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There’s an invisible force that inhibits companies from growing, competing, and reaching long-term goals:
Stress can plague businesses, especially in the fintech and payment industries where there’s a constant demand for change and innovation. This pressure can spread severe anxiety throughout the ranks of an organization. When teams are constantly stressed, their productivity and communication decline.
The scariest part? People rarely recognize it’s happening.
Let’s walk through a common example — except imagine you’re in an employee’s shoes, rather than those of an executive.
You’re in a high-stakes meeting, perhaps with key clients or company leadership. Some tough questions surface. There’s a palpable pressure, which doesn’t subside until the meeting’s conclusion. Shortly after the meeting, you have a quasi-eureka moment and think, “Ah, why didn’t I say that?” Or, “Why didn’t I just explain it this way? That would have been much easier.”
Have you ever experienced this post-meeting clarity? The culprit isn’t a lack of caffeine or focus — it’s stress. And chances are your employees have fallen victim to this stress-induced cognitive paralysis too.
Why Does Stress Affect Productivity in the Workplace?
First, we have to differentiate between two commonly confused terms: stress and pressure. People tend to use these terms interchangeably, but that’s misleading because they have distinct meanings, especially in a business setting.
Pressure is an external catalyst. A senior manager grills an employee, pressuring them to perform. Team members resist instructions or policies, which applies collateral pressure to peers. Anything that’s challenging in an organization can be pressure.
On the other hand, stress is an internal reaction and response to pressure. It’s not the only type of response — there are relaxed, solution-oriented approaches. However, our brains are hardwired to react to pressure with stress. It’s our default setting.
Why? Because stress is a fight or flight reaction. It dates back to the earliest days of humankind. If a sabretooth tiger stumbled into your cave, are you going to logically weigh the pros and cons of the situation? Or will you make a split-second decision based on your instinct?
Although much time has passed since our cave-dwelling days, our brains still treat stress the same way. Our subconscious frames stressors in terms of survival and self-preservation. It elevates our heart rate. Raises our blood pressure. We feel acutely aware of our surroundings thanks to increased adrenaline, but we lose the ability to think critically and creatively.
Even mild stress can diminish our cognitive abilities. The same applies to high-stress work environments.
Consequences of a High Stress Work Environment
Many people often feel that they need a certain level of stress to ramp up productivity and maximize their capabilities. This is an unfortunate misconception.
Let’s revisit our earlier example of a high-stakes meeting. In response to stress, the body reduces blood flow to the frontal lobes, the areas of the brain responsible for higher cognitive functions. This immediately reduces perception, retention, decision-making, and reflective thinking.
The internal process is so rapid that we don’t even notice. As a result, we’re detached and unable to contribute fully, despite feeling totally in the moment.
That’s only one example of the ramifications of a high-stress work environment. Let’s explore the consequences further.
Limited cognitive capacity
Payment providers operate in a competitive, ever-changing industry. Scaling and innovating are crucial to survival. So, it’s common for fintechs to not only operate imperfectly but also work under immense pressure. Picture urgent emails, tight deadlines, endless meetings, and far-reaching KPI expectations.
These stimuli add up during any given workday — even more so over weeks and months of prolonged stressors.
For these reasons, widespread stress in an organization can limit cognitive capacity among key decision-makers and support staff. This often translates to groupthink, missed opportunities, and ill-advised decisions with precious company capital. Consequently, these mistakes induce even more stress, creating a vicious, downward spiral.
Impulsive (and ineffective) communication
Stress can unravel our communication skills as well. Fight or flight responses tend to make us more combative and self-centered. It becomes more difficult to express ourselves in a calm and logical manner because our cognitive abilities are reduced. We speak impulsively — or, colloquially, “without thinking.”
Think of coworkers blaming each other for a missed deadline. Both parties find reasons for why the other is responsible, rather than identifying bottlenecks and solutions to learn from the experience.
Fintech companies require creativity and innovation to stay ahead of their competitors. Some people believe they have their best ideas under stress and pressure. That’s a false perception — stress is a creativity killer. Multiple studies have shown that acute stress hurts creative processes, such as cognitive control and cognitive flexibility.
Unfortunately, it’s practically invisible. Other than body language and auditory clues, you can’t see stress stifling one’s inner thoughts.
Most significantly, frequent acute stress can adversely impact employee health, both physically and mentally. Regarding the former, it can lead to cardiovascular diseases and type 2 diabetes. Regarding the latter, it can cause burnout, apathy, and depression. Needless to say, these are severe consequences with long-lasting implications.
Does Low Stress Lead to High Performance?
As you’d expect, a high-stress environment can cripple a business. You may experience declining productivity rates, frequent absenteeism, high employee turnover, and increased recruitment costs.
However, the opposite is true as well.
Fostering a low-stress, high-performance business environment is no small task, but it can drastically increase efficiency, output, satisfaction, and retention. Because people are free to think openly and, therefore, creatively. Instead of maintaining the status quo, people embrace innovation and problem-solving. Rather than contemplating their next move — people stay longer. There’s a broad sense of belonging due to a stress-resistant atmosphere.
Collectively, these forces lead to fewer mistakes, improved agility, and higher efficiency.
To phrase this concept another way, emphasizing employee wellbeing can radically improve your company’s wellbeing.
How Fintechs Can Establish Low Stress Work Environments
We’ve progressed to a “people-first” business world, necessitating workforce wellbeing and a stress-resistant atmosphere. A company’s priority must shift from propagating undue pressure to sustaining a maintainable level of urgency. Individuals must feel purposeful and impactful. Once accomplished, companies can establish a sustainable growth strategy, spur innovation, and ultimately achieve extraordinary bottom-line results.
So, as company leaders, how do we create this type of atmosphere?
Fortunately, it’s not as daunting as fighting a sabretooth tiger. Team development and resilience toolkits can help companies cultivate low-stress environments — even in fast-moving, competitive fintech industries like payment.
Gain the Lead helps fintechs incorporate a communication strategy and team development tools into their operations. In our next article, we’ll show you how to remove stress from your company culture and replace it with higher performance and resilience.