Can Working Faster Reduce Stress?


Jack Zenger, Contributor

May 31, 2015

I’ve read a great deal about the increased pace of work and the stress it places on people in business today. We were curious about where the pressure is felt most and what might be done to alleviate it.

My colleague Joe Folkman and I conducted a global assessment with more than 2,300 individuals in which we asked the following question:

Generally I feel…

a. Overwhelmed with too much to do.

b. I have things under control and can accomplish the important priorities.

To no-one’s surprise, approximately a quarter of the overall workforce described themselves as feeling overwhelmed. We found no real difference by gender. On the other hand, the overwhelmed were on average two years younger than those who were not feeling overwhelmed. The functional areas in which more people felt overwhelmed were:

  • Manufacturing
  • R & D
  • Information Technology
  • Marketing

 Supervisors Are Feeling The Greatest Pain

The big surprise was the discovery that supervisors were the group in which people felt the most overwhelmed. The transition from being responsible only for yourself into a role where you are responsible for the performance of several other people is one of the most difficult transitions to make. What’s more, the average supervisor serves in that role for nine years before being offered any formal training or development on how to be a better supervisor. Small wonder that one-third of this group leaves work at the end of their day feeling overwhelmed.
Consequences Of Feeling Overwhelmed

Many studies have shown the impact of stress on people’s health. Clearly a low level of stress can energize and motivate. But when it becomes excessive and chronic, it begins to have negative effects, such as an impact on families or a long-term draining effect on overall productivity. Because a huge portion of the workforce reports directly to supervisors, their stress level is transmitted to the broader organization.

 Why People Feel Overwhelmed

There are three distinct elements that combine to create this feeling of being overwhelmed:

1. The actual workload. Workloads rise and fall with external circumstances such as customer demands, seasonality or economic conditions. And yet, it is unlikely that workloads will diminish for most people in organizations. Why? Aspiring teams create their own workload as they recognize opportunities to offer new products and services.

2. Personal resilience in the face of multiple tasks. Two people facing the same workload can have widely different reactions. One juggles the tasks, putting those with highest priority first and accomplishing that is possible in the allotted time. That person may leave work with a calm feeling instead of angst. The second person is anxious about not being able to complete everything and leaves work with the feeling of being overwhelmed with the job.

3. How rapidly the person functions. Obviously, all other things being equal, the person who works at a higher speed is capable of producing a greater amount of work, which in turn diminishes feelings of being overwhelmed.

How Does Pace Affect Feeling Overwhelmed?

We asked each person to rate the pace at which they completed certain activities compared to others. The rating scale was as follows:

  1. Much slower
  2. Somewhat slower
  3. About average
  4. Somewhat faster
  5. Much faster

In an earlier study, we found that leaders who work at a faster pace are perceived as significantly more effective. This study extends that conclusion. Those who felt overwhelmed preferred to work and live at a slower pace.

But the big differences were not in the general pace of life between the “overwhelmed” and “under control” groups. Instead, differences were found in getting work done and making important decisions. It would appear that the ability to plow through work rapidly, set priorities and make important work-related decisions were the qualities that most separated those who felt overwhelmed from those who felt things were under control.

Can A Person Increase Their Pace Without Becoming Frantic? 

Can a person wishing to increase their speed turn up their clock speed? Can they make decisions more rapidly, take a shorter shower, and get ready for work at a brisker pace?

The answer is yes. At work be aware of the pace at which you are working and look for ways to increase your speed. Especially avoid getting bogged down in activities that don’t yield real value.

Looking to the future, we believe it’s likely that life will continue to move faster and require more from every working individual—especially supervisors. We believe that when individuals deliberately turn up their clock speed and focus effort on the right activities, they can increase their pace and by doing so actually feel far less overwhelmed.

How well are you doing on the “overwhelmed at work scale?” Take a self-assessment that will give you some calibration of your pace. 

This article was written by Jack Zenger from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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