Ideas on People and Performance, Team Building, Motivation and Innovation

Tag: workplace stress

Stress, The Workplace, Statistics and The Future

I have posted up before on the issues of the workplace and demographics and teams and have gotten a number of nice emails on the issues (here and here). For my way of thinking, improving teamwork and collaboration will have a wide variety of positive impacts on people and on performance. I have also shared some thoughts on taking vacation time and similar, noting that I am taking a 5-day cruise shortly with NO access to internet, email, telephone or any such thing and not intending to even check for emergencies!)

Stress. Working. Issues.


I just read a post by Arianna Huffington that got my attention. I link to it here but I summarize many of the key points that it made for me and also add some comments below, since my focus is on the performance improvement side of things. In summary, I found this material of relevance when it comes to issues of workplace performance and opportunities:

An American Psychological Association study asked people to rank their stress level on a scale of 1 (“little or no stress”) to 10 (“a great deal of stress”).

  • Millennials led the stress parade, with a 5.4 average.
  • Boomers registered 4.7,
  • The “Matures” gave themselves a 3.7.

Nearly 40% of Millennials said their stress had increased last year, compared to 33% for Boomers and 29% for Matures

Not surprisingly, WORK is one of the biggest causes of stress, with 76% of Millennials reporting it as a significant stressor, compared to 62% of Boomers and 39% of Matures. Us older people are a little more settled, even though the issues of Social Security and Medicare are not resolved. Things are a lot less settled for anyone under Boomer-Age and the overall job market and opportunities for personal / salary growth are unsettled.

Student loan debt and this bleak job market are contributing to stress — even for the lucky ones who are working — and the picture for the future is bleak and depressing. According to the Economic Policy Institute, between 2000 and 2011 wages adjusted for inflation fell by 11% for high school grads and by 5% for college grads. The report concluded that from 2010 to 2020, while 19,000,000 college grads will be hitting the job market, the economy will add fewer than 7,00,000 jobs requiring a college degree.

Job stress and fear are real. More than one-third of American workers regularly eat lunch at their desks, and a recent study showed that an average of 9.2 vacation days were skipped last year. We talked about these stats and others in my “Vacation” blog. All this overwork and pressure inevitably leads to sleep deprivation, which costs American businesses over $63 billion a year — even though studies show that for each 10 hours of additional time off, productivity increased by 8%.

A Gallup Poll showed that even given the battered economy they’re entering, 80% of Millennials were optimistic about their standard of living getting better. (But then research also shows that 1 of every 3 people is clinically mentally ill at some point in their lives, so these data might simply be merging!)

Too bad that the position of many of our elected leaders here and globally is that Austerity – of all things, which has not once proven to actually improve a country’s economy – is still being pushed as a “solution” to our economic situation. Austerity creates nothing. But it does insulate the richest among us from the trials and tribulations of the younger and less fortunate people in the workplace.

Revisions of the tax code and some government Stimulus are what will help to change the situation and make things better for my children and so many others.

Companies need to improve their workplaces, no question. They need to better involve and engage their people in making it a better place to work and to improve morale and decrease stress. Supervisors need to do more to involve and engage people in their jobs and create more intrinsic motivation for individuals and teamwork among people. That would help with some of the stress.

And our governments need to look for ways to increase the number of jobs, improve education, improve infrastructure and boost overall salaries. Eliminating the minimum wage sure feels like the absolutely wrong thing to do and there seems to be a lot of research to support the more positive impact of increasing it as it will obviously generate even more spending.

Each of us can make a difference each and every day. Let’s get going and pay it forward.

Me. I am looking forward to some beach time soon! Here is my last trip to Barbados:

Barbados Sunset 2 pics

Yeah, baby!

——————  UPDATE  ————–

Some new research shows that Americans are quitting their jobs at the highest rate since 2008. I put a link to the article here, but the basic situation shows that 53% of “job separations” are from people quitting. This may be negative and a statement about working conditions or it may be a positive indicator about how workers feel about the job market and their skills.

