Autonomy, stress, and health
Stress impacts health and motivation—but not the way you think
It turns out that having a lot of stress, as most product leaders and executives do, is not the thing that makes the biggest difference in stress-related health and motivation outcomes. So what does?
Autonomy is one of the biggest drivers (or "nutriments," in the psych literature) of motivation. After Dan Pink's 2009 bestseller on motivation, Drive, this doesn't surprise many people. His treatment of Self-Determination Theory (SDT)—the most widely studied theory of human motivation—was very effective in getting the word out that autonomy, mastery, and purpose are each and all essential to intrinsic motivation.
Generally, stress follows an inverse-U-curve where some stress is actually helpful, and too little/much is harmful.
If we look beyond the *amount* of stress, it turns out that the *kind* of stress matters. While it certainly doesn't help, having lots of work stress—e.g. having to make many high-stakes decisions—is **not** what really hurts people.
What turns the dial to 11 on the impact of work stress is when employees have low control over their work, either in terms of what tasks to do or how those tasks are done. (This is well supported scientifically, in particular by the landmark UK Whitehall Study.)
Another damn good reason to develop an empowering environment for your people.