Work Stress is a Transaction, and Requires a System

Marcus J. Fila, Ph.D.
5 min readJun 15, 2020
Photo by Hans-Peter Gauster on Unsplash

So much of organizational life today is about systems. From customer relationship management (CRM), to a strong emphasis on teamwork; training employees to learn “how we do things around here”; to cultivating an organizational identity which guides the framing of decisions around strategy, production, and marketing. Organizational culture has never been more central to setting, and understanding the collective mindset of a company and its people.

The benefits to systems thinking are well espoused — after all, if we all move in the same direction, isn’t it easier to understand each other, and to get things done? You would generally be lauded for thinking so. When times are good we can all pat each other on the back. When times are challenging, systems thinking can pull people together to form a collective mindset that can help see the team, or organization through to the other side of whatever they are facing. In this respect, systems can be essential to the very survival of the organization, let alone its ongoing well-being.

When employees experience a season of high stress, or if stress remains elevated for an extended period, there’s often no system to help them. Some organizations will allow for personal days, some will hire an internal counselor, some will provide perks, such as ball game tickets or out-of-office days — but these patch over the problem, without addressing root causes. The systems that are all-present elsewhere — through selection, socialization/onboarding, and training — can be notably absent when it comes to work stress. The costs of this to the organization and employee are tangible, through lost productivity, absenteeism, burnout, counterproductive work behavior, and unwanted turnover. So why can this happen even in companies which pride putting employees first, and on conscientious leadership?

An overemphasis on individuals. Highly individualistic work cultures can overemphasize the role of the individual in managing stressful events and circumstances. Individual differences such as personality traits of course play a role. However, even in studies that show the role of individual differences — for example, type A personalities being more pre-disposed to high or ongoing stress and people who possess traits of hardiness or optimism as better copers; the…

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Marcus J. Fila, Ph.D.

Work Stress speaker, researcher, author, and consultant to organizations and individuals. Psychologist, and management professor. Visit easeworkstress.com.