Is work-related stress negatively affecting other areas of your life? Learn about the causes of work-related stress and how to effectively manage it.

Why are work and stress so intimately connected? For many Americans, work stress is an all too common occurrence. Work stress may mean different things to different people, but one thing is clear — work stress has adverse effects on mental, physical and emotional well-being.

One of the first steps in addressing work-related stress is to successfully identify when it occurs and develop coping strategies to manage it effectively. Without adequate coping strategies and other stress management techniques, work-related stress can take over a person’s life, leading to various mental health conditions, including anxiety and depression. It is essential for individuals to maintain a work-life balance that is healthy for them.

First, what is work-related stress? The definition of work-related stress, as defined by the World Health Organization (WHO), is the response that is seen when work demands go beyond a person’s knowledge or abilities and affect their ability to cope. Work stress tends to worsen when employees feel a lack of control or agency over their work or do not feel supported in the workplace, either by co-workers or superiors. In some circumstances, work stress is caused directly by bad management decisions.

There are several work stress symptoms that can help identify if someone is affected by work stress. Some physical and psychological signs of work-related stress include:

  • Changes in sleep
  • Changes in appetite
  • Muscle tension
  • Frequent headaches
  • Heart palpitations
  • Digestive problems
  • Skin problems
  • Increased irritability
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Becoming overly negative or down
  • Getting overwhelmed easily by work matters
  • Problems concentrating or making decisions
  • Increased aggression toward colleagues or superiors
  • Sudden emotional upsets at work
  • Changes in work performance
  • Frequent impatience
  • Becoming more isolated from co-workers
  • Feeling apathetic or disinterested in workplace matters

Some of the signs and symptoms of work-related stress can only be determined if a person knows their colleague well outside of work or has an open relationship with them. Otherwise, these symptoms can easily be overlooked or attributed to something else. It is important to create a work environment where everyone feels supported and has at least one person with whom they feel comfortable discussing personal or work-related matters.

Common Workplace Stressors

Having an understanding of the symptoms of work-related stress is important, but what is the underlying cause of work stress? In other words, what are workplace stressors? Workplace stressors can be defined as conditions or stimuli that physically or psychologically bring stress on an individual. Some examples of common workplace stressors include:

  • Increasing job demands
  • Poor management practices
  • Disruptive or negative organizational culture
  • Lack of support from co-workers or from superiors
  • Personality differences with co-workers or bosses
  • Unchallenging or boring work or work that gives no meaning to a person’s life

Work stressors may be the initial trigger for stress disorders. However, there could be a wide variety of underlying issues that cause long-term work stress. It is common in the United States for workers to complain of high stress due to an excessive workload, deadlines, work-life balance and lack of job security, for example. Other potential causes of stress at work include:

  • Working too many hours
  • Unfair or unbalanced workload relative to other employees of the same job grade
  • Not making enough money to support oneself or one’s family
  • Not having a say or a voice in the work one performs
  • Not having enough resources available to perform a job successfully
  • Few or no opportunities to advance in the company

How about the effects of work-related stress? Work stress can have terrible effects on mental, physical and emotional health if it becomes long-term. Even if work stress is short-term, it can affect the body in negative ways. Some examples of the negative correlation between work stress and health include:

  • Sleep problems
  • High blood pressure
  • Developing a mental health condition like anxiety or depression
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Short temper
  • Lack of motivation
  • Irritability
  • Increased drug, alcohol or tobacco use
  • Decreased work performance
  • Increased tension in one’s personal life or relationships with others
  • Back pain
  • Frequent constipation or diarrhea
  • Greater susceptibility to minor illnesses
  • Becoming socially withdrawn
  • Developing an eating disorder

Besides personal negative consequences, stress can also change the entire work environment and affect multiple people at the same time. Example of negative effects of work stress that affect more than one person includes:

  • Less employee commitment to the company
  • Decreased performance and productivity
  • Increased accidents due to human error
  • Increased turnover of staff and key personnel
  • Decreased attendance or increased absence due to stress-related issues
  • Decreased ability of the company to recruit and retain staff
  • Decreased company reputation
  • Increased possibilities for litigation against a company

Understanding just how many people work-related stress effects can help put the gravity of this problem into perspective. In the United Kingdom, statistics suggest that 15.4 million days at work are lost due to work-related stress. Other statistics on work-related stress include:

  • For each person experiencing work-related stress, on average, almost 26 days of work are missed
  • Productivity in the workplace can be reduced by up to one-third due to work stress
  • In 2017-2018, stress represented 44% of work-related illnesses in the United Kingdom
  • In 2017-2018, stress represented 57% of all days lost from work

Benefits of Preventing Stress in the Workplace

There are many different benefits of preventing stress in the workplace, ranging from personal to economic. If companies provide a work environment that emphasizes the well-being of their workers, everyone prospers. Some benefits of preventing stress in the workplace include:

For companies:

  • Less employee turnover
  • Better client relationships
  • Less money lost due to sick days or lack of productivity
  • Improved quality of work

For individuals:

  • Increased commitment to the job
  • Better workplace morale
  • Increased productivity
  • More earning potential

Of course, just about every job involves some degree of stress. So, how can a person manage their work-related stress so that it doesn’t get out of hand? To deal with stress at work, individuals can adopt a number of stress management techniques. In some cases, companies will provide employee assistance programs or other resources which help employees deal with work-related stress. A person who wants to better manage work-related stress should:

  • Identify intrinsic (from oneself) versus extrinsic (stemming from outside oneself) stressors
  • Utilize employee assistance programs or have open communication about life circumstances with superiors
  • Stay organized
  • Prioritize tasks
  • Set clear and measurable goals
  • Set reasonable deadlines
  • Eat well
  • Exercise regularly
  • Meditate or relax with practices like yoga, pilates or walking
  • Schedule free time and time for oneself
  • Ask for help or support when you need it and offer it to others when they need it
  • Avoid alcohol, tobacco and other drugs

If you or a loved one struggle with addiction and work-related stress, The Recovery Village can help. Call today to speak to a representative about treatment options for addiction and how to effectively manage your work stress.  

Megan Hull
Editor – Megan Hull
Megan Hull is a content specialist who edits, writes and ideates content to help people find recovery. Read more
Bonnie Bullock
Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Bonnie Bullock, PHD
Bonnie is a medical communications specialist at Boston Strategic Partners, a global health industry consulting firm. Her recent work in mental health includes developing conference materials for clinical studies in mood disorders and copy-editing clinical manuscripts. Read more

Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland (HSENI). “Why manage work-related stress and mental well-being?” Accessed July 5, 2019.

Victoria State Government (Australia). “Work-related stress.” June 2012. Accessed July 5, 2019.

World Health Organization. “Stress at the workplace.” Accessed July 5, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.