Stress: Relation with Performance, Causes and Ways of Overcoming

By Anamitra Roy

Relationship between stress and performance:

Stress (meaning as per Oxford Dictionary: pressure or tension, physical or mental strain) is generally believed to be a performance reducing agent. When a person undergoes stress, he/ she cannot perform up to the mark. Stress pulls a person back. Very often we become prey of stress. It is a state when a person gets perturbed by some external/ internal agent or phenomenon. The relation between performance and stress is believed to be inversely proportional. When stress goes up, performance goes down. Similarly, when stress comes down, performance goes higher.

But there are some exceptional situations. In some cases it is observed that during stress a performer’s performance graph goes higher. It is believed by many management experts that stress can also be a great motivator. It can act as a performance booster, as a catalyst. Here we can cite an example from the world of sports. At times it is seen there are some sports personalities who perform better when they are under severe pressure. This is because such personalities are great handlers of stress. Steve Waugh, one of the longest and most successful captains of the Australian cricket team is a typical example of such a type of a personality. His performance graph always used to go higher whenever he was under pressure and stress. This was an example when stress was acting as a motivating agent.

Many experts are of the opinion that during stress the options slowly get reduced. So it becomes easy to handle the fewer options and focus. That is why; it is a common practice among employers around the world to keep their employees under stress. However, in this context, it has to be said that the employers need to be careful in trying to motivate their employees by putting them under stress. This is so because too much application of stress creating agents may also reduce the productivity of the employees in the long run.

Thus, it can be concluded that the relationship between stress and performance is inversely proportional but it can also be made directly proportional. However, the natural belief is that these two are inversely proportional … always.

Common stressors that one experiences in an organization:

Stressors are persons or happenings that cause or increase the volume and the intensity of stress. A list of stressors that one commonly experiences in an organization, are as follows:

Work load:

When the volume of the work increases to an unmanageable level, then work seems like a load. This causes stress.

Job conditions:

When job conditions i.e. work environment, social recognition etc. changes or degrades then stress is caused.

Role Conflict:

When there is a role conflict in the job profile, then also stress is caused. Reasons of role conflict are lack of understanding of the job profile, lack of understanding of the circumstances prevailing around in the workplace etc.

Career Development:

When career development plans of an individual are not satisfied then stress becomes very common. This stress arises from frustration, dissatisfaction and depression, thereby giving rise to job dissatisfaction and insecurities.

Conflict between work and life:

The question of ethics is very important in development of stress. At times it is seen that an individual has to do a lot of things at work which he spiritually does not believe in. Sometimes the employees are forced to adopt certain unethical means to get the job done. This causes heavy stress in minds that do not accept these unethical means.

Work place aggression:

Workplace aggression (for example aggression showed for achieving targets) in today’s world is one of the most important factors that gives birth to stress. There was a time when this word “aggression” was used as a positive trait. But not in today’s world. Most modern day HR management experts treat aggression as a severe negative trait. This is so because it can help you to achieve your target but at the cost of putting other employees in the organization go through stress. Instead they believe that “assertiveness” can be treated as a quality.

It is due to this factor of aggression that a lot of people lose their job even. The growing rate of heart ailments, hypertension, memory and sleep disorders are results of workplace aggression causing stress.

Apart from this, under no circumstances can we forget the influence of personal lives in causing stress. Disturbances from home are at times brought in the workplace. Marital problems, fights with partners and children back at home, personal financial problems are common examples of stress boosting factors that grow from the domestic front but can ruin both the personal and professional fronts. In such situations it is better to get on with the “switch on and off” techniques. When you are managing the domestic front, just practice to switch off the worries and anxieties of the professional front and vice versa. However, it is easier said than done. It can be done by learning to forgive. A person undergoing stress from both the personal and professional fronts needs to understand that he is a normal human being and it is very much human to commit mistakes. He has to learn to forgive himself. It is only when you learn to forgive yourself, then you can practice the art of forgiving others and sometimes for severe stupidities that they have depicted. The art of forgiving yourself will enable you to reduce stress and practice “switch on and off” techniques.Remember for every negligence, for every criminality, for every stupidity, there is a forgiveness waiting for you, however, miniscule the intensity of that forgiveness may be.

You may have forgotten to get your personal pass books updated, you may have forgotten to deliver on a promise that you made to your wife/ partner, and you may have forgotten to submit the project report to your greedy boss before coming out of the office this evening. So what, there is always a second time and you can do it perfectly at the second go.

