Nitish Shrivastava is Senior Vice President and Head of Products at Persistent Systems.
Knowledge workers in the contemporary workplace are no strangers to stress and pressure. Leading experts acknowledge it, organizational leaders accept it, and even those same nerve-wracked, troubled, burned-out employees are aware of how the sheer weight of expectations can do a number on their ability to perform at the workplace without repercussions.
The nature of pressure is ambiguous. Different individuals respond differently to stressful situations at the workplace, and stress can have varying degrees of effect on their health and performance. That being said, it is generally acknowledged that these challenges coalesce into two formidable adversaries: self-imposed pressure and peer pressure.
These twin challenges can create a perfect storm of stress, anxiety and diminished job satisfaction. A lack of awareness, data and transparency worsens these problems, leaving employees overwhelmed and unsure of their performance.
Types Of Pressure And How They Manifest
Self-imposed pressure in the workplace is often due to several factors, including ambiguity in expectations and a distinct absence of data-driven insights.
Alice Boyes noted in a Harvard Business Review article that, in their quest to excel, employees may unknowingly place undue pressure on themselves by believing they must overachieve to compensate for unclear expectations. This kind of pressure is nebulous and difficult to detect, given the fine line between wanting to go the extra mile on your job versus exhibiting excessive and unhealthy workaholic patterns of behavior.
On the other hand, peer pressure is usually overt and, to a certain extent, easily identifiable. It often manifests subtly as employees compare their performance, achievements or career progress to their colleagues—mainly when such comparisons are driven and initiated “top-down” by managers.
To our surprise and considerable unease, we found that many mid-level managers and leaders use these comparison-based measures as subtle goads toward productivity without considering the adverse side effects that can ensue (constant comparisons that lead to stress, anxiety and inadequacy).
The Problem Of Lack Of Data/Awareness
I believe the root cause of self-imposed pressure and peer pressure is the need for clear and realistic performance expectations. When employees know exactly what’s expected of them, it can reduce uncertainty and prevent the stress caused by vague metrics.
To achieve this, a data-driven strategy is crucial. Access to relevant data can help employees gauge their performance accurately—using key indicators, project outcomes and feedback to set achievable goals. This approach contrasts with generic HR metrics and can significantly boost productivity and employee well-being.
Creating A Real-Time Contextual Performance Evaluation System
As opposed to continuous monitoring approaches that violate user privacy, we would like to emphasize that a system that combines knowledge/context of how an employee is working, provides feedback on performance against peers within the same context and allows for real-time interventions that gently “steer” work to achieve short-term objectives (building into longer-term goals being met) would significantly reduce pressure on employees and benefit the organization.
To create such a system, consider these key elements:
1. Real-Time Transparency: Give employees access to live performance data, empowering them to track their progress continuously.
2. Clear Performance Expectations: Set explicit performance goals and benchmarks to reduce uncertainty and self-imposed pressure.
3. Immediate Feedback: Provide real-time feedback from supervisors and peers to enable course corrections and increase employee control.
4. Supportive Work Environment: Encourage open communication, feedback and mentoring to reduce workplace pressures.
5. Balanced Goal-Setting: Strive for ambitious yet achievable goals that align with individual capabilities and aspirations.
6. Technology Integration: Use advanced technologies like generative AI and deep learning for real-time insights, trend analysis and personalized recommendations to support employees. Remember, technology works best when integrated into a broader strategy focused on communication and a supportive environment.
In today’s workplace, managing self-imposed pressure and peer pressure can feel overwhelming. The lack of awareness and data compounds these issues, leading to unnecessary self-pressure and constant comparisons with colleagues. However, adopting a multifaceted approach can offer solutions and other strategies.
By emphasizing transparency and a supportive work environment, organizations can cultivate a workplace that enhances individual well-being, job satisfaction and overall productivity, and employees can thrive and excel without succumbing to the pressures of self-imposed and peer-induced stress—knowing they have the necessary support, data and tools for success.
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