It’s a common idea that “less work” is the remedy to stress. At a first glance, it makes sense. But look a little deeper, and you’ll find that a healthy workload is but one of many factors behind stress prevention.

Did you know that the same amount of work affects the brain in different ways depending on the level of control someone has over their tasks?

When there is a perceived lack of control, there will be negative physical changes to the brain that simply won’t occur when someone feels that they have agency over their work. This has huge implications for the workplace as it calls for careful design of workflows, roles, responsibilities and communication. It simply isn’t enough to only regulate the amount of work: we need to ensure that agency, transparency and openness are in place too.

A work amount that is “just right” simply won’t cut it if…

  • There are no feedback loops in place, leaving co-workers unsure of their own performance.
  • Someone has full responsibility over their work but zero agency over it as critical decisions are being made elsewhere.
  • There are unclear or unstated expectations of deliverables.
  • Co-dependencies of workflows are left unmanaged and/or unassigned.
  • Team or interpersonal conflicts are permitted to go on unaddressed.
  • New tasks are assigned without consent or involvement of the receiving party.
  • Deadlines are unrealistic and/or changing at short notice.
  • Organizational vision and goals are unknown or unpronounced, with co-workers feeling as if they are working in isolation.
  • There is little if any opportunity to voice concerns about a specific work situation or the organization at large.
  • There is insufficient access to vital skills development, tools, equipment or support.

We can’t escape every stressor in life. But when it comes to work design, there is a lot that we can do to enhance employee wellbeing and strengthen organizational results. Clarity on vision, goals and values is a good place to start. Effective plans, processes and structures follow. A culture that is transparent, fair and empathetic makes unimagined motivation and creativity possible.

What changes are required to build resilience into your organization? What is needed to make them happen? How can you use past successes to facilitate your design process going forward?

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