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How Stress Can Destroy Your Company Culture

By Joe Burton

Peter Drucker once said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” When the topic comes to your company culture, the fight for talent acquisition and retention has never been more competitive. Companies are in an arms race to become the employer of choice. At the same time, in a Gallup poll of 25 million professionals in 189 different countries, only 13% of employees reported feeling “engaged” in their work. 63% reported being not engaged, dialing it in and putting minimal effort into their job. As Barry Schwartz says in his excellent TED Talk, “90% of adults spend half their waking lives doing things they would rather not be doing at places they would rather not be.”

The best organizations create environments that not only engage employees, but sustain high performance over long periods of time. This includes training them with effective tools to handle ongoing change and the pressure that comes with it.

Stress has become the ubiquitous topic of conversation. We’re all “crazy busy” and many of us wear it like a cheap suit. For leaders, it’s helpful to understand the specifics of stress when it comes to you and your team. Then develop specific plans and training to help employees not only cope with stress, but be equipped to thrive in the face of your norms. Only then can you build a high-performance culture that embraces change and disruption as a given and not something to fear.

Most of us have the occasional sense of feeling overwhelmed. But what specifically is stressing people out? According to the Aon Hewitt Consumer Health Mindset Study, it’s a bit of everything.

Mental/Emotional  Wellbeing

68%—Managing my stress

65%—Taking time off/relaxing Finances/Quality of Life

70%—Living within my means
67%—Regularly saving money

65%—Paying down credit cards Sleep/Rest
70%—Getting enough sleep


Social Wellness

70%—Spending enough time with family/friends
63%—Balancing work and life

Work Wellness

40%—Unrealistic job expectations

65%—Eating healthy

64%—Following medical advice

The common theme there here seems to be the pace of modern living. More of us don’t have the time to plan and enjoy life with intention. That’s not surprising. Today, Americans take in five times as much information every day as they did in 1986—the equivalent of 174 newspapers. Thank you, Internet. The average professional manages 75 texts and 126 business emails a day (9 and 16 per hour, respectively). Leaders in a global organization can expect two to three times that volume. On a daily basis, the average American sees 5,000 to 10,000 advertisements, consumes 8.5 hours of media, and spends five hours on his or her mobile device.

Here’s the problem: Science tells us that the human brain hasn’t changed much in 10,000 years. Evolutionary changes require slow adaptation over the course of thousands of years. Technology has changed society too rapidly in the past twenty years for our brains to adapt. Without training, including mindfulness and attention training, we’re not fully equipped to live in the modern age of technology.

When your focus comes to performance and company culture, ask yourself a few questions. What challenges and disruptive forces exist in running your business today? How will they get worse in the next 5 to 10 years? Are you and your employees equipped to be resilient in the face of what’s coming?

If you’re not convinced, then ask yourself one more question. What are we doing to get ready?


Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash


Posted by Joe Burton- 02 July, 2018

Joe is an entrepreneur in the digital wellness space, former president of Headspace, and spent fifteen years as a global COO in public companies. He's an alumnus of Harvard Business School and a regular contributor to Forbes, Business Insider and The Huffington Post. He's worked in over 50 countries and travels the world speaking on topics including disruption, culture, resiliency and mindfulness.