Organizational development involves numerous change initiatives, but change is difficult for many people. A person may or may not be as adaptable as needed, leading to workplace stress. Some people stress out loud by constantly complaining and falling behind in their work. They are easy to spot. But how do you identify the employees who seemed like a good fit at the time of hire, after a pre-hire assessment was conducted, but experience a consistently high level of stress, even while getting the work done? Any employer who cares about the health and well-being of employees asks this question.
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Some employees are introverts. They quietly work and meet goals, never making a fuss about anything. They have enormous potential, but do not particularly like getting anyone's attention. There are also people who quietly work and perform well, but their quiet demeanor is enhanced due to the stress they are feeling. They do not complain because they are introverted and avoid conflict, so they endure the stress and find no joy in their work.
One day, they unexpectedly resign. The employer is taken by surprise and laments the loss of yet another productive, problem-solving and talented employee.
In Eustress or Distress?
Every day, millions of people experience job stress, and it is on the rise. There are numerous organizations doing regular surveys to assess the number of people who experience stress. A Gallup study found that 23 percent of employees always or frequently feel burnout at work, and 44 percent feel burnout at times. The same study also found that people who experience frequent burnout are 2.6 times more likely to quit.
Burnout is a symptom of too much stress, and workplace stress is due to a variety of factors. The employee may believe the organization's culture is alienating, the workload unmanageable, the goals impossible to meet or the manager a poor decision-maker.
The Global Organization for Stress lists a number of stress facts, and they show that stress is a worldwide workforce issue. One statistic says that approximately 80 percent of American workers experience job stress. Stress is a particularly difficult issue to manage because there is good and bad stress.
Good stress is called eustress, and in the workplace, it is the result of an event that pushes people outside their comfort zone – an interesting new assignment, a promotion opportunity, successful interactions with customers, etc. The good physical and psychological stress reaction empowers people, according to various doctors specializing in stress. Eustress leads to people feeling inspired, motivated, resilient and able to meet daily changes.
Bad stress is called distress. It is the opposite of eustress, so its impacts on people are also opposite. Employees experiencing distress feel overwhelmed. They are more tired than inspired and feel like they are unable to continue meeting job demands.
Stress By Any Other Name is Still Stress
In both types of stress, people may continue to be productive, though bad stress usually leads to employees quitting. However, people express stress in different ways, making it more difficult to sort people based on the kind of stress they are experiencing. Some people are always irritable with coworkers, express frustration out loud, frequently call in sick and make it known to peers they are likely to leave the organization. They are obviously experiencing distress and want everyone to know.
Other people quietly perform their work without making a fuss of any kind. True introverts are much more difficult to discern in terms of stress. Some of them are experiencing eustress, while others are in distress. The introverts in distress are more likely to surprise their employers with a resignation letter.
Same Work, Same Place, Different Stress
Stress is caused by a number of factors. A recent Korn Ferry survey found that almost two-thirds of 2,000 professionals questioned experience more stress today than they did five years ago, and 16 percent had to quit a job because of stress.
The causes of stress for all levels of employees include the pressure to master new skills to keep a job and the threat of losing a job due to technology.
Change is a constant in the modern workplace, so the ability of employees - staff and leaders - to adapt is crucial.
This leads right back to stress. How well are your employees really doing physically and emotionally when it comes to managing change, new job duties, coworker relationships, goal achievement and the pressures to produce work? You may think an employee is doing well because deadlines are always met, thinks creatively and gets along with others. Considered a likely candidate for promotion, you offer lots of feedback and recognition. It is a complete surprise when the person quits due to stress.
The employee may have managed job duties well, but was constantly worried, fearful of the next inevitable change, concerned about personal health due to daily work stress and close to burnout. This employee is experiencing bad stress. The person next to him may be thriving in the same workplace environment and embraces stress feelings as motivators. This employee is experiencing eustress. Two employees doing the same work in the same place and for the same manager but experiencing different kinds of stress and no one knew.
Do You Really Know Your Employees?
Conducting regular talent assessments is the best way to discern the productive people who are experiencing either type of stress. Assessments are key links between employees and successful organizational development and reduced turnover of the people you want to keep. For example, job simulations can pinpoint the people who are having difficulty adapting to change when they are based on real world scenarios of potential changes in workflow or responsibilities.
In another example, when change initiatives are initiated, pre-and post-behavioral feedback assessments deliver change data to determine if employees are adapting. Personality tests can even help managers identify the introverts in order to identify ways to improve employee-manager communication, so there are no surprises in the future.
Never assume you really understand what an employee is experiencing because introverts and people with exceptional self-control can hide their feelings. Assessments offer a way to get more in-depth knowledge of your employees and the different challenges they may be quietly facing each day. They may appear to be managing change well, but are they really? The answer may determine how well your organization manages change programs and processes by retaining the people who can have the greatest positive impact.