The Role of Stress or ‘Eustress’ in Coaching for Performance

March 14th, 2013 by Sarah Green Leave a reply »

An article, recently written in the Harvard Business Review (Schwartz, 2012) addressed the importance of stress and pressure, in order to encourage development and enable individuals to reach their ultimate potential. As Business Psychologists and HR leaders at Zircon Management Consulting, we began to consider how this idea fits with our ways of working and what we promote as a business.

The article by Schwartz was in fact referring to a type of positive stress, known as ‘Eustress’ and is defined by Richard Lazarus (1974) as stress that is healthy, or stress which gives a sense of fulfillment or other positive feelings.

At Zircon we recognise the importance of engaging, stretching and developing employees, in order to deliver benefits to both the individual and the organisation. Coaching is a useful way of achieving this and it is something we promote at all levels of the organisation, not just for Senior Leaders or Executives. During coaching we aim to encourage the individual to step outside of their comfort zone and accept stretching work assignments, in order to build up their exposure and experience to situations they might find difficult or stressful. Whilst we recognise that stretching yourself, requires a degree of stress and pressure for the individual, we also recognise that too much stress can lead to an unhealthy and unproductive state. We use the following model to demonstrate this:

This model is based upon a well known psychological theory, known as the ‘Yerkes and Dodson Law’ which demonstrates the importance of applying appropriate levels of pressure, which is different for each individual. The graph is a visual representation of the theory:

Therefore low arousal or stress is likely to produce low performance, but as the amount of stress increases upon an individual the level of performance increases significantly. However, if too much pressure is applied, it becomes counterproductive and performance drops. Therefore there is an optimum zone for performance – the ‘stretch’ zone.

At Zircon Management Consulting we combine our sound psychological knowledge, with our business acumen, in order to support organisations to invest in and develop high potential talent and future leaders. If you would like to speak with us about how we could support you with this, please do not hesitate to contact Dr Amanda Potter at

Harvard Business Review. (2012).>

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