How Does Stress Affect Work Productivity?

Author: Madalina Roman

The relationship between stress and work productivity is a complex one. People usually say that “a little bit of stress is good for you”, but they’re probably referring to the concept of challenge, which is often confused with stress. 

Challenge energizes us psychologically and physically, and it motivates us to learn new skills and perform at our best. Thus, it’s an important ingredient for healthy and productive work.

On the other hand, stress can have the opposite effect, leading to decreased productivity and negative impacts on both physical and mental health. In this article, we’ll find out why.

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What is stress?

According to the World Health Organization, stress is the inability to cope with the demands placed on us.

These demands can come from various sources, including work, personal relationships, financial problems, and health concerns.

When we feel overwhelmed by these demands, our bodies and minds respond by activating the “fight or flight” response, releasing stress hormones such as cortisol.

While this response can be helpful in some situations where we need to respond quickly to a threat, chronic stress can have negative effects on the body and mind.

Chronic stress has been linked to a range of physical health problems, including high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes, as well as mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression.

But how does stress affect work productivity specifically? In this article, we’ll find out once and for all how high stress affects employee productivity.

Read also: How to get organized at work when overwhelmed.

Exhausted person because she's unproductive

How does stress affect work productivity?

We’re sure you’ve noticed that when you’re feeling stressed, you find it much harder to concentrate on your work. Your mind seems to travel to your worries; before you know it, hours have passed, and you’ve achieved nothing.

When we are under stress, our bodies and minds focus on coping with the stressor rather than on the task at hand. According to CAMH, this can lead to decreased concentration, memory problems, and difficulty making decisions. In turn, these cognitive difficulties can lead to decreased productivity and a decline in the quality of work.

Research has also shown that stress can lead to absenteeism and presenteeism, when an employee is present at work but not fully functional due to stress or other health issues.

In addition, stress can lead to negative changes in behavior and interpersonal relationships, which can further impact work productivity.

When we are under stress, we may be more likely to engage in conflicts with coworkers or to have a negative attitude, leading to a decrease in team cohesion and productivity.

For all the above reasons, stress negatively affects work productivity. The research Workplace Stress and Productivity: A Cross-Sectional Study shows that higher stress scores are significantly associated with lower productivity scores and work satisfaction.

TIP: Read our guide to identifying the different signs of stress at work.

How to avoid work-related stress to improve your team’s productivity?

So, how can we manage stress in the workplace to improve productivity? Here are a few effective strategies.

Create an atmosphere of open communication

Creating an open and supportive work environment where employees feel comfortable talking about their stress can help prevent burnout and improve team dynamics. Building an amazing communication culture is key to relationship building within the team and overall productivity.

Promote work-life balance

Encouraging employees to take breaks, unplug from work outside work hours, and prioritize their personal lives can help prevent burnout and improve productivity.

It’s also an excellent way to show your employees that you are a human leader who understands that there’s life beyond work, which will improve their satisfaction levels.

Promote physical activity and healthy habits

Encouraging employees to incorporate physical activity into their daily routine can be a simple yet effective way to improve work productivity.

Regular exercise has been shown to reduce stress levels, improve mood, and increase energy levels. Why not create a football league that any employee can join?

Implement stress management training

Providing employees with stress management training can help them learn coping strategies and techniques to manage their stress better.

This can include mindfulness training, time management skills, and relaxation techniques. 

two people talking at work

Be supportive

Provide access to support services, such as counseling or employee assistance programs, and help employees manage their stress and improve their overall well-being.

Encourage them to come to you first if they feel that work stress is damaging their mental health and productivity.

Proper workload management

According to Asana, 70% of employees experienced burnout last year.

Good workload management helps lower stress levels and contributes to employee motivation and well-being, which significantly affects results. Research from ISCRR shows that proper workload management results in higher productivity and better project management

Read also: Why a workload analysis is important?

happy people having fun at the office

Take regular breaks

Taking breaks throughout the workday can also be beneficial for managing stress. It’s also a basic tip for increasing productivity.

Taking a few minutes to step away from the desk and engage in a relaxing activity, such as stretching or taking a short walk, can help to clear the mind and recharge the batteries. This will help you be more productive and improve work quality.

You can use these strategies to manage stress and improve work productivity.

Remember, there is no magic formula that works for everyone but leaders and organizations have an essential role in managing stress and improving work productivity by creating a positive work culture and providing employee support. 

Free eBook: How to work smart, not hard

Get a free copy of the eBook and learn top productivity tips for teams and their leaders


How is productivity affected when employees multitask?

Productivity is generally reduced when employees multitask because they cannot focus entirely on one task and must divide their attention among multiple tasks, leading to errors, decreased efficiency, and lower overall work performance.

TIP: To avoid lower overall work performance, learn how to track team performance.

How does teamwork affect productivity? 

Teamwork can positively affect productivity by allowing team members to collaborate, share resources, and divide labor, leading to increased efficiency, innovation, and achievement of common goals.

How does remote working affect productivity?

In general, remote working causes an increase in productivity as well as clear benefits for workers on a personal level. Happy workers have higher productivity rates, are better teammates, and tend to stay longer in companies that allow remote working.

How to motivate employees to be more productive?

To motivate employees to be more productive, managers and leaders can use various methods such as setting clear work goals and expectations, promoting work-life balance, and fostering a positive and inclusive work culture.


Stress is a common and inevitable part of life, but when it becomes chronic and unmanaged, it can harm work productivity.

Stress can lead to decreased concentration, memory problems, and negative changes in behavior and interpersonal relationships. 

By prioritizing work tasks, taking breaks, incorporating physical activity, and focusing on work-life balance, individuals can effectively reduce stress and improve productivity for both individuals and organizations.