Trying to Create a Stress-Free Work Environment is a Bad Idea

Not all stress is bad stress

Jessica Donahue, PHR
Published in
4 min readFeb 11, 2022


How to create a stress-free work environment for your team
Photo: Yan Krukov/Pexels

The internet is a vast and expansive place ripe with well-intentioned advice. We have more information at our fingertips today than we ever have before. And as we’ve seen the accessibility of information increase in recent years, we’ve developed a collective understanding that much of the advice strewn across the world wide web is contradictory.

I recently found an article that promised to teach leaders “how to create a stress-free work environment” for their people.

I’m here today with a contradictory take on the leader’s responsibility for eliminating stress from their team’s work environment, and my point-of-view seems to be completely at odds with most of what’s been written on the topic.

I’ve got to be honest — As a self-proclaimed “leadership nerd” and someone who has led multiple high-powered teams throughout my career — creating a stress-free work environment has never been my goal.

Have I worked to create a burnout-free environment? Yes.

Do I strive to foster a toxicity-free environment? For sure.

Am I responsible for perpetuating a hostility-free work environment? Absolutely.

But a stress-free work environment? No, this has never been my goal as a leader.

Listen, not all stress is bad stress.

We need some stress to perform at our best.

In Michael Bungay Stanier’s latest book, How to Begin: Start Doing Something That Matters, he talks about the many benefits of setting “thrilling, important, and daunting goals.”

The idea here is that we only unlock our greatness by choosing to work on the “hard things,” whatever that means to each of us.

Bungay Stanier explains that for something to fall into this “hard but worthy” goal category, it must be “something that is ambitious for you in the world, something that is hard, something that will make the world a bit better but will also contribute to unlocking the greatness that is there within you.”

When I reflect on the “hard things” that I choose to work on, the important and thrilling things to



Jessica Donahue, PHR
Writer for

Fractional HR & People Ops for Startups & Early Stage Companies