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Understanding the Causes & Consequences of Work Stress

Goal

To be able to understand what work-related stress is, how it is caused, and the impact that it has

What is Work-Related Stress? (Watson, Goh, & Sawang, 2011, p. 39)

Also called occupational stress, work-related stress is a negative response (stress) that occurs in workplaces due to various demands or situations people find themselves in and not having enough resources to deal with it. Perceptions of loss and harm result in an individual’s stress response being triggered. Having inadequate coping resources is typically at the root of this reaction. The greater the emphasis on the consequences of failing, the greater will be the stress response.

Causes of Stress

Common causes of work-related stress include:

  • Sudden deadlines or demanding job
  • Harassment or bullying
  • Stereotypes
  • Gender discrimination
  • Social isolation
  • Work-home conflict
  • Violence
  • High risk jobs
  • Unpleasant relationship with boss and/or co-workers
  • Constant work contact

Factors such as the following impact one’s response to stress:

  • Personality factors
  • Level of job expertise
  • Social support (family, co-workers & friends)
  • Health status and disability
  • Gender, ethnicity, and age
  • Financial demands
  • Life conditions outside the workplace

Signs and Symptoms of Stress

It is vital that you pay attention to signs of stress and take measures to deal with it effectively. Here are some indications of the presence of stress. Keep in mind that some of your symptoms may also be due to certain illnesses:

Problems with emotional healthProblems with emotional health

  • Mood changes
  • Increased anxiety
  • Depressed or pessimistic thought and feeling
  • Low self-esteem
  • Increased sense of irritation, sensitive or easily hurt
  • Loss of motivation

Problems with mental health

  • Confusion
  • Concentration problems
  • Poor memory

Problems with physical health

  • High blood pressure
  • Sweating
  • Stress related rashes
  • High cholesterol
  • Muscle tension
  • Sleep problems

Other behavioral changes

  • More than normal absence from work
  • Arriving late to work more than usual
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Increased use of drugs, alcohol, or nicotine
  • Behavior effected by mood changes
  • Changes in sleep patterns

Prolonged stress can lead to physical and mental illness. Therefore, it is important that you do not ignore stress symptoms for too long. Be sure to see your general physician and talk to your human resources manager or boss.

Consequences of Stress (Frone, Kelloway, & Barling, 2005)

Stress itself is not necessarily harmful, but persistent and prolonged stress can be harmful. As seen in the below graphic, not all stress is bad. However, prolonged stress without adequate resources to help one deal with adversities can lead to harmful outcomes.

Consequences of Stress

Consequences occur at both the individual and the organizational level:

Individual Level Consequences

  • Poor psychological and mental health outcomes (e.g., anger, depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress syndrome, burnout, etc.)
  • Impaired physiological processes (e.g., cardiovascular reactivity, elevated levels of various hormones, impaired immune function)
  • Physical disease outcomes (e.g., hypertension, stroke, cancer, ulcers and gastrointestinal disorders, musculoskeletal disorders, migraine headaches)
  • Detrimental behavioral outcomes (sleep disturbance; alcohol, tobacco, and illicit drug use; poor eating habits; intimate partner violence)

Organization Level Consequences

  • Poor psychological and emotional outcomes (e.g., job dissatisfaction, low organizational commitment)
  • Indicators of poor physical health (absence due to illness, workers’ compensation claims)
  • Work-related behavioral impairment (injuries, poor job performance, on-the-job substance use)

Next Step

Learn more about work-related stress by watching the following video.

What is NOT a consequence of occupational stress?

Which one is a sign of stress at work?

Which of the following factors influence one’s response to stress?

Which is NOT a cause of occupational stress?

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Reviewed Jun 30, 2022