Here is another interesting stat: 40% of the American workplace is expected to be self-employed by 2020. (Not sure of the source of that but it is in the article).

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Scott Simmerman

Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant. 
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at

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Stress as a Motivator? Cognitive Dissonance and Square Wheels!

In the LinkedIn discussion mentioned in a previous post, the question arose as to whether stress was motivational and if it has a link to creativity. The question was expressed as:

What impact do you think stress has on innovation – does it hinder or help the creative process? Does Stress work like the “fight or Flight” response?

I think that this is more than a fair question and my response and reactions are pretty straightforward.

Two framing questions that I would ask are, Whose stress is it?” and “How MUCH stress does it generate?”

If the performer sees a gap between where they are and where they want to be, that will usually generate “a stress” — consider it a motivational drive. That can be very positive since it is self-generated. It is healthy if that gap is perceived to be something that can be closed and the goal achieved — it is one of the things that is involved in self-generated, intrinsic motivation.

I think of that old work on “Cognitive Dissonance” (Leon Festinger in the 1950s) that clearly explains and researches this issue. He focused on gaps and the  discomfort caused by holding conflicting ideas simultaneously. In a state of dissonance, people may feel emotions of frustration caused by the differences in their goals, thoughts and actions and that people are motivated to close that gap.

An example of this would be the conflict often seen in smokers who, knowing that  smoking is unhealthy and annoying to others, will often change their feelings to not caring or to thinking that the smoking is worth short term benefits. A general view of cognitive dissonance is that a person is biased towards a certain action even though other factors favor different alternatives. It is this gap that sets up the possibility of change — without this perception, little motivation exists.

Festinger in his 1956 book When Prophecy Fails, which chronicled the followers of a UFO cult as reality clashed with their fervent belief in an impending apocalypse. Festinger subsequently published a book called “A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance”, published in 1957, in which he outlined the theory. Since then, Cognitive Dissonance has been one of the most influential and extensively studied theories in social psychology because it is simple and straightforward.

The theory says that people have a bias to seek congruence and alignment among their thoughts, engaging in a process Festinger termed “dissonance reduction.” This can be achieved in any of three ways:

  1. lowering the importance of one of the discordant factors,
  2. adding consonant elements, or
  3. changing one of the dissonant factors.

What we do with our Square Wheels illustration is to set up a Rorschach Inkblot Test-like condition by showing the Square Wheels One illustration and asking people how it might represent how things really work in most organizations. With that very general introduction, and a few minutes of thinking time, individuals and groups of people will identify a variety of key themes about the cartoon and how things work. Since the cartoon is unreferenced and very general, people project their beliefs and thoughts onto it.

Once that has occurred, and the themes and thoughts are anchored and discussed, we can then simply ask the participants to suggest what might be represented by those Square Wheels in their workplaces, with Square Wheels being defined as the things that do not work smoothly. Next, we can have discussions about possible Round Wheels (there are many ways to facilitate these discussions to generate desired outcomes).

It is this creative cognition of a Square Wheel and the associated relationship of some Round Wheel(s) to it that generates the cognitive dissonance, the gap between how things are and how they could be. It is that gap which helps generate the motivation to change, to remove the Square Wheel and add the Round One into the situation. This IS a stress, but not a debilitating one.

And if this discussion is done at tabletops with 5 or 6 participants, there is often enough “creational mass” to generate some commitment to implement the idea or improvement.

We find that Square Wheels illustrations work pretty much everywhere. I have used them with Most Senior Managers in large multinationals as well as in workshops with managers and front-line employees. We have delivered this concept in schools, pharmaceutical and manufacturing companies and all sorts of industries and in sessions with hundreds of people representing every level of management.

Ideas for improvement are simply ideas — the key is generating enough motivational stress through cognitive dissonance and peer support so that things get implemented and changed and improved. These cartoons are unique in their effectiveness as organizational development tools — Fast, Simple and Effective.

Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is a globally experienced presenter and consultant.
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at

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