Measures that an individual and an organization can take to manage stress:

Handling stress and managing stress in the current era is one of the most challenging tasks for an organization as well as an individual. In this context, it has to be considered that stress can be managed or reduced, but never eliminated. That’s why, you hear terms like stress management techniques, methods, programs etc. You will never come across terms like stress eliminating techniques, methods/ programs etc.

An organization can take up the following measures to handle stress i.e. keep it as much suppressed as follows:

Job redesigning:

Generally it is seen that in most organizations, employees suffer from stress because the job does not suit them or they don’t suit the job. It is a question of a right man for the right job. In this case, if the HR department does a redesigning of the jobs in such a manner so that it suits the employees, then the stress level will automatically come down and the employees will be benefitted as their productivity will increase.

Goal setting:

If the goal setting is done in such a way that employee finds it relatively easier or at least in line of their interest then the stress levels will come down considerably.

Role negotiation:

When the role of an employee is clear to him or her, then it becomes easier for that employee to focus and perform, thereby reducing stress. This can be done through proper role negotiation.


A lot of corporate today arrange for yoga and stress releasing workshops. The employees are taught in these workshops to handle stress, control stress and minimize stress.

In case of an individual, the following measures can be taken up to manage stress:


One should practice to look at the world with optimism … it is to be believed that if winter comes, can spring be far behind. This will reduce the negative energy and induct hope, which in turn will help to reduce stress. After all it is rightly said that no one ever injured his eye sight by looking at the brighter side of life.

Time management:

One of the common causes of stress is not being able to achieve the targets within the stipulated time frame. Acquisition of better time management skills will enable us to manage the time better, utilize the resources optimally, reduce wastages, achieve desired results and thereby reduce stress.

This can be done by preparation of a job list after reaching the office in the morning and prioritizing the jobs to be done on that very day.


To reduce stress, one has to spent time with oneself i.e. give time to himself or herself. In order to do this a hobby should be developed. I keep on hearing from people around me that they have absolutely no time to donate to themselves. I ask them, “Are you sure?” Personally I do not believe that you cannot have at least 30 minutes a week for yourself. Even the busiest of the personalities in this world like President Obama, Prime Minister Modi, Ratan Tata, Bill Gates and many others have at least 30 minutes a week for themselves, for family, for recreation. Have you ever given a thought to this that if man never had any time for hobbies and recreational activities then why were these two words included in the English dictionary or for that matter, from where these two words came?

If this is the case with your life that you do not have any time for yourself then it is not an example of a very hectic life. Unfortunately, your life has become an example of a life in which there is probably no time management.

Manage your time, prioritize your jobs, stop procrastination (or should I say in the words of Brian Tracy, “Eat that Frog”) and get going. You will have enough time for music, movies, politics, theatre, philately, numismatics, research and many other hobbies that can give you a lot of good times.


Physical exercise burns out the extra calories and releases oxytocin that make you feel happier. It increases the capacity of the mind to stay with problems longer. This increases the stress handling capacity of the body greatly.


Maintenance of a proper diet i.e. avoiding of spicy food keeps the mind relaxed. Your metabolism rates will be higher. World famous management expert, BryanttMcgill has designed stress management programs which consist of recipes of non-spicy foods. Moreover, avoiding junk food which is rich in salt content will keep your blood pressure level under control. Thus, stress can be reduced.

Counseling by professionals:

Stress is very common in the present age. Despite best efforts at times stress cannot be checked. In such a case, it will be better to take professional help. Counseling by professionals can be immensely beneficial.

Sharing problems:

Many a time stress is created in the mind because there is no vent or crater. Sharing the unhappiness and problems with others can help to release the stress through these craters. Start developing friends. Interact more with family. You will soon have a lot of people around you who will be interested to listen to you.

In this context, let me share a personal experience. I am in my early thirties and I have so far worked with 6 employers in my professional life. With some employers I have worked for as long as five years and with some I have worked for as long as less than one month. Whenever I tried to analyze my stint with my employers, shockingly I discovered that stress played a very important role in deciding if I should carry or not. It was not the nature of the work, work environment, job satisfaction, job enlargement or job enrichment that decided if I should carry on or not.

I have spoken to a wide range of HR executives from around the world. I discovered that almost all of them were of the opinion that stress was the deciding factor for HR reshuffling.

In today’s world with the growth in business complexities, stress can be a serious issue when it is pulling you back. Therefore we all should adapt to it and learn how to react to it.


“It’s not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.”

Hans Selye


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