Work Related Stress – 6 Common Causes

Gemma Doyle


EHS Consultant


I think we can all safely say that we have experienced some kind of work related stress in our lifetime. Some more than others, unfortunately. It is not however, something that we have to live with and get used to, it is something that we all need to be aware of. Knowing the most common causes of work related stress can help us take steps to prevent it and look after our mental health and wellbeing.

There are many definitions of stress, what one person finds stressful, another might find motivational. As humans, we all react differently to different situations. Knowing what stress is, can be a starting point for us to know when we are experiencing it and how we can tackle it.

Firstly, stress is a negative feeling and can be associated with physical symptoms. They can include shortness of breath, increased heartbeat, tummy issues, raised blood pressure and sweaty palms. Over time, these physical issues can worsen and turn into serious health problems.


“Role ambiguity and conflict decreases workers’ performance and are positively related to the probability of workers leaving the company.” Along with physical health, stress can have a very negative affect on your mental health and wellbeing. It can cause:

  • Feelings of fear
  • Racing thoughts
  • Feelings of losing control
  • Feelings of anger
  • Fatigue
  • Withdrawal
  • Self-neglect
  • Depression
  • Sleep issues

Nobody wants to experience the above on a daily basis, so make sure you are aware of the most common factors that cause work related stress.


1. Demands

This includes the demands of the workload, the work pattern and the work environment. When employees feel that the demands of their workload and the associated time pressures are a source of stress, for example:

  • unrealistic deadlines and expectations
  • technology overload
  • unmanageable workloads
  • under recruitment of staff for work already timetabled
  • long work hours


2. Lack of Control

This is about how much authority employees have about the way they do their work. Lack of influence and consultation in the way in which work is organized and performed can be a potential source of pressure, for example:

  • Little control over aspects of the job
  • Not enough involvement in decision making
  • Account not taken of staff ideas/suggestions relating to the role
  • No influence over performance targets
  • Lack of time

To help ensure the above does not happen, it is important that employees have control over their own pace of work and are encouraged to use their unique skills and initiatives to do their work. If possible, employees should be encouraged to develop new skills to help them undertake new and challenging pieces of work. In addition, employees should be consulted about when breaks should be taken and their work patterns.


3. Minimal Support

It’s always important to know that we are supported in what we do. Knowing that your colleagues and management support you, will give you a boost, especially on the difficult days. However, having no support or very little, can lead to feelings of frustration and being undervalued.

A company should have the following in place to ensure employees are supported in their role:

  • Policies and procedures to support employees.
  • Systems in place for managers, so they can support their staff, including managing workplace stress training.
  • Systems in place for employees to encourage their colleagues, including workplace stress management training.
  • Make employees aware of where they can find support and how to access it.
  • A feedback system, so that employees get regular and constructive feedback.

The Health & Safety Authority (HSA) in partnership with the State Claims Agency and the Critical Incident Stress Network Ireland (CISM) have developed an employee survey tool called Work PositiveCI, a psychosocial risk management process that helps organisations identify ways to improve employee wellbeing. It provides feedback on workplace stress, employee psychological wellbeing and critical incident exposure in the workplace and delivers structured guidance enabling organisations to develop an action plan to mitigate against these stressors.


4. Role Ambiguity

Work related stress can be caused when an employee does not understand their role fully, if they have not been given adequate training to carry out their role or if their role has conflicting responsibilities.

Role ambiguity and conflict decreases workers’ performance and are positively related to the probability of workers leaving the company. Job satisfaction refers to a positive evaluation of a job, while the company’s commitment refers to the employee’s attachment to the company.

All roles should be clearly defined and information should be made available to employees on this, so they can fully understand the scope of their role. Systems should be put in place to enable employees to raise concerns about any uncertainties or conflicts they have in their role and responsibilities


5. Work-life Balance Issues

A hot topic that is never going to go away, until we get it right. The pressure of an increasingly demanding work culture is perhaps the biggest and most pressing challenge to the mental health of the general population.

The demands of work have the potential to spill over and affect personal and home life and so put a strain on relationships outside work, for example:


  • Long hours
  • Over demanding and inflexible work schedules
  • Pressure on family relationships
  • Unsocial working hours
  • Excessive travel time
  • Work interfering with home/personal life

All companies should have a work-life balance policy and promote a culture of working “smart” not “long”. There are many things employees and companies can do to create a better work-life balance, check out some of our other articles:
7 Steps to Build a Mentally Healthy Workplace
Do you have a good work life balance?
The Benefits of Promoting Workplace Wellbeing
How to Create a Positive Work Environment


6. Poor Relationships

Being the human beings that we are, we are not all going to get along with everyone and that’s ok. What is not ok, is when personalities clash and in turn into conflict and possible workplace bullying.

The company should have the following in place:

  • Promote positive behaviours at work to avoid conflict and ensure fairness
  • Employees should share information relevant to their work
  • Company policies and procedures in place to prevent or resolve unacceptable behaviour
  • Systems in place to enable and encourage managers to deal with unacceptable behaviour
  • A reporting system for employees so they can report unacceptable behaviour

The above are only six factors that can lead to work related stress, I’m sure you can think of a few more. The most important thing to remember is, we are human, we have feelings, we have our limits and our mental health is just as important as our physical well-being. Be aware of the symptoms of stress, find someone to confide in and get help.

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