Work-related stress - How to manage it


What is work-related stress?

Work-related stress has been described as the adverse reaction experienced by workers when workplace demands and responsibilities are greater than the worker can comfortably manage, or are beyond the worker's capabilities (Leka et al. 2003).

It is a growing problem within Australia that affects not only the health and well-being of employees, but also the productivity of organisations. Work-related stress arises where work demands of various types and combinations exceed the person’s capacity and capability to cope.



Causes of work-related stress?

Some of the factors that commonly cause work-related stress include:

  • Organisation culture
  • Bad management practices
  • Job content and demands
  • Physical work environment
  • Relationships at work
  • Change management
  • Lack of support
  • Role conflict
  • Bullying, harassment or discrimination
  • Crisis incidents/trauma



Symptoms of work-related mental stress

The signs or symptoms of work-related stress can be physical, psychological and behavioral.

Physical symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • Muscular tension
  • Headaches
  • Heart palpitations
  • Sleeping difficulties, such as insomnia
  • Gastrointestinal upsets, such as diarrhoea or constipation
  • Dermatological disorders

Psychological symptoms include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Discouragement
  • Irritability
  • Pessimism
  • Feelings of being overwhelmed and unable to cope
  • Cognitive difficulties, such as a reduced ability to concentrate or make decisions

Behavioural symptoms include:

  • An increase in sick days or absenteeism
  • Aggression
  • Diminished creativity and initiative
  • A drop in work performance
  • Problems with interpersonal relationships
  • Mood swings and irritability
  • Lower tolerance, frustration and impatience
  • Disinterest
  • Isolation

In the workplace the symptoms can be very costly and can lead to:

  • Poor worker health, both physical and psychological
  • Breakdown of individual and team relationships
  • Poor morale and erosion of worker loyalty and commitment
  • Reduced efficiency, productivity, and profitability
  • Poor public image and reputation
  • Increased costs associated with counseling, worker assistance, mediation
  • Increased absenteeism and staff turnover
  • Increased costs with recruitment and training of new workers
  • Increased workers’ compensation claims and legal costs



Stress Management

It is vital that we understand the significant impact stress is having on the lives of Australians of all ages and that we take steps to manage stress and reduce its impact on our health and wellbeing. In an ideal world, we would avoid negative stress. Realistically, we need to manage it.  

It is important for employers to recognise work-related stress as a significant safety and health issue. A company can and should take steps to ensure that employees are not subjected to unnecessary stress, such as:

  1. Ensuring a safe working environment
  2. Making sure that everyone is properly trained for their job
  3. De-stigmatising work-related stress by openly recognising it as a genuine problem
  4. Discussing issues and grievances with employees and taking appropriate action when possible
  5. Devising a stress management policy in consultation with the employees
  6. Encouraging an environment where employees have more say over their duties, promotional prospects and safety
  7. Organising to have a human resources manager
  8. Cutting down on the need for overtime by reorganising duties or employing extra staff
  9. Taking into account the personal lives of employees and recognising that the demands of home will sometimes clash with the demands of work
  10. Seeking advice from health professionals, if necessary
  11. Early intervention



Tools and resources

A psychological risk assessment tool that includes resources to help organisations identify, manage and evaluate injury prevention and management interventions is available from People at Work



Where to go for more help

  • See your Manager or your Human Resource Manager
  • See your doctor or health professional
  • Call Lifeline who are available 24/7 on 13 11 14 or              
  • Visit where you can find helpful resources and information about mental health and stress