Motivation and stress are two areas that have seen much dialogue, study and interest for decades, pertaining particularly to the effects they have on human activities in the workplace and beyond.
While motivation, of course, is the sought-after quality so desired of business managers or potential employees by HR departments worldwide, stress, conversely, is the downer; the workplace villain limiting productivity and affecting company profits and personal accomplishments.
In this regard, it is relevant to question the possible impact of stress on something as intangible as motivation. In a few words, does stress affect motivation?
Stress is a protective response
First of all, let’s clarify what exactly stress is. According to the CMHA, stress is “the body’s response to a real or perceived threat”. It is something that would necessitate an adjustment in order to be dealt with effectively. Stress, simply put, defines how our body handles situations that cause worry. Stress is concerned with the body protecting itself, and may include, at various times, emotional, physical, mental and other responses from the body.
In making this heightened response, the stress response can seriously increase hormonal, muscular, and psychological bio-system activities, to the extent of over-doing it, resulting in physical and mental illness. Every year, millions are affected by, and even die from stress related health issues.
Chronic stress, especially over a long time, can result in over-secretion of hormones like epinephrine, which can negatively affect the heart. Cortisol, or better known as the stress hormone, is also a common part of the body’s response to aggressive stimuli. Cortisol may reduce the efficacy of the body’s immune system, affect bone density, and cause heart disease.
Motivation is the cause for action
Motivation, on the other hand, comes from the word motive. Motivation has been described as the reason action is taken. (Wikipedia) It derives from desire or a need which demands satisfaction in the form of action leading to accomplishment.
Motivation is critical in the business and work environment, as it is so closely linked with corporate achievement, goal setting, and even management. Motivation may well be described as the fuel that drives the engine of all success, whether at work or in your personal life.
Therefore, motivation is largely seen as a positive value in business endeavor, and, in fact, all human endeavor.
When stress meets motivation – big potential and challenge
Since motivation is largely to be found in the field of action, it is reasonable to surmise that it is not immune to the usual stress associated with result-oriented activities. One outcome of stress-induced motivation is a positive result. Stress can provide the drive to achieve more. These good outcomes have a multiplier effect on motivation, usually spurring it on to new objectives.
For example, you might have to put together a presentation in a very limited period of time which is putting you under significant stress. As stressed and under pressure, you fully concentrate on that task cutting out all distractions and finally manage to complete the task. You feel so elated having accomplished the seemingly impossible, that you are extra motivated to tackle the next task. You know you can and will achieve it.
So, in this respect, stress, especially in the short term, can be seen as a positive force for driving motivation and increasing productivity.
However, naturally, the opposite is also true. Stress can have a horrendous effect on motivation by pushing too far and affecting you negatively. When the outcome of a task undertaken under pressure is less than anticipated, this can have a dampening effect on your motivation in the long term.
The vicious circle of stress and failure
Since motivation is creativity-inclined, it requires a lot of force to function. This means you need high levels of energy, commitment and willpower to make it work for you. Motivation thus thrives in an environment of positive energy. When such conducive environment is leeched away by the debilitating effects of stress, motivation can be adversely affected. So, the presence of stress can counteract motivation.
Another way motivation can be impaired by stress is by precipitating increased exertions, in the event of a chain of failures. When outcome is less than the desired result, a common initial response is increased motivation to reverse the downward trend. Diminishing returns may soon set in as each successive input yields less and less quantifiable objectives.
The stress that comes with the above scenario plays the dual role of hampering encouraging results, while simultaneously encouraging more exertions to achieve same. This can become a devious cycle of try-fail-stress-try-again.
Finally, by breaking down the individual’s health, stress can impact negatively on one of the chief sources of good motivation: wellness and health. It has been proven that stress can and does have grave consequences on mental and physiological health. This impairs the very bedrock that motivation usually thrives on.
Restoring motivation affected by stress requires positivity
Considering that motivation frequently assumes obstacles as a natural part of achieving goals, it is worth having a look at the long-term effects of stress on motivation. When exposed to stress for a long period of time, does motivation loop back and heal itself, or does it remain low?
As motivation requires positive energy to thrive, you need to create an environment that allows energy to evolve and flow freely to counteract the effects of stress. Also, you need some compelling goals to focus on that will help you channel your energy productively.
This in combination with a positive outlook, a reasonable level of frustration tolerance and endurance will guarantee that you will win out on the negative effects of stress on motivation. Restoring your motivation and finding your balance is all very achievable with these core ingredients.
Stress can also affect motivation in the home work environment
Working from home does not provide automatic immunity from stress related conditions. While it is true that the typical home workplace may provide a more relaxing atmosphere than a traditional office environment, it may still be open to some or many of the same pressures.
Lack of physical scrutiny does not necessarily mean the absence of scrutiny or some level of supervision. For example, when you work from home as a freelancer, your clients will still expect to see results from you in a timely manner, which, in turn, can cause stress.
It is possible that the familiar environment of the home may act as a buffer of sorts to normal stressors, and thus limit the effect of stress. When this happens, it can have any one of two effects.
- Limit the drive or motivation that normal workplace stress precipitates. This can lead to fewer achievements, especially in the long term.
- Help the individual to cushion some of the more negative effects of stress on motivation and health. In the long term, the happier individual can develop at a comfortable, personal pace.
So, it is obvious that stress does affect motivation – in both a negative and a positive way. It can drive increased productivity, but it can also dampen motivation considerably causing a vicious circle leading to failure.
It is therefore important to find the right balance by creating an environment of positive energy – something everyone can achieve.