Stress and the Workplace

Stress and the Workplace

  • Date: Monday 15th May 2017
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The Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) formal definition of work related stress ‘is the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them at work’. A common mindset is that a level of stress is healthy as it can encourage higher productivity. This belief is incorrect. A slight increase in pressure may prove effective in encouraging workers to perform better, and motivate employees to complete tasks but too much pressure may result in an inability to cope with basic demands required of the job. This can result in work-related stress which is counterproductive for both the individual concerned and the organisation.


Effects of Stress

Failure to manage the health and wellbeing of employees can have many adverse effects on a company. These include: lower production rates, higher staff turnover, low employee morale, increased absence from the workplace and a poor company reputation. It is vital that organisations have a thorough understanding of stress and its symptoms so they can recognise it early in their employees and understand the scale of the problem. A full comprehension is needed as to how it can affect not only their workers but how stress can negatively impact the business resulting in lost time absence, increased costs from downtime and a lower production rate. 


Common Causes

Some common causes of stress include; high job demands and work intensity, emotional demands, lack of autonomy, job reorganisation and job insecurity, or a lack of support from colleagues and supervisors. 


HSEs Management Standards

The HSE provides employers with guidance in the management of occupational stress and has introduced the Management Standards. These standards have been designed with the objective of encouraging employers to identify the main risk factors for work-related stress and to complete a stress risk assessment. Areas that are considered include; demands, control, relationships, change, support and role. Use of the Management Standards will help employers identify the causes of stress, enabling them to establish preventive measures.



When it comes to tackling workplace stress primary interventions are key. Prevent stress occurring in the first instance through the elimination and reduction of psychosocial risks. Methods of approach should include the implementation of organisational policies and procedures outlining how stress is to be managed, good job design and workload management that addresses changing aspects of a job that suit the skill set of the employee.

Secondary interventions are targeted at educating workers about stress and can include introducing health promotion and lifestyle modification programmes, information on improving time management, advice on goal setting, and cognitive behavioural skills training.

Finally, tertiary level interventions can be introduced in the workplace to help employees cope with stress. Employee assistance programmes can include providing advice and support on issues which may affect performance such as working relationships, achieving work life balance and managing workloads. Typically, programmes include the provision of counselling, skills development and health advice.


Source: Gemma McDonald, SSG

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