HR & Management

Stress in British businesses can make staff behave like children

3 min read

07 January 2015

Former deputy editor

A stressful work environment can reduce the mental ability of employees to that of small children, according to healthcare study.

For many British workers it’s the first week back following the Christmas holidays, which is expected to bring about a shock to the system. And while it’s often a common belief for people to claim they work well under pressure, research from healthcare provider Benenden Health has found the notion is inaccurate.

The study, which was conducted to observe the connection between “short-term stress and cognitive impairment”, revealed stress affects people’s critical thinking ability, reasoning and daily decision making.

Two groups took part in tests, and the one group that completed stress-based tasks before and in-between trials was more likely to make wrong choices, answer incorrectly and react emotionally with their gut instinct. The report said the “traits are similar to that of small children, who tend to react to problems they don’t quite understand with an emotional (snap) response, rather than a considered logical solution.”

Richard Carlton-Crabtree, services director from Benenden Health’s counselling service provider Insight Healthcare, said “The research demonstrates just how important it is that businesses ensure that staff feel comfortable and are not put under even minor stress whilst at work.”

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Businesses are advised to keep staff motivated without stress in order to increase productivity. The stressed group answered 22 per cent of the critical questions accurately, which spiked to 25 per cent for the controlled group, but 88 per cent of all participants said stress had a negative result on their everyday lives and 52 per cent said stress was a problem on a weekly basis.

Comparatively for practical decisions, the groups were asked to look at three properties and decide the best ones, which yielded the controlled group scoring five per cent higher than the stressed group. The scoring gap was also the same in the reasoning test to observe patterns and sequences.

Carlton-Crabtree, continued: “Many people harbour the view that a little bit of stress may be healthy as the added pressure that stress causes can positively affect their performance; but this research shows that even small amounts of stress can have negative effects. This should reassure people that they should seek help and support when the onset of stress begins, because it can have a detrimental effect from day one.”

Dr. David Lewis, neuroscientist, added: “When stressed, the focus of our attention tends to narrow and, if associated with strong emotions, we tend to act less rationally on occasions. 

“When stress arises unexpectedly and is especially overwhelming, rational thinking tends to be replaced by impulsive and often faulty decision making. This can be compared to a small child who responds emotionally to situations he or she finds stressful and frustrating.”

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