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How ADPRI investigated stress in the workplace

December 12, 2023

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We covered this research in the December edition of Today at Work, along with research about student loan debt, workplace stress, and more.

In the summer of 2022, the ADP Research Institute began studying stress in the workplace. We started by asking if stress always has a negative connotation, or whether it could be both positive and negative.

Our theory developed into an “it depends” scenario. We wanted to know more about stress and the workplace, but measuring stress is difficult given the complex and unique ways that individuals respond to it.

And when it comes to on-the-job stress, there are even more layers of nuance. Stress can inspire some people to deliver their best work while causing others to shut down.

As we brainstormed, we came up with more than 150 items we wanted to use to test this theory. We completed three large studies with a total of 15,000 respondents. (Study one with 2,000, study two with 3,000 divided into two parts, and study three with 10,000 respondents.)

Our report in the latest edition of Today at Work includes responses to the final six items, listed below—for each month since July 2022, representing a total of 45,235 respondents.

Final items

Positive stress (eustress)

  • When I have a great day at work, I feel refreshed and ready to begin again.
  • I often lose track of time when working.
  • I love my work so much that I cannot stop thinking about it.

Negative stress (distress)

  • When I leave work, I feel as if I have nothing else to give.
  • My work is like a hamster wheel that never stops spinning.
  • The stress I feel at work leaves me feeling drained.

Stress Classifications

Armed with the constructs of eustress and distress, we examined their relationship to each other to determine how good and bad stress balance out. Using a proprietary algorithm, we sorted these six items into three categories of worker: Thriving, Rattled, and Overloaded.

Thriving workers are people who love the work they do, who often lose track of time while they’re on the job, and who, at the end of the day, are refreshed and ready to begin again.

Rattled workers have some good days as well as some bad. They haven’t yet mastered how to fill their day with more eustress or minimize the distress.

Overloaded workers, by contrast, are drained by stress. They feel as if they have nothing left to give and are spinning on a hamster wheel that never slows.

With these three definitions, we’re able to learn something about how stress affects worker retention and morale. Our first results are reported in the December issue of Today at Work