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veryard projects > business organization management > stress
we offer structure of stress purpose of stress material forces of stress agency of stress
We adopt a complex systems approach to stress.
Stress is a state of arousal, involving excitement, anxiety and highly focused attention.  Depending on the intensity and duration, it can be linked to both pleasure and pain.

More generally, we use the term Pleasure Principle to refer the distribution of excitement, energy and attention.  Individuals and organizations need to maintain a good variable balance between attention (excitement, motivation) and inattention (stasis, calm).

Stress serves some useful purposes.

Stress may deliver positive value for some stakeholders.

Is there an optimal level of stress?
Stress is a psychosocial phenomenon with important links to productivity and performance. As such, it apparently generates some observable symptoms in individuals, teams and organizations.

Stress can serve as an indirect indicator of deeper individual and organizational problems. It is also therefore a symptom in its own right.

There are many practitioners and writers on stress management, who assume that the goal is to reduce or remove stress, and/or to teach people to cope with stress in their lives.

See for example Georgia Reproductive Specialists

While these goals are valuable, they should not be allowed to deflect attention from the underlying causes.

Sometimes one of the most destructive things we can do is to alleviate or remove the symptoms of stress in individuals, while ignoring the organizational or social context that is generating the stress.

veryard projects - innovation for demanding change

Purpose of Stress

veryard projects > stress > purpose

According to the POSIWID principle, the purpose of some complex artefact or phenomenon is what it does. There are people who see positive value in stress.  There are also people who, while claiming to dislike stress, still act in ways that increase stress for themselves and other people.
Fight / Flight Stress provides energy for contingencies and emergencies. It may unlock hidden reserves of power and creativity.
Selection Stress may act as a selection mechanism. It identifies and promotes those tough enough to withstand stress.
Motivation Stress may act as a stimulant. Some managers deliberately put their staff, suppliers and other people under stress, in the belief that this will produce better outcomes.
Pleasure The pleasure principle is based on the balance between excitement and calm.
Trust Perhaps the most effective way of establishing authentic trust between individuals and teams is to have a shared experience of stress.  This is sometimes called "going though fire together".
Explanation Like many other psychosocial phenomena, stress is a totem in some organizations (in other words, held up as a cause and explanation of all sorts of phenomena), and is taboo in other organizations (in other words, not able to be acknowledged or cited as an excuse). The effects and symptoms of stress are likely to be very different between these organizations.

veryard projects - innovation for demanding change

Stress and Performance

veryard projects > stress > performance

It is generally believed that moderate levels of stress can stimulate creativity and encourage effort, while excessive levels of stress are liable to inhibit creativity and dissipate effort. Thus there is an optimum level of stress above and below which performance falls; this is depicted in a graph of performance against stress levels, in which performance is dependent upon stress.

High levels of stress are not only bad for their short-term effects on performance, but can also cause longer-term damage to individuals, teams and organizations..

However, this view of stress is a simplification. While stress may influence performance, performance may influence stress – so there is a closed feedback loop, and not merely one variable dependent on another. Stress management entails the capability to observe the effects of stress in an organization, to measure or assess the symptoms of stress, and to find the “optimal” level in practice. We need to distinguish between this effect in individuals, teams and whole organizations. An integrated approach to stress management connects the closed feedback loop to styles of motivation and leadership, and to the technologies of stress and stress relief.

Furthermore, the symptoms of stress may be interpreted in multiple ways, by different stakeholders. Stress should be accounted for as a social and psychological construct, and it may be misleading to regard it as if it were a physically measurable substance. "Optimal levels" cannot be simply engineered over people's heads.

veryard projects - innovation for demanding change

Our Approach to Stress

veryard projects > stress > approach

We adopt a complex systems approach to stress.  This means being prepared to intervene at many levels in parallel - individual, group/team, organization, environment. An intervention at the wrong level may be ineffective, or even counter-productive.

For example, in Executive Coaching we may help an individual executive to deal with stress.  But at the same time, we want to try to understand and improve the ways stress circulates in the organization and its environment.  If we only work on toughening up the managers as individuals, without considering other levels as well, we may simply produce a management team that is insensitive (desensitized) to what is going on.

For example, some companies adopt an aggressive outsourcing approach, that seeks to export uncertainty and stress onto suppliers and subcontractors. But without a proper understanding of the circuits of stress, these stress-related transactions often trigger counter-strategies that reflect uncertainty and stress back onto the company.

We seek to understand how individuals and groups deploy stress for strategic, tactical and operational ends, and understand how the circuits of stress actually behave. Executive coaching can then be aligned to the strategic management needs of the organization, and grounded in the specifics of the organization.

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This page last updated on June 14th, 2004
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