Workplace Stress

Workplace Stress

Verified by World Mental Healthcare Association

Workplace stress is a prevalent issue that can impact employees in any field or occupation. It arises when the job’s demands surpass an individual’s capacity to cope, resulting in a physical, emotional, and mental strain that can negatively impact their overall health and well-being.

What is Workplace Stress?

Work and stress are inseparable, and while some degree of work-related stress can be motivating, excessive or chronic stress can have detrimental effects 1 Bhui, K., Dinos, S., Galant-Miecznikowska, M., de Jongh, B., & Stansfeld, S. (2016). Perceptions of work stress causes and effective interventions in employees working in public, private and non-governmental organisations: a qualitative study. BJPsych bulletin, 40(6), 318–325. https://doi.org/10.1192/pb.bp.115.050823 on an individual’s mental and physical health. Work-related stress has become a crucial area in mental health functioning, impacting a significant number of people in the workforce and leading to employee burnout, absenteeism, and turnover.

For example, an employee who is given a high-pressure 2 Ravalier, J. M., McVicar, A., & Boichat, C. (2020). Work Stress in NHS Employees: A Mixed-Methods Study. International journal of environmental research and public health, 17(18), 6464. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17186464 project with a tight deadline, but lacks the necessary resources or support to complete the task. This individual may experience a range of stress symptoms, such as irritability, difficulty concentrating, and physical symptoms such as headaches or stomach problems throughout the times of their daily work.

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Work-related stress can become a disability 3 La Torre, G., Sestili, C., Mannocci, A., Sinopoli, A., De Paolis, M., De Francesco, S., Rapaccini, L., Barone, M., Iodice, V., Lojodice, B., Sernia, S., De Sio, S., Del Cimmuto, A., & De Giusti, M. (2018). Association between Work Related Stress and Health Related Quality of Life: The Impact of Socio-Demographic Variables. A Cross Sectional Study in a Region of Central Italy. International journal of environmental research and public health, 15(1), 159. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph15010159 when it leads to the development of mental or physical health problems that significantly impair an individual’s ability to perform tasks. Prolonged and severe work related stress symptoms include mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which can affect an individual’s daily life activities.

Moreover, work stress and health issues can result in physical ailments 4 Mutambudzi, M., & Henkens, K. (2020). Chronic health conditions and work-related stress in older adults participating in the Dutch workforce. European journal of ageing, 17(4), 499–508. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10433-020-00554-x like chronic pain or fatigue, which can meet the criteria for a disability. The severity of work-related stress must be substantial enough to hinder an individual’s capacity to perform their job responsibilities and affect their daily life activities for it to be considered a disability.

Read More About Stress Here

Causes of Workplace Stress

There are several causes of work related stress. Some of the most common factors that contribute to workplace stress include:

1. Workload

A heavy workload, tight deadlines, and long working hours 5 Akdeniz, Ş., Çoban, M., Koç, O., Pekesen, M., Korkmaz Yaylagul, N., Sönmez, S., Yetiz, F., Başıbüyük, G. Ö., Efe, M., Ergun, A. D., Özgür, Ö., Vural, M., Akış, A. G., & Tufan, İ. (2022). Determination of Workload, Work Stress and Related Factors in Nursing Home Workers during the COVID-19 Pandemic in Turkey. International journal of environmental research and public health, 20(1), 160. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph20010160 can lead to stress and burnout.

2. Work-life Balance

When employees struggle to balance 6 Borowiec, A. A., & Drygas, W. (2022). Work-Life Balance and Mental and Physical Health among Warsaw Specialists, Managers and Entrepreneurs. International journal of environmental research and public health, 20(1), 492. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph20010492 their work responsibilities with their personal life, it can lead to stress to excessive level.

3. Workplace Relationships

Conflict with colleagues, difficult or unsupportive managers 7 Che, Y., Zhu, J., & Huang, H. (2022). How Does Employee-Organization Relationship Affect Work Engagement and Work Well-Being of Knowledge-Based Employees?. Frontiers in psychology, 13, 814324. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2022.814324 , and poor communication can all contribute to office stress.

