Posted: 17 Aug. 2021 3 min. read

Who are you when you’re stressed?

How do you respond when you are stressed at work? Do you act a little out of character? Do your typical behaviours intensify? We’re often asked if Business Chemistry type changes or intensifies when an individual is under pressure, so we carried out a survey to find out. Given that we’ve reached the final post in our well-being blog series, we thought we’d share these findings with you – we’re nice like that.

We asked people to complete our Business Chemistry assessment while imagining they were under stress, and 111 people did just that. Specifically, we asked people to “respond to each item as if you’re in the midst of a very stressful time. You might think back to a specific stressful time you’ve actually experienced, imagine a stressful time, or just focus in on the feeling of being under stress in general.” Then we compared people’s stressed results to their original Business Chemistry results.

In short, we found no evidence that Business Chemistry types intensify under stress, but we did find evidence of changes in people’s behaviours and preferences. Overall, almost a third of our sample responded to the assessment items in a way that resulted in their Primary Business Chemistry type changing. Pioneers were the most likely to change - 39 percent ended up with a new type - and Guardians were the least likely, with only 22 percent changing types.

Alone, the fact that some people changed type is not terribly significant, as a number of people who take the assessment more than once will change types even without the ‘stress condition’; this is very possible when scores for two or more types were relatively close to one another to begin with. What's more interesting is that there are differences in how likely the various types are to change and the extent to which they demonstrated certain traits while under stress.

While we found differences in the extent to which types changed, in many ways the nature of the changes exhibited under stress were similar across types. Almost everyone showed evidence of becoming less optimistic and exploratory, and more risk-averse, pragmatic, and conventional. Again, Pioneers showed the greatest change in the extent to which they demonstrated certain traits while under stress, and Guardians, the least. One of the reasons Guardians changed less than the other types is that they’re typically a little less optimistic and exploratory, and more risk-averse, pragmatic, and conventional by nature.

People also got more scattered, less helpful, and felt less responsibility to the broader group, while simultaneously feeling more impatient with others when stressed. Not exactly a recipe for team success, is it?

Beyond the consistent changes we saw across types, our results further suggest that under stress, people become less extreme regarding some of the key characteristics that define their type. For example, in this sample Pioneers became less spontaneous and imaginative, Integrators became less consensus-oriented, and Guardians became less meticulous. In a way, stress seems to homogenise people, making us more similar than we are when not under stress.

This particular take on our findings may have some important implications for the cognitive diversity of teams. If stress makes us more similar, would we be losing out on some of the potential benefits offered by cognitive diversity at the very times when stakes are high? Some of the ways in which we change when stressed may even be harmful for effective teaming, like becoming less helpful and more impatient with others.

Understanding how people change under stress may provide new insight into behaviours that might otherwise be quite unusual. If you know you, a colleague, or your whole team is going through a stressful time, watch out for the changes we’ve touched on and discuss the implications of these. For example, when people start feeling less responsibility to the broader group, silos are raised and collaboration suffers. That might not be what you want; however scaling back on risk-taking might not be a terrible thing.

Although this marks the last post in our well-being blog series we have plenty more insights to share with you on Business Chemistry to help you build strong relationships at work, so stay tuned. And if you missed the other posts in our series, see the links below:

What can Business Chemistry teach us about stress and managing it?

Coping strategies in times of stress

Do’s and don’ts during times of stress

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Key contact

Jessica Dooley

Jessica Dooley

Senior Manager

Jessica founded and leads Deloitte’s Business Chemistry client practice for the UK and North South Europe member firms. A business behavioural tool designed to help teams communicate and collaborate better for greater success, Business Chemistry is a proprietary self-assessment tool used to support boards, executive, and senior leadership teams across the FTSE, private, and public sectors. She helps teams understand each other’s working styles; hold honest conversations; be better leaders of diverse teams; build plans for enhanced collaboration; team deliberately for a common purpose; and build trust quickly to achieve strategic and organisational goals. The book ‘Business Chemistry: Practical Magic for Crafting Powerful Relationships – a guide to putting cognitive diversity to work’ was released in the US and UK in May 2018.