The Hammock Myth

Managing stress does not necessarily mean doing less work

I know the look very well — the one where managers start to look a little startled when I talk about stress management for their teams. This look is often followed by variations on the theme: “But we’ve still got targets to reach, I can’t have them doing less work!” 
When stress is so misunderstood by so many people in positions of leadership it really isn’t any wonder that it has been called “the black death of the 21st Century”, and in too many urban environments burn out is becoming as common as smog. 
But it really needn’t be so. We know that peak performance comes when we are challenged and engaged — the venerable (and unpronounceable) positive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi described the psychological concept of ‘flow’ back in the 1990s — a state of hyper-productivity, creativity and wellbeing that comes when we engage in activities that challenge our skills. And over 100 years ago the psychologists Yerkes and Dodson described the relationship between performance and arousal as a bell curve. In both cases under-stimulation results in boredom and apathy, and over-stimulation culminates in frustration and eventually burn out — the sweet spot of peak performance occurs somewhere in between.
Therefore, stress management is not about lying in a hammock for two weeks — that may be pleasurable for some and temporarily stave off burn out, but it is the sticking-plaster for a deeper underlying condition. Sustainability and growth come when organisational leaders and employees understand their skills, their motivation and pair them with suitable tasks and goals. 
This is not a one-size-fits-all solution — stress is a uniquely personal construct. But through simple education, by busting myths and raising organisational stress literacy, individuals can become empowered to practise self-care and have mature career conversations in an environment where stress is neither taboo nor badge of honour.
The truth is, stress literate employees are fundamentally more creative, more engaged, make fewer mistakes and are ultimately more productive. It really is as simple as that.