4. Organizational Change

Changes in company structure, leadership, or work processes 8 Fløvik, L., Knardahl, S., & Christensen, J. O. (2019). The Effect of Organizational Changes on the Psychosocial Work Environment: Changes in Psychological and Social Working Conditions Following Organizational Changes. Frontiers in psychology, 10, 2845. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.02845 can cause uncertainty and stress. Along with this, issues related to low salaries and the poor working environment caused by inadequate infrastructure can lead to decreased job satisfaction among employees.

5. Harassment and Discrimination

Workplace bullying, harassment 9 Smyth P. (2021). An Institutional Approach to Harassment. CJC open, 3(12 Suppl), S118–S129. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cjco.2021.08.004 , and discrimination can cause immense stress for employees, with women being particularly vulnerable to gender-based discrimination 10 Biswas, A., Harbin, S., Irvin, E., Johnston, H., Begum, M., Tiong, M., Apedaile, D., Koehoorn, M., & Smith, P. (2021). Sex and Gender Differences in Occupational Hazard Exposures: a Scoping Review of the Recent Literature. Current environmental health reports, 8(4), 267–280. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40572-021-00330-8 and sexual harassment. Such experiences can lead to the development of anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues, which can not only affect job performance but also have a detrimental effect on overall well-being.

Workplace Stress and Mental Health

Workplace stress can have significant negative effects 11 Mensah A. (2021). Job Stress and Mental Well-Being among Working Men and Women in Europe: The Mediating Role of Social Support. International journal of environmental research and public health, 18(5), 2494. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18052494 on mental health and well-being. Some of these effects may include:

1. Anxiety

The pressure to meet deadlines, handle high workloads, and navigate workplace conflicts can contribute to feelings of anxiety 12 Fan, L. B., Blumenthal, J. A., Watkins, L. L., & Sherwood, A. (2015). Work and home stress: associations with anxiety and depression symptoms. Occupational medicine (Oxford, England), 65(2), 110–116. https://doi.org/10.1093/occmed/kqu181 and uncertainty.

Individuals may exhibit symptoms like a racing heart, sweating, and shallow breathing, as well as cognitive symptoms such as excessive worry, difficulty concentrating, irritability, and obsessive thoughts about work.

Read More About Anxiety Here

2. Depression

People experiencing workplace stress may be at an increased risk 13 Moreno Fortes, A., Tian, L., & Huebner, E. S. (2020). Occupational Stress and Employees Complete Mental Health: A Cross-Cultural Empirical Study. International journal of environmental research and public health, 17(10), 3629. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17103629 of developing symptoms of depression. Persistent tension can lead to feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, and loss of motivation, which altogether can contribute to these mental health conditions.

Read More About Depression Here

3. Suicidal Probability

Workplace stress can increase the risk of suicidal ideation 14 Ahn, S. H., Lee, Y. J., Jang, E. C., Kwon, S. C., Min, Y. S., & Ryu, S. H. (2020). A study of job stress, suicidal ideation and suicide attempts in display manufacturing workers: a cross-sectional study. Annals of occupational and environmental medicine, 32, e16. https://doi.org/10.35371/aoem.2020.32.e16 (thoughts of suicide) by contributing to depression, feelings of hopelessness or helplessness, and reduced social support. When left unaddressed, these risk factors can escalate to a higher likelihood of suicide attempts or completion.

4. Burnout

Burnout is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion 15 Gandi, J. C., Wai, P. S., Karick, H., & Dagona, Z. K. (2011). The role of stress and level of burnout in job performance among nurses. Mental health in family medicine, 8(3), 181–194. that can occur when individuals are exposed to chronic stressors over an extended period of time. High levels of stress and burnout in the workplace can lead to feelings of detachment, cynicism, and a decreased sense of accomplishment.

Read More About Burnout Here

5. Decreased Job Satisfaction

People who are unable in managing stress at work 16 Madhura, S., Subramanya, P., & Balaram, P. (2014). Job satisfaction, job stress and psychosomatic health problems in software professionals in India. Indian journal of occupational and environmental medicine, 18(3), 153–161. https://doi.org/10.4103/0019-5278.146917 may feel dissatisfied with their job or the company they work for. They may also experience a lack of engagement and motivation, which can affect their performance and productivity.

