which is likely to happen during a pandemic – people will pick it up. When you’re stressed you fundamentally focus a lot on you. So managing your own levels of stress is really important. How do you do that? Sleep well, eat well, exercise, put wellbeing at the centre of your routine.

“It’s important that, when you see that some people are going offline, or disappearing, or performing worse than before, or you see changes in their patterns, you check in with them and have a conversation. Do not tell them off, or monitor performance, but try to understand what their circumstances are.

“Another thing you can do is speak to others who are in touch with them. If you’re not the best at communicating directly, maybe you have one person who can play your right hand person from an emotional intelligence standpoint, and be the barometer of how people are feeling emotionally.

“It’s an intricate balance between not snooping but, at the same time, showing empathy. You have to ask questions directly, and then reassure people that, even though you’re not a coach, or a relative, you are there if they need you.

“Ultimately, you can be empathetic and understand that people are going through difficult circumstances – but, if you’re a manager, you still have to ensure that people and teams perform.”

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