What is Work Stress?

What is Work Stress?

Work stress is a major problem in the workplace especially if an employee has a very large workload, and it can have adverse effects on physical health as well.

The definition of stress is known to be “a physical, mental or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension”.[1] It can be a result of various external factors including family troubles or workplace harassment, or internal factors like illness or injury.[2]

Stress in work triggers a ‘flight or fight’[3] reaction from the body’s immune system, which can sometimes be beneficial as the pressure can make a person perform well in tough situations like interviews. However, sustained stress levels can cause a feeling of being overwhelmed, and lead to man health and safety problems.

What is Stress at Work?

Work stress occurs when a person is unable to keep up with the demanding nature of their work, and they feel overwhelmed with the number of things they have to do.

Various factors can cause pressure and anxiety in the workplace[4], including:

  • Workplace harassment or discrimination
  • Bullying in the workplace
  • A toxic and unpleasant work culture and environment
  • Constant tight deadlines that may seem unachievable
  • Long and demanding hours
  • Unpleasant customers or colleagues
  • A lack of support or guidance by line managers or bosses, leading to a feeling of not knowing what duties an employee is supposed to be doing

These issues can be made worse by factors outside of working life, and these may be family troubles, a lack of sleep or pre-existing mental or physical health conditions. In addition, a person may not be able to separate work and life successfully, leading to an imbalance and feelings of being pressured to work all the time.

The employer has a duty of care to employees concerning health and safety at work, and it includes both mental and physical health. If an employee feels stressed because of work-related matters, they should discuss the problems with their manager. If an organisation fails their duty of care, they could be liable to significant compensation pay-outs to employees.

What are the Signs of Stress in the Workplace?

There are numerous symptoms of stress that range from physiological to psychological factors:

  1. Emotional changes

When you are stressed, you may show signs of anxiety, sadness and frustration. If these are not dealt with, they can lead to very serious physical problems like anxiety attacks or depression. A person may be more pessimistic and have troubles with memory retention. Mental health is an absolutely crucial part of overall wellbeing that should be treated with respect and dignity by employers and employees alike.

  1. Physical changes

In addition to those linked with mental health like anxiety attacks, the kinds of physical changes that may occur include a cold/flu and headaches as your immune system is working at overdrive in dealing with stress hormones. The emotional feeling of being tense can translate to muscles across the body and can cause heart palpitations.[5]

  1. Behavioural changes

If you feel overwhelmed, a person may not be able to sleep properly as they will have a lot going on in their head. Sleep deprivation can cause someone to feel very argumentative and easily irritated, leading to strains on workplace and family relationships. A person’s eating, drinking and exercise habits may also change.

If a person experiences any of these changes and symptoms, they should do all they can in dealing with anxiety. This can be done with relaxation techniques that relieve anxiousness, which include having down time, exercising to re-focus the mind away from work, and try to get as much sleep as possible.[6] Managing stress is extremely tough, so talking to family members or trusted work colleagues about these issues is so important.

You can view our Stress in the Workplace online training course here.


[1] https://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=20104

[2] https://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=20104

[3] https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/a-to-z/s/stress

[4] https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/work-related-stress

[5] https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/work-related-stress

[6] https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/a-to-z/s/stress