6. Substance Abuse

Stress and mental health in the workplace can be significant factors that contribute to an individual’s decision to turn to drugs 17 Wiesner, M., Windle, M., & Freeman, A. (2005). Work stress, substance use, and depression among young adult workers: an examination of main and moderator effect model. Journal of occupational health psychology, 10(2), 83–96. https://doi.org/10.1037/1076-8998.10.2.83 or alcohol as a means of coping, potentially leading to the development of substance abuse disorders.

Signs Of Stress At Work

Recognizing workplace stressors can be challenging since these can manifest in different ways 18 Tsai, Y. C., & Liu, C. H. (2012). Factors and symptoms associated with work stress and health-promoting lifestyles among hospital staff: a pilot study in Taiwan. BMC health services research, 12, 199. https://doi.org/10.1186/1472-6963-12-199 , and people may also have different reactions to them. However, here are some common warning signs indicating an individual experiencing workplace stress:

1. Changes in Behavior

If an individual reacts in a different way than usual, such as being irritable, withdrawn, or disengaged during work, it could be a sign of workplace stress.

2. Physical Symptoms

People experiencing workplace stress may have physical symptoms 19 Zambrana, R. E., Valdez, R. B., Pittman, C. T., Bartko, T., Weber, L., & Parra-Medina, D. (2021). Workplace stress and discrimination effects on the physical and depressive symptoms of underrepresented minority faculty. Stress and health : journal of the International Society for the Investigation of Stress, 37(1), 175–185. https://doi.org/10.1002/smi.2983 such as headaches, muscle tension, stomach problems, and fatigue.

3. Changes in Work Performance

If an individual’s work performance decreases 20 Bui, T., Zackula, R., Dugan, K., & Ablah, E. (2021). Workplace Stress and Productivity: A Cross-Sectional Study. Kansas journal of medicine, 14, 42–45. https://doi.org/10.17161/kjm.vol1413424 due to a high workload, they may go through the sign of difficulties in concentration, inability to manage schedules in work, poor time management, and other unmanageable issues related to work and deadlines, which all could give rise to workplace stress.

4. Increased Absenteeism or Presenteeism

If someone is frequently absent 21 Heo, Y. S., Leem, J. H., Park, S. G., Jung, D. Y., & Kim, H. C. (2015). Job stress as a risk factor for absences among manual workers: a 12-month follow-up study. Industrial health, 53(6), 542–552. https://doi.org/10.2486/indhealth.2015-0021 from work or present at work being unproductive, lacking in initiativeness, or creativity could be a sign of workplace stress.

5. Interpersonal Problems

Work relationships with colleagues can cause stress due to unclear job roles 22 Kato T. (2015). Coping with Workplace Interpersonal Stress among Japanese Employees. Stress and health : journal of the International Society for the Investigation of Stress, 31(5), 411–418. https://doi.org/10.1002/smi.2566 , disagreements, and communication problems, leading to tension and difficulties at work.

In this regard, employers also play a crucial role by implementing modified policies and programs to reduce the chances that causing conflict or tension among colleagues and leading to difficulties in working relationships.

Strategies for Managing Stress in The Workplace

Consider the following tips 23 Menardo, E., Di Marco, D., Ramos, S., Brondino, M., Arenas, A., Costa, P., Vaz de Carvalho, C., & Pasini, M. (2022). Nature and Mindfulness to Cope with Work-Related Stress: A Narrative Review. International journal of environmental research and public health, 19(10), 5948. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph19105948 as ways to reduce stress at work:

  1. Prioritize activities that bring joy and relaxation, such as hobbies, and other interests apart from daily jobs and spending time with loved ones.
  2. Set realistic goals and deadlines, prioritize tasks, and avoid procrastination.
  3. Talk to your colleagues, friends, or family members that can help you to process your emotions and help in coping with stress at work.
  4. Practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or yoga that can help you to reduce stress levels.
  5. Engaging in physical activity, such as going for a walk during lunch break, can help you to reduce stress levels and promote overall well-being.
  6. Taking a 5-10 minute break can be beneficial to prevent the signs of stress at work.
  7. If workplace stress is persistent and interferes with your daily life, seek professional help from a healthcare professional or therapist.

