Research suggests individual responses to stress at work vary widely

Stress is relativeNo matter how compelling the evidence on the impact of stress at work there are always individuals who dismiss the very idea as self-indulgence. New research suggests this isn’t down to lack of empathy but simply because some people just don’t experience stress the same as others. The survey by the Deloitte Greenhouse Experience team found statistically significant variation in how respondents react to stressors which indicates that workplace stress is relative and not everyone experiences stress in the same way or to the same degree. The majority of respondents reported modest levels of stress. Fourteen percent reported being stressed only rarely and 57 percent reported being stressed sometimes, while 26 percent reported being stressed often, and 3 percent reported being always stressed. Different scenarios were also mooted to identify stress triggers. Making mistakes topped the list of stressors, with 82 percent of respondents indicating errors caused stress.

Other types of situations experienced as stressful by respondents included:

  • A challenging workload, with long hours or juggling of multiple responsibilities (52 percent)
  • Moments of conflict, like getting reprimanded or delivering a difficult message (52 percent)
  • Situations that create urgency, like critical projects or time pressure (46 percent)
  • Face-to-face interactions, like delivering a presentation or meeting a new stakeholder (45 percent)

The survey asked more than 23,000 professionals about their stress levels at work with responses to stress questions correlated with respondent’s patterns of behaviours and preferences based on Business Chemistry, a system designed to facilitate stronger relationships and better teamwork in the workplace.

Across Business Chemistry types, Guardians, who strive for certainty and stability, and Integrators, who value connection, were more likely to find all situations more stressful than Pioneers, who seek possibilities and love to explore and Drivers, who love a challenge.

According to Kim Christfort, managing director, Deloitte LLP, and national managing director of Deloitte’s Greenhouse Experience team, triggers may depend on individual’s working style and preferences. “For example, while an urgent assignment might go against a Guardian’s preference for deliberate and methodical decision making, it may energize a Driver who tolerates risk and favours a brisk work pace. For leaders, understanding what motivates workers can help resolve workplace conflicts, empower staff and lead to better results as a team.”

There were also differences in stress levels between the more inward- and outward-focused Business Chemistry subtypes. Guardians, Dreamers (a subtype of Integrator) and Scientists (a subtype of Driver) tend to be more reserved, introspective and deliberate. They also report significantly higher stress levels. Pioneers, Teamers (a subtype of Integrator), and Commanders (a subtype of Driver) are generally more outgoing, energetic and adaptable, and also report significantly less stress.

When a second sample of more than 17,000 professionals was asked about their effectiveness under stressful periods, the majority of Drivers and Pioneers reported they are most effective when moderately or very stressed (61 percent and 59 percent, respectively). In comparison, fewer Integrators and Guardians reported they were most effective at these stress levels (51 percent and 50 percent, respectively).

Respondents in the second sample were also asked about their coping strategies for dealing with stress. The responses, from most popular to least, were:

  • Action strategies, like diving right in and tackling the issue head on (83 percent)
  • Cognitive coping strategies, like stepping back and thinking through possibilities (79 percent)
  • Groundwork, like getting organised or seeking further information (78 percent)
  • Interpersonal coping strategies including talking with someone and bouncing ideas (47 percent)
  • Taking timeout to do something else, like socialising or exercising (46 percent
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