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When Bad Stress at Work is Good

Sometimes stress at work can be “good.”

It can help you to get excited, and show real passion for your work. A stressful experience might even help you to identify and fix serious problems in the workplace.

But stress at work is often “bad.”

It grinds people down over time. It can lead to loss of motivation and burnout, and contribute to a variety of health problems.

How can this type of stress at work possibly ever be a good thing?

The difference between “good” stress and “bad” stress

We can see the difference happen, physically in the body.

  • A person experiencing “good” stress secretes a higher ratio of anabolic hormones, and shows a more efficient pattern of cardiovascular functioning.
  • A person experiencing “bad” stress has a lower ratio, and less efficient responses.

But we don’t actually need to measure these things to tell the difference. For the most part, we just need to consider demands and resources. How demanding is the situation? Does the person have the resources to cope?

  • The “good” stress response typically happens when a person has the resources to cope with the situation.
  • The “bad” stress response typically happens when a person feels overwhelmed.

When “bad” stress at work is actually good

Research has found that “bad” stress can actually boost creativity.

Experiencing harsh negative feedback can lead people to come up with their most creative ideas. Even the worst kinds of “bad” stress aren’t always all bad.

Perhaps even more interesting, the people who are most vulnerable to stress are also the most creative—and experiencing stress at work gives them an even greater boost.

Keep in mind that the typical job interview favors people who appear the most confident, and capable of coping with stressful experiences.

If you’re hiring for positions that benefit from creativity and innovation, you might want to seriously rethink what to look for in an interview.

Here’s a great video with the lead researcher describing their findings.