Takeaway

Effective stress management in the workplace can improve employee well-being, productivity, and job satisfaction, while also reducing the negative impacts of stress on organizational outcomes.

However, by implementing practical coping strategies such as prioritizing self-care activities, practicing effective time management, seeking social support, taking regular breaks, and challenging negative thought patterns, individuals can successfully manage stress and promote overall well-being.

At A Glance

  1. Workplace stress is a common experience for many employees.
  2. Mental health and work stress are interconnected, excessive stress at work can negatively impacts an individual’s overall mental well-being.
  3. Workplace stress can be caused by factors such as workload, deadlines, interpersonal conflict, and lack of control over one’s job.
  4. Chronic workplace stress can lead to physical and mental health problems, such as heart disease, depression, and anxiety.
  5. Employers have a responsibility to address workplace stress and promote employee well-being.
  6. Strategies for addressing workplace stress include encouraging work-life balance and creating a positive work environment.
  7. Managing workplace stress is not only beneficial for individual employees but also for the overall productivity and success of the organization.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. Can work stress cause mental disorders?

Yes, prolonged exposure to work stress can increase the risk of developing mental disorders such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

2. How does stress affect mental health in the workplace?

Stress in the workplace can affect mental health by increasing the risk of developing anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders. It can also lead to burnout, reduced job satisfaction, and decreased performance, affecting overall well-being.

References:

