MainStreet Macro: The good and the bad of stress

April 01, 2024 | read time icon 2 min

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If you’ve ever had a job, you’ve probably experienced stress at work. There’s no shame in it. But could workplace stress actually be a good thing? 

We examined this question, and found an answer: It depends.

We analyzed good stress, the kind that motivates people, and bad stress, which can feel like a burden. Dr. Mary Hayes and Jared Northup use a stress scale we developed in 2022, which collected information from more than 15,000 respondents. That data has shown us that there are relationships between how people engage with stress and how they behave on the job.

In the ADP Research Institute’s latest issue of Today at Work, Mary and Jared present the variables that influence how people process stress at work. While some workers say stress inspires them to deliver their best effort, others report lower levels of productivity. 

Digging into these polar-opposite effects, we discovered three things. First, people who spend most of their time doing what they love are 3.2 times more likely to be thriving than those who spend most of their time doing something they don’t love.

Second, people who spend part of their week working from home or away from their office or job site are 1.6 times more likely to be thriving than people whose jobs are fully on site. However, remote work lessens stress only to a point. Hybrid workers who split their time between being on site and remote are twice as likely to be thriving as people who are fully remote.

Finally, our work shows that people at the highest level of their organizations are much less likely to feel overloaded than the employees they lead. High-level executives are 4 times less likely to report feeling overloaded than people who have no managerial responsibility.

For the full analysis of stress in the workplace, a deep dive into how many hours people are actually working, and more research on the labor market, check out the current and previous issues of Today at Work, our flagship quarterly.