Work related stress

The World Health Organization describes work-related stress as the response people may have when presented with work demands and pressures that are not matched to their knowledge and abilities and which challenge their ability to cope.

Work-related stress is considered a global concern. However, not all manifestations of stress at work are categorised as work-related stress. Stress can also stem from outside the working environment, leading to changes in behaviour and reduced effectiveness at work. Stress can also occur as a combination of work and non-work factors.

Unhealthy lifestyles can also affect workers health and performance at work. The impact of this on workers varies between individuals.

If a worker is suffering from high stress levels, this can develop into a mental ill health disorder, behavioural disorder or a physical impairment.

Health effects from the impact of stress can be exhaustion, burnout, anxiety and depression. Physical impairments can include cardiovascular disease (CVD) and musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).

Signs of stress can be noticeable by colleagues and managers. They include deteriorating relationships with colleagues, irritability, indecisiveness and reduced performance. Stressed workers may also engage in unhealthy activities such as increased smoking, alcohol consumption, drug use and misuse and increased risk-taking.

A certain amount of pressure is healthy and can improve performance and motivation. However, when that pressure exceeds the individual’s ability to cope and turns into stress it starts to have a negative impact on their mental health. Prolonged exposure to work stressors can leave workers vulnerable to have negative effects on health and wellbeing and cause illnesses, from headaches and gastrointestinal disorders through to depression and anxiety disorders, heart attacks and diabetes.

The symptoms of work-related stress not only affect individual workers but can also negatively affect an organisation, resulting in an increase in:

  • absenteeism
  • presenteeism
  • higher accident and injury rates
  • higher rates of early retirement
  • reduced productivity
  • reduced engagement.

The cost of these can run to billions for businesses and society globally.

Work-related stress can be preventable by taking appropriate action.

Work-related stress and the link with musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs)

The role of psychosocial factors and work-related stress in the development of MSDs has received increased attention. Several epidemiological studies have been conducted in various sectors (from office to manual work), repeatedly showing linkages between work-related psychosocial factors and MSDs. Overall it is clear that the incidence of MSDs is associated with high perceived work-related stress levels, high workload and demands, low social support, low job control and low job satisfaction and monotonous work.