  • 1
    Bhui, K., Dinos, S., Galant-Miecznikowska, M., de Jongh, B., & Stansfeld, S. (2016). Perceptions of work stress causes and effective interventions in employees working in public, private and non-governmental organisations: a qualitative study. BJPsych bulletin, 40(6), 318–325. https://doi.org/10.1192/pb.bp.115.050823
  • 2
    Ravalier, J. M., McVicar, A., & Boichat, C. (2020). Work Stress in NHS Employees: A Mixed-Methods Study. International journal of environmental research and public health, 17(18), 6464. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17186464
  • 3
    La Torre, G., Sestili, C., Mannocci, A., Sinopoli, A., De Paolis, M., De Francesco, S., Rapaccini, L., Barone, M., Iodice, V., Lojodice, B., Sernia, S., De Sio, S., Del Cimmuto, A., & De Giusti, M. (2018). Association between Work Related Stress and Health Related Quality of Life: The Impact of Socio-Demographic Variables. A Cross Sectional Study in a Region of Central Italy. International journal of environmental research and public health, 15(1), 159. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph15010159
  • 4
    Mutambudzi, M., & Henkens, K. (2020). Chronic health conditions and work-related stress in older adults participating in the Dutch workforce. European journal of ageing, 17(4), 499–508. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10433-020-00554-x
  • 5
    Akdeniz, Ş., Çoban, M., Koç, O., Pekesen, M., Korkmaz Yaylagul, N., Sönmez, S., Yetiz, F., Başıbüyük, G. Ö., Efe, M., Ergun, A. D., Özgür, Ö., Vural, M., Akış, A. G., & Tufan, İ. (2022). Determination of Workload, Work Stress and Related Factors in Nursing Home Workers during the COVID-19 Pandemic in Turkey. International journal of environmental research and public health, 20(1), 160. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph20010160
  • 6
    Borowiec, A. A., & Drygas, W. (2022). Work-Life Balance and Mental and Physical Health among Warsaw Specialists, Managers and Entrepreneurs. International journal of environmental research and public health, 20(1), 492. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph20010492
  • 7
    Che, Y., Zhu, J., & Huang, H. (2022). How Does Employee-Organization Relationship Affect Work Engagement and Work Well-Being of Knowledge-Based Employees?. Frontiers in psychology, 13, 814324. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2022.814324
  • 8
    Fløvik, L., Knardahl, S., & Christensen, J. O. (2019). The Effect of Organizational Changes on the Psychosocial Work Environment: Changes in Psychological and Social Working Conditions Following Organizational Changes. Frontiers in psychology, 10, 2845. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.02845
  • 9
    Smyth P. (2021). An Institutional Approach to Harassment. CJC open, 3(12 Suppl), S118–S129. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cjco.2021.08.004
  • 10
    Biswas, A., Harbin, S., Irvin, E., Johnston, H., Begum, M., Tiong, M., Apedaile, D., Koehoorn, M., & Smith, P. (2021). Sex and Gender Differences in Occupational Hazard Exposures: a Scoping Review of the Recent Literature. Current environmental health reports, 8(4), 267–280. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40572-021-00330-8
  • 11
    Mensah A. (2021). Job Stress and Mental Well-Being among Working Men and Women in Europe: The Mediating Role of Social Support. International journal of environmental research and public health, 18(5), 2494. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18052494
  • 12
    Fan, L. B., Blumenthal, J. A., Watkins, L. L., & Sherwood, A. (2015). Work and home stress: associations with anxiety and depression symptoms. Occupational medicine (Oxford, England), 65(2), 110–116. https://doi.org/10.1093/occmed/kqu181
  • 13
    Moreno Fortes, A., Tian, L., & Huebner, E. S. (2020). Occupational Stress and Employees Complete Mental Health: A Cross-Cultural Empirical Study. International journal of environmental research and public health, 17(10), 3629. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17103629
  • 14
    Ahn, S. H., Lee, Y. J., Jang, E. C., Kwon, S. C., Min, Y. S., & Ryu, S. H. (2020). A study of job stress, suicidal ideation and suicide attempts in display manufacturing workers: a cross-sectional study. Annals of occupational and environmental medicine, 32, e16. https://doi.org/10.35371/aoem.2020.32.e16
  • 15
    Gandi, J. C., Wai, P. S., Karick, H., & Dagona, Z. K. (2011). The role of stress and level of burnout in job performance among nurses. Mental health in family medicine, 8(3), 181–194.
  • 16
    Madhura, S., Subramanya, P., & Balaram, P. (2014). Job satisfaction, job stress and psychosomatic health problems in software professionals in India. Indian journal of occupational and environmental medicine, 18(3), 153–161. https://doi.org/10.4103/0019-5278.146917
  • 17
    Wiesner, M., Windle, M., & Freeman, A. (2005). Work stress, substance use, and depression among young adult workers: an examination of main and moderator effect model. Journal of occupational health psychology, 10(2), 83–96. https://doi.org/10.1037/1076-8998.10.2.83
  • 18
    Tsai, Y. C., & Liu, C. H. (2012). Factors and symptoms associated with work stress and health-promoting lifestyles among hospital staff: a pilot study in Taiwan. BMC health services research, 12, 199. https://doi.org/10.1186/1472-6963-12-199
  • 19
    Zambrana, R. E., Valdez, R. B., Pittman, C. T., Bartko, T., Weber, L., & Parra-Medina, D. (2021). Workplace stress and discrimination effects on the physical and depressive symptoms of underrepresented minority faculty. Stress and health : journal of the International Society for the Investigation of Stress, 37(1), 175–185. https://doi.org/10.1002/smi.2983
  • 20
    Bui, T., Zackula, R., Dugan, K., & Ablah, E. (2021). Workplace Stress and Productivity: A Cross-Sectional Study. Kansas journal of medicine, 14, 42–45. https://doi.org/10.17161/kjm.vol1413424
  • 21
    Heo, Y. S., Leem, J. H., Park, S. G., Jung, D. Y., & Kim, H. C. (2015). Job stress as a risk factor for absences among manual workers: a 12-month follow-up study. Industrial health, 53(6), 542–552. https://doi.org/10.2486/indhealth.2015-0021
  • 22
    Kato T. (2015). Coping with Workplace Interpersonal Stress among Japanese Employees. Stress and health : journal of the International Society for the Investigation of Stress, 31(5), 411–418. https://doi.org/10.1002/smi.2566
  • 23
    Menardo, E., Di Marco, D., Ramos, S., Brondino, M., Arenas, A., Costa, P., Vaz de Carvalho, C., & Pasini, M. (2022). Nature and Mindfulness to Cope with Work-Related Stress: A Narrative Review. International journal of environmental research and public health, 19(10), 5948. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph19105948
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