There is good stress and there is bad stress. Good stress helps us to prioritize, focus on tasks, and generally be more productive. Bad stress causes us to run around in circles, become easily distracted, and even call out of work (as 62 percent of Americans claim to have done).
It turns out there is actually a stress threshold for most people. We know this because of research done over 100 years ago by psychologists Robert Yerkes and John Dillingham Dodson. It's called the Yerkes-Dodson Law. Research done on rats showed that if they were stressed (by receiving electrical shocks) at a certain level, they were motivated and performed optimally, but if they were stressed too much (higher voltage shocks) they lost motivation and basically gave up.
So how does this translate to workplace stress? If you're too far below this threshold you're likely under-stimulated, unmotivated, and looking for a new job while on the clock because you're bored out of your mind. If you're at the level of “eustress” – which is a level of stress considered beneficial – you're focused, efficient, and most likely enjoying what you're doing. If you're above this level and in a state of distress, you're probably feeling overwhelmed, anxious, and possibly even depressed. You're having trouble focusing on tasks because you're not sure how to prioritize, and you may even be calling out sick in order to avoid it all.
In order to make sure that employees stay out of the land of distress, many companies have started offering perks that were pretty much unheard of 15-20 years ago (see: Google). Some companies offer outings for their team on the company dime. Appster has an anonymous vent board where employees can complain about work-related issues without negative consequences.
This infographic can help you figure out if you're too stressed, not stressed enough, or right in the stress sweet spot.