Three Little-Known Forms of Stress

Somewhere between 30 and 40% of workers in Denmark seek excitement, rather than stability at work, according to Helle Hein’s research. Many of them never find what they are looking for, and risk ill health for the same reason due to stress.

1. Jul 2020
4 min

We classify stress in the western world as a reaction to an imbalance between the demands made of us, and the resources we have available. If stress lasts for an extended period, there is a risk of succumbing to the well-documented ‘burn out-stress’.

Society and individual undertakings have been aware for some years that workers perform best when there is some degree of balance between demand and resources. Most large undertakings have a stress policy, and a number of services they can offer their employees if they do go down with stress.

There is a diagnosis and cure to hand in the event of burn out-stress.

But motivation and stress researcher Helle Hein has identified three forms of stress for which the symptoms are identical, but for which the causes are very different:

1. Bore-out stress
The result of simple boredom. Work is insufficiently challenging, or is simply bogged down in rules and regulations making it no more than a routine, in which individual skills are never brought to bear.

2. Moral stress
You go home from work and think “We could have done things so much better today.” A recurring feeling that yourself and your workplace are failing.

3. Existential stress
You have simply no idea of what could motivate you and make sense. You are just going with the flow, devoid of any feeling of being motivated.

Stability vs excitement

Somewhere between 60 and 70% of those people who go down with stress do so because of burn out-stress. But Helle Hein believes that between 30 and 40% of stress cases come under one of the three lesser-known forms, over which we have no control, including in terms of diagnosis and cure.

She points out that workers can be roughly divided into two types, motivated by fundamentally different things: The search for stability or excitement.

Those searching for stability represent the majority. They are satisfied if they receive recognition for what they do in a job that is no harder than they can do it without being stressed.

“But security, well-defined tasks and a little praise now and again are not enough for excitement-seekers, who are then exposed to the three little-known forms of stress. What they are looking for is a form of excitement created by not always knowing how to react. Such situations can be an extra hard nut to crack, or ways of making the biggest difference possible. What they are looking for instead of balance and stability, is to find meaning and direction in the work they do, and they fail to achieve job satisfaction if they do not achieve them”, says Hein.

Looking for meaning

When Gallup asked Danish workers about their engagement at work, it turned out that few – just 16% – regarded themselves as ‘actively engaged’.

Helle Hein’s own research shows that around twice as many belong in the excitement-seeking group defined by its need for strong engagement in some form or other.

Hein points out that the figures show there is a group of workers who seek excitement and meaning in their work, but do not find it, putting them at considerable risk of developing stress symptoms.

“If you belong to that group, then a mindfulness therapist who recommends a walk in the woods and taking extra time to savour a raisin is not enough. In fact, that sort of therapy could even exacerbate stress symptoms if the wrong cure is offered. Excitement is what’s missing, but relaxation is what’s recommended.

Relaxation exercises work well for burnt-out workers, but not for those who are easily bored, do not feel they are making a difference or can’t figure out what to do at work”, says Hein.

In such instances, the fact that strain is not the problem has to be faced, and therefore a totally different cure is needed.

“It's a job for management, along with the individual excitement-seeker to see whether there is work to be done that can be more motivational”.

She believes that the stability-seeking workers have come through the Corona crisis the best, while the excitement-seekers have generally experienced less job satisfaction.

“If you're working flat out, and have been for some time, then being sent home to twiddle your thumbs at the start of the Corona crisis acted as pure stress-prevention. But if you are looking for meaning and direction, and are dependent on feeling that you make a difference at work, then social distancing and working from home will simply feel like yet another stress factor”, concludes Hein.