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Work-related stress (Occupational stress) has the potential to negatively affect an individual’s psychological and physical health, as well as an organisation’s effectiveness. Therefore, work-related stress is recognised world-wide as a major challenge to workers’ health and the health of their organisations.

Work-related stress is defined as a harmful reaction people have to undue pressures and demands placed on them at work.

The latest estimates from the Labour Force Survey (LFS) show  that the total number of cases of stress in 2011/12 was 428 000 (40%) out of a total of 1,073,000 for all work-related illnesses.

Figure 1: Rates for total cases and new cases of work-related stress, depression or anxiety in GB


Definitions of stress

  • The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) defines stress as, “the reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demands placed upon them. It arises when they worry they can’t cope”.
  • Stress is often described as “a variance between workload and capability”. The workload may be greater than the capability of the individual or the workload may be less than the individual’s capability
  • Individuals generally accept reasonable pressures, which are, in the main, considered as positive and motivational. These pressures can provide the key to a sense of achievement and job satisfaction. It is only when there is excessive pressure whether at work or outside (or both) that stress might become harmful. It can then damage performance and undermines the health of the staff member.

Stress symptoms

Stress affects different people in different ways, and everyone has a different method of dealing with it. The chemicals that are released by your body as a result of stress can build up over time and cause various mental and physical symptoms like: Anger, Depression, Anxiety , Changes in behaviour , Food cravings , Lack of appetite, Frequent crying, Difficulty sleeping, Feeling tired, Difficulty concentrating, Chest pains, Constipation or Diarrhoea, Cramps or muscle spasms , Dizziness, Fainting spells, Nail biting, Nervous twitches, Pins and needles, Feeling restless , Tendency to sweat, Loss of interest in sex, Breathlessness , Muscular aches.

Causes of stress:

  • Mismatches between the demands and pressures on the person based on their  knowledge and abilities
  • If a worker’s knowledge and abilities are not sufficiently utilised
  • Lack of competence and/or training
  • Demands which are conflicting – causing confusion
  • High levels of uncertainty about work, objectives or job and career prospects
  • Inflexible and /or over demanding or too simplistic work schedules
  • Prolonged conflict between individuals, including possibly sexual or racial harassment, or bullying, or where staff are treated with contempt or indifference
  • Absences of leadership and/or understanding from managers or supervisors.
  • The above factors combined with others such as health problems and home pressures (e.g. financial worries or marital/relationship difficulties) may lead to the reduction in the ability to cope with pressures at work.
  • Physical conditions such as noise, heat, humidity, vibration and a presence of toxic or dangerous materials, overcrowding, bad ergonomic design or other hazards might also increase stress levels for the employees working within that environment.

Impact of stress on Health Economical point of view:

  • Early retirement from work
  • High absence rates
  • Overall health impairment
  • Low organizational productivity

The effects of stress on the individual:

  • Mental illness, coronary heart disease, certain types of cancer, psychosomatic symptoms, migraine, stomach ulcers, allergies, insomnia, melancholy, apathy, high absence rates even early retirement from work.
  • Long term stress has been associated with conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, anxiety and depression.
  • Stress from sexual harassment leading to depression and anxiety
  • Adoption or  ‘poor lifestyle habits’, e.g. increased smoking and alcohol consumption, less attention to good diet etc.

The effects of stress on the organisation

  • Greater sickness levels
  • High absentee rates
  • Decreasing performance and productivity
  • Lower job-satisfaction and organisational commitment
  • Loss of experienced and skilled workers
  • Loss of public goodwill and reputation.

The effects of stress on society

  • Health care expenses arising from the stress experience which may become a substantial cost to society.
  • Some workers suffering stress never return to work or become unemployable.
  • Impact on family and friends, in some cases the experience may lead to a breakdown in relationships and to divorce.

The cost of stress to the individual

  • Health care costs
  • Human costs (pain, fear and general reduction in quality of life for the individual as well as the potential grief experienced by the individual’s closest family and friends)
  • Loss of income
  • Legislation costs, where applicable

The cost of stress to the organisation for:

  • Loss of working hours
  • Loss of turnover and profits
  • Loss of experienced and skill workers
  • Company goodwill and reputation
  • Legal action, where applicable
  • Staff turnover
  • Training for new recruits
  • Sick-pay
  • Grievance/compensation/litigation

Organisational Stress Management

Good management and good work organisation are the best forms of stress prevention. All employers have a legal responsibility under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 to ensure the health, safety and welfare of their employees. This includes minimising the risk of stress-related illness or injury to employees. Each department should take steps to implement arrangements to ensure stress in the workplace is effectively managed and below is a list of who is responsible for what.

1) Heads of Administrative Sections are responsible for:

  • Establishing the ‘organization and arrangements’ for implementing Health and Safety Policy including the management of stress at work.
  • Ensuring that risk assessments are completed and monitored
  • Ensuring that good two way communication processes are in place
  • Ensuring that regular safety inspections and monitoring of health and safety arrangements are undertaken
  • Monitoring and reviewing on a regular basis the effectiveness of the responses of their area to stress at work
  • Ensuring that staff returning from sick leave are interviewed in accordance with the ‘Sickness and Injury’ section in the Staff handbooks to establish how the member of staff is and provide them with help and support if necessary. An employee who has had a number of single days of absence over a relatively short period of time may be suffering from some underlying condition.
  • Setting clear and measurable work objectives for their staff
  • Identifying development needs and ensuring appropriate development is provided
  • Ensuring all relevant policies are implemented

2) All staff are responsible for:

  • Talking to their managers/supervisors about their jobs and its demands
  • Identifying and taking the initiative regarding their developmental needs
  • Letting managers/supervisors know if they are overloaded or under loaded
  • Taking an active part in performance management and staff development
  • Voicing any concerns about job security, changes in job structures, etc. to managers

3) The Safety Office and the Human Resources Department are responsible for:

  • Providing general advice and guidance to all staff on the management of stress at work
  • Providing suitable training courses to complement/enhance this strategy
  • Monitoring staff medical certificates for stress being given as a cause of sickness absence and referring the member of staff to the OHS soon after his/her return.
  • Monitoring implementation of this Policy.

The HSE’s Management Standards

The HSE has identified six key areas (or ‘risk’ factors) that can be causes of work related stress and has set standards for managing these factors that if achieved should minimise the risk of occupational stress related illness. These key areas are:

  • ROLE

Find out more about HSE management standards for stress




  2. The Work Foundation 2013

Author Bio

Dr Monowar Hossen, MBA, MHE is a Business Growth Manager (BGM) for the Building Legacies programme and specialises in – start-up-business, strategic business planning, policy setup,  business & cost analysis, networking andstress Management in the workplace.

Monowar provides the following areas of support to his Building Legacies clients: business planning & policies implementation, cash flow, sales forecasting, growth mapping, business analysis and  advising clients on how to maintain a healthy business lifestyle.

2 Responses

  1. Nasim Kamal says:

    Very well written and Informative

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