Understanding Stress: Challenge vs. Killer

Hard data indicates that non-leaders experience greater stress in the workplace than their bosses and it often has a negative effect on their performance, according to Michael Lee Stallard, author of Connection Culture (ASTD, 2015).

Stallard is a leading expert on how emotional connections increase employee engagement and strategic alignment to boost productivity, innovation and organizational performance. He believes it’s critical for organizational leaders to understand the distinction between two primary types of stress: challenge and killer.

From his perspective, not all stress is bad; especially challenge stress, which he says “actually stimulates people to perform at their best.” Killer stress, on the other hand, is to be minimized in the workplace. It comes “from not feeling you have much control over your work, is unhealthy and in many individuals triggers fight, flight, freeze or stalking behavior,” which is damaging to healthy relationships, productivity and innovation in the workplace.

If you take a moment to think about which form of stress is more prevalent in your association’s culture, you may find that making adjustments to how leaders and non-leaders relate to each other can minimize one while fostering the other. As Stallard observes, “only connection cultures dial down killer stress and dial up challenge stress as leaders and non-leaders alike feel connected to one another through shared identity, empathy and understanding.”

If you create a culture in your organization that preserves challenge stress while neutralizing killer stress, you’ll likely achieve gains in productivity and performance. The key is understanding how stress can work for you instead of against you.