Why Lower Stress Means Higher Performance

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Why Lower Stress Means Higher Performance

Employee stress levels are on the rise, and it’s taking a toll on job performance.

According to recent polls, 94% of US adults say they experience work-related stress, and 41% say their stress makes them less productive.

Researchers have been investigating the effects of stress on the brain since WWII, when the US Air Force began observing an increase in plane crashes due to stress-related cognitive errors.

Today, a body of scientific research has established the detrimental link between stress and learning, memory, creativity, higher-order thinking, organizing, planning, and decision-making, all of which are critical to work performance.

For employers seeking to enhance the productivity of their workforce, reducing stress should be a primary area of focus. Science suggests that reducing stress can increase work performance by promoting optimal brain health and functioning.

How stress affects the brain

When stress is present, a cascade of physiological processes go into effect. Blood vessels constrict, heart and respiratory rates increase, and the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol are released into the bloodstream.

While cortisol replenishes the body’s energy reserves, it also inhibits the brain’s prefrontal cortex—responsible for analyzing and planning—so that split-second decisions can be made.

Cortisol is invaluable in the event of a threat to personal survival, but is counterproductive in the workplace. When employees are experiencing on-the-job stress, cortisol limits their ability to be effective in their roles.

The prefrontal cortex is responsible for a variety of functions that are used virtually everyday at work. When the neural circuits underlying these functions are incapacitated by cortisol, work performance suffers.

Brain functions impaired by stress:

The ability to learn efficiently and effectively is integral to job success, especially in today’s rapidly-evolving technological landscape. With new softwares, features, and updates being released constantly, employees need to be adaptable in order to thrive. In addition, employees aspiring to take on more responsibilities in their company are expected to be able to expand their skills.

Research has demonstrated that learning is significantly impaired by stress. This means that employees have a more difficult time acquiring skills and demonstrating proficiency in those skills when they’re stressed compared to when they’re not.

Critical thinking and decision-making

The prefrontal cortex is most well-known for its role in logical, higher-order thinking. When stress is present, thinking becomes illogical and disorganized. It becomes difficult to understand and formulate complicated ideas, which impedes decision-making, problem-solving, and communication.


Surveys show that the average employee spends just 60% of each workday on-task. The remaining 40% is wasted on unrelated activities, from scrolling through media to performing household chores. All of these distractions cost hundreds of billions of dollars a year in lost productivity.

The key to keeping employees on-task lies in reducing stress. When employees are stressed, they are more susceptible to distractions because they are less able to regulate their attention. Under stress, it’s harder to focus on the task at-hand and switch between tasks. “Brain fog” and increased distractibility are associated with stress.


“Stress is a well-known creativity killer,” says psychologist Robert Epstein, Ph.D. Yet, so many companies rely on creatives to produce compelling content that portrays their brand in its best light. When creativity is compromised, success is stagnated.

Research shows that stress can confine creativity. Key brain areas involved in creativity are dysregulated by stress, which can limit the effectiveness of employees in creative roles.

Sustainable solutions for stress

Your company doesn’t need to suffer because of stress. Many proven strategies for reducing stress are available.

A workplace that knows how to manage stress is a high-functioning and resilient one.

When you prioritize stress management, you gift your employees a higher quality of life and you gift your company a higher standard of performance.

The Stress Reset offers a variety of stress solutions tailored to suit your unique needs. Click here to book a call with us and learn how we can serve you and your employees.