Image: ONYXprj, Getty Images/iStockphoto

We’ve all been in toxic workplaces, where stress is allowed to run amok and eventually teamwork completely breaks down. Some workplace stress can be a good thing in helping businesses seek new ways of becoming forward-thinking and innovative. But what happens to team relationships when workplace stress becomes goes beyond normal and becomes severe?

SEE: IT pro’s roadmap to working remotely (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

According to a survey by the American Institute of Stress, 46 percent of workplace stress is the result of employees feeling overloaded with work, while 28 percent is due to poor work relationships. The other 26 percent is due to employee struggles with juggling work-life balance or job security. Although only 28 percent is directly due to relationships at work, the result of the combined stress can compound already troubled team relationships.

Not everyone feels, processes, or reacts to stress the same way. Those differences can become catalysts of severely damaged work relationships.

SEE: The tech pro’s guide to video conferencing (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

4 ways workplace stress can damage team relationships

Workplace stress has a way of taking over every aspect of individual and team relationships and performance. Here’s how.

  1. Communication breakdown

Whether stress originates at home or work, the fallout is often seen at work, simply because that’s where we spend most of the day. People seldom go into work with the intention of creating stress for their teammates: It naturally occurs when people are overwhelmed. Regardless of the reason, stress creates communication barriers and breakdowns when employees are focused on their individual points of pain. This can quickly lead to misunderstandings and conflict.

2. Increased resentment

Once employees begin to struggle with overloaded schedules and misunderstandings, they’re likely to end up with feelings of resentment toward teammates and management. Even if the cause of the discontent isn’t warranted, the employee’s beliefs will nonetheless show in how he or she interacts with others. Their negative interactions will lead to further resentment by other teammates. Deep-rooted resentment will inevitably damage the entire team and the support they provide to each other.

3. Dwindling team support

Once teammates stop supporting each other, productivity will begin to decline sharply. The flow of information will become less frequent and limited, leading to missed deadlines and poor quality deliverables. The continuous stress and resentment can result in a never-ending cycle of (intentional or unintentional) withholding of support. Eventually, the lack of support will turn into blatant sabotage.

4. Sabotage

Workplace stress, if left unchecked, will ultimately lead employees to the point of sabotaging tasks or an entire project when they feel disconnected. Many projects have fallen prey to sabotage as the fallout from stress. Employees don’t start out choosing to sabotage projects. It’s a gradual process that unfolds when workplace stress is left unaddressed.

SEE: How to manage remote project teams during the COVID-19 outbreak (TechRepublic)

How can I prevent this decline in workplace harmony?

Project managers play a vital role in addressing communication breakdowns, resentment, dwindling team support, and sabotage. Resolving elevated stress levels requires recognizing the moment a teammate is becoming agitated and then sitting down, face-to-face, to develop strategies that address the root cause. This may seem like it slows progress initially, but in the long run, it will reduce the potentially devastating impact on team relationships as well as project risks.