ICMI is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.


Stress Management Series: What is Stress? Is All Stress "Bad"?

How to prevent and manage stress in today’s fast paced call center environment. (Read the first installment here.)

What is stress?

The most popular definition comes from Dr. Hans Selye of the International Institute of Stress at the University of Montreal, who is considered the "Father of Stress Research." Through his research, Selve developed a definition that helps us understand stress and therefore, how to manage it:

"Stress is the body's non-specific response to any demand placed on it whether that demand is pleasant or not."

This definition means that the body will reacts to stress in the same way regardless of the source. The point is, stress is an unavoidable consequence of living: you can’t avoid it. And even though most of us associate the word "stress" with negative things, there is actually good kind of stress. There are even words to distinguish the two.

Good Stress vs. Bad Stress

What we commonly associate with the concept of stress with is actually distress. Stress becomes negative when you stay "geared up" as you meet life’s changes and challenges and don’t - or can’t – relax. Unfortunately, when distress becomes a constant, ongoing cycle, your energy is depleted and your health can suffer. The good news is distress doesn’t have to be hazardous to your health. You can learn to manage the stress in your life.

Good stress is actually called, Eustress. (EU is Greek for life giving.) Stress can be positive, depending on your perspective. It can energize you, help you concentrate, focus and perform. Positive stress can also be a "turn-on," giving you energy and supply your zest for living. Who would want to miss out on that?!

Identifying the Right Level of Stress

I like to use the analogy of electricity to compare good/bad/too little stress. The right amount of electricity powers your radio, lights your light bulbs and turns on your computer. With too little, you have a brown out and TOO MUCH electricity burns out your light bulbs and will cause a power surge that can fry your hard drive!

Think about how this analogy applies in your contact center. If I were to walk into your center now, would I be able to tell what the level of electricity is at the moment?

  • Is it too much? (Agents on overload)
  • Too little? (Brown out/boredom)
  • Just right? (Enough to give a healthy sense of urgency)

So how do you get the right amount of "electricity" in your center? We'll discuss that for the center as a whole in a subsequent entry, but for now we are going to talk a little bit more about stress at the individual level, since that is what our center is made up of. Also, because stress is so highly individual, what is distressful for one person could be positive/Eustressful for someone else. Sometimes, the same event can trigger positive AND negative stress in the same person.

For example, let’s say an agent hears some team feedback and experiences both positive and negative thought:
First thought: We met Service Level consistently this quarter: That's great!
Second thought: Uh Oh! That means they are going to expect even more next quarter!

In the next entry, we’ll explore some of the stress triggers both in general, as well as those in the workplace. As they say, the first step to managing any situation is awareness. Be aware of what your personal stressors are so you can better manage situations where these stressors are present and/or avoid them altogether.