Stressors at the Workplace

Most Common Causes of Stress at Workplace

Stress is defined as a result of some external force acting upon an organism, structure or system with the ability to disrupt its equilibrium and cause strain. Such forces can be of several kinds including social, economic, physical or emotional which may require us to change. However, our ability to change or adjust is limited by physical and emotional barriers. Whenever the amount of force is higher than the amount of control a person has on the situation or work, it causes stress. In the last decades, the level of stress involved in jobs and workplace environment has multiplied. There are several reasons that the number of stressors in the workplace has increased.

Stress is fine to a limited extent. That’s what you call positive stress when it is limited and you do not require to exert extra efforts or force to deal with it. Whenever an external force requires us to change to a degree that we cannot handle, the resulting high level of stress can lead to physical or emotional changes.  So, whenever our ability to meet the demand of a situation is lower than the pressure the situation has caused, we feel stressed. Depending upon the situation, the level of stress can be low, high or very high.  Jobs have become increasingly complex and increased competition has also added to the amount of stress and the variety of stressors at the workplace.

Common Causes of workplace Stress:

Job insecurity

Stress causing factors abound at the workplace in the 20th century. Even economic uncertainty becomes a major cause of stress for people. The recent economic turmoil globally resulted in thousands of jobs being lost. The fear of being laid off can also become a major cause of stress for people. The pressure of performance increases at such times. The people who were able to retain their jobs were required to work overtime. In times of economic hardship, people do not have any other option but to perform better than expectations.  Moreover, when performance-related demands are high and unrealistic; the deadlines short and targets big, it becomes difficult for an average worker to remain stable. The situation becomes that of a roller coaster where pressure rises and falls every moment. The ever-changing level of pressure in the work environment becomes a major cause of stress for people.


Stress can erupt from work overload, but being under-loaded can also make people feel stressed. In such cases, workers would feel that their skills and abilities are being underutilized. This will give rise to dissatisfaction and cause additional stress. Not just this, the type of work also determines the amount of stress in it. The degree of autonomy a worker has in his job also determines how much stress he bears at his workplace. Stress, tension, anxiety, depression and all sorts of psychological issues are born of the diverse pressures that are commonly found in modern workplaces.  Managers and supervisors want tasks to be finished earlier than the deadline. Deadlines are unrealistic and the worker is stretching his every nerve to finish the task as per his supervisor’s expectations. Sometimes employees are required to work in shifts that are not very comfortable for them. The requirements of the job may also be different than a person’s skills.

Lack of training and resources

Unless proper training and resources are available, matching the job requirements will always remain impossible for the worker.  A lack of recognition and appreciation also results in a loss of satisfaction and then tension. Thus, there are several factors at any workplace that may cause discomfort and stress for the workers. Imagine a person being pulled in all directions at the same time.  From deadlines to task quality, there are several types of requirements that all need to be fulfilled satisfactorily for the successful completion of a task. These demands are enough to cause stress and take a person to the point of nervous breakdown. The stress level can get as high any time.  Apart from it, the danger of being fired also looms large if someone is not able to perform as per expectations.

Role related factors:

Not just the type of task assigned to a worker, but stress factors are also born of his role inside the organization. Conflicting job demands result in role conflict. A person who answers to more than one supervisor or manager may also feel stressed because of varying expectations being placed upon him.  Role ambiguity can also result in stress. If someone is left unclear about his job responsibilities and expectations, then too, he may feel under pressure and stressed. The level of responsibility assigned to a person can also add to his stress. Career-related issues can also cause stress. Over or under promotion, job security, lack of development opportunities and similar other factors that can reduce job satisfaction may cause anxiety and stress.

Environmental factors

Organizational structure or environment and workplace relationships are also importantly related to stress. Conflicts with supervisors and coworkers can become a cause of stress for any employee.  If the managers or supervisors are not supportive then also it will lead to tension.  There are several distinct factors in the organizational environment that may cause dissatisfaction and anxiety. Lack of support from the subordinates, discrimination, harassment, lack of trust, absence of mechanisms for reporting bad behavior and incidents, these all can cause stress. Many companies are not so open to workers’ participation in decision making. In such conditions workers feel like left out and frustrated. This will also cause tension.  The management style also determines how satisfied or dissatisfied workers are and the amount of stress found in the environment.

Poor communication and response mechanisms:

Poor communication and weak flow of information inside the organization also becomes a cause of dissatisfaction and stress for the workers. If there are not proper mechanisms in place that can immediately respond to employees’ concerns, their stress level will remain high. Organizational change is also a period when the employees may face increased heat and stress. Unless the management can involve employees properly and engage them in such a period the employees would remain under high stress. Stress is also magnified if employees perceive the management and its decisions as unfair. The higher the level of trust between the employer and the employees, the lower will be the level of stress inside the organization. How balanced an employees’ work and personal lives are also determines if his stress level is going to be high.  A balance between work and personal life is essential otherwise work pressure and resulting stress has the potential to disrupt someone’s personal life too.

Effects on Health:

How bad the effects of stress on personal health can be is also an important question. From increased blood pressure to cholesterol and stomach acids there are several health issues that can result from stress. Stress can also lead to a decrease in protein synthesis and poor digestion. Its effects are not limited to these physical issues, but people may also face psychological or mental effects.  It can lead to sleeplessness and depression. People can also feel anxious and nervous due to an increase in stress. Workers start being angry and reckless as a result of stress or they start over-medicating themselves and drinking heavily because of the high stress levels. It can also cause distraction and accidents at the workplace. People are highly likely to be distracted if working under stressful conditions. Therefore it is important for employers to provide the workers with a  pleasant work environment and safe working conditions.


Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and safety (Workplace Stress) OSH Factsheet

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