Work-related stress is the harmful physical or psychological reaction that occurs when people are subject to excessive work demands or expectations.

HSE figures show that in Great Britain:

  • Stress is the second most commonly reported condition in the self-reported work related illnesses
  • An estimated 440,000 workers in 2014/15 suffered from stress caused or made worse by their current or past work
  • On average, each person who was suffering from work-related stress took an estimated 23 days off in 2014/15
  • An estimated 9.9 million working days in 2014/15 were lost in total due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety

Find out more on the HSE website

The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work report, Stress at work facts and figures, provides comparisons of the prevalence of stress at work across European countries, as well as differences in stress according to age, gender, sector and occupation, and the associated costs.

Stress symptoms

Stress affects different people in different ways, and everyone has a different method of dealing with it. The chemicals that are released by your body as a result of stress can build up over time and cause various mental and physical symptoms.

Mental and physical symptoms

  • Anger
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Changes in behaviour
  • Food cravings
  • Lack of appetite
  • Frequent crying
  • Difficulty sleeping (mental)
  • Feeling tired
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Chest pains
  • Constipation or diarrhoea
  • Cramps or muscle spasms
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting spells
  • Nail biting
  • Nervous twitches
  • Pins and needles
  • Feeling restless
  • A tendency to sweat
  • Loss of interest in sex
  • Breathlessness
  • Muscular aches
  • Difficulty sleeping (physical)

For more information, see NHS Choices.

Defining cases of work-related stress

Defining a case of work-related stress is complicated and is the subject of a 128-page report commissioned by the HSE. The conclusion drawn from the report is that no simple and universal case definition is possible, largely because of the complex nature of work-related stress.

The report suggests that stress should not be treated as an ‘illness’ but rather as a ‘process’, where the emotional experience of stress largely resulted from exposure to psychosocial hazards at work, and in the worst cases led to impairments of physical and psychological health of clinical and behavioural significance.

In terms of determining the presence of a case, the five critical elements of an epidemiological case assessment framework are:

  • The report of experience of work-related stress (or equivalent)
  • Evidence of exposure to psychosocial hazards associated with work
  • Evidence of the onset of a new condition of clinical significance or of the worsening of an existing condition of similar level of significance
  • Evidence of a significant consequence, either in terms of absence from work or change in frequency of visits to a general practitioner (or treatment for ill health)
  • Lack of evidence of any major confounding individual difference or circumstance.

View the full report on the HSE website

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