Consider the following two scenarios:
The atmosphere at a small technology firm in California is always confusing and chaotic. Employees are under constant pressure to meet deadlines, and expectations frequently and suddenly change. Despite the lack of clarity, supervisors frequently reprimand employees for failure to perform. Supervisors often give these reprimands publicly. Employees constantly compete for supervisor attention.
Workers at a business consulting firm in Massachusetts do the same job they have done in the same way they have done it for the past 10 years. Employees receive almost no supervision or feedback. Leadership does little to promote change or foster creativity. Employees rarely communicate with those outside of their departments. Employees work quietly in an orderly manner but receive little stimulation.
It is likely easy to identify which of the scenarios is less stressful, but is either environment desirable or indicative of a healthy organization?
Normally, the term organizational stress is a negative concept. The majority of stress researchers have focused on personal distress rather than on examining the positive aspect of stress called eustress (Chou et al., 2014). Scholars and practitioners need to give more attention to the question of if and when organizational stress can be beneficial.
To prepare for this Discussion, consider your experiences with stress in organizations and how you as a leader would address organizational stress.
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