All About Work Related Stress and the Six Factors Known to Cause it

Office work with work related stress due to excessive demands

What is Work Related Stress?

The HSE defines work related stress as:

The adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them at work.

Stress can hit anyone at any level of an organisation and research shows that work related stress is widespread and is not confined to particular sectors, jobs or industries.

However, some sectors seem to experience more than their ‘fair share’ of problems including Healthcare, Education and Social Services.

Although stress in itself is not an illness, if it does become too excessive and prolonged then a number of problems can arise.

You can read about the signs of stress in your staff here.

bullying and work related stress

Six Causes of Work Related Stress

In 2007 the Health and Safety Executive commissioned a team of Psychologists to examine the core competencies that managers should possess (or acquire through training) that would best meet the objectives of minimising work related stress.

Their report also identified SIX critical factors within the working environment most likely to cause work related stress problems if not sufficiently managed.

Those factors were identified as:

  1. Change Management
  2. Control of Work
  3. Job Definition
  4. Organisational Relationships
  5. Support at Work
  6. Workplace Demands
Younf office worker with work related stress sitting down in corridor

Productive Work is Good For Wellbeing

Well thought-out, organised and managed work is generally good for us but when insufficient attention to job design, work organisation and management has taken place, it can result in work related stress.

The stress reaction occurs when a person feels unable to cope with the demands being ‘placed upon them’.

Stress, including work related stress, can lead to a range of illnesses and is known to be linked with high levels of sickness absence, staff turnover and other issues such as making more errors and in some cases a higher risk of workplace accidents.

Pressure v Stress

There is a difference between pressure and stress.

Pressure can be positive and a motivating factor, and is often essential in a job.

It can help us achieve our goals and perform better.

Stress occurs when this pressure becomes excessive, or if the ‘personal stress limit’ of the person is exceeded.

Metaphor of woman with work related stress trying to juggle demands

Balancing Demands and Pressure

A person experiences stress when they perceive that the demands of their work are greater than their ability to cope.

Coping means balancing the demands and pressures placed on you (i.e. the job requirements) with your skills and knowledge (i.e. your capabilities).

For example, if you are given a tight deadline on a project that you feel you have neither the skills nor ability to do well, then you may begin to feel undue pressure which could result in work related stress.

Stress can also result from having too few demands, as people will become bored, feel undervalued and lack recognition.

Manager angrily shouting at young worker causing work related stress

Stress Factors & Subjectivity

Stress affects people in different ways and what one person finds stressful can be normal to another.

With each new situation a person will decide what the challenge is and whether they have the resources to cope.

If they believe they don’t have the resources to cope, they will begin to feel stressed.

How they appraise any potentially stressful situation will depend upon various factors, including:

  • Background and culture.
  • Skills and experience.
  • Personality.
  • Personal circumstances.
  • Individual characteristics.
  • Health status.
  • Ethnicity, gender, age or disability.
  • Other demands both in and outside work.

It is important to be aware that the reaction to any given situation is highly subjective.

Applied Psychology services for Work Related Stress

Solving Work Related Stress

Work related stress tends to be dealt with in one of two principal ways;

  • Providing support after the employee has become too stressed to attend work (what we call crisis management), and
  • Providing training and support before employees become too stressed (mental health prevention).

Although it may seem obvious that the preventative option is clearly the best solution, the vast majority of employers fail to recognise this and tend to offer support (if at all) only once the employee has become absent from work.

Resilience Training

Lee Psychology have been delivering Resilience Training sessions to the NHS Integrated Care Boards (Sandwell & West Birmingham, The Black Country and Birminham & Solihull ICBs) since 2018.

Our training programmes are based on scientifically proven CBT pronciples and can be delivered as both group training seminars (half and full-days) as well as one-to-one personalised programmes (face-to-face or remotely using Zoom).

CBT Support

If you have employees who are struggling with work related stress (for whatever reason) we are also able to provide support using Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

Our 10 session CBT course is available in the following formats:

  • Self-directed Online course over 10 modules.
  • Clinically supported CBT course using our Online course with either 2, 5 or 10 face-to-face sessions (in-clinic or suing Zoom).

If you’d like to find out more about how we can support you and your organisation, then get in touch with Paul.

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Business Psychology Support Services

If you’re looking to support your staff with their mental wellness, resilience or general wellbeing, then why not get in touch with Paul to find out more about how we can help.


Links to More Information

These links take you to other resources on the web.

Work Related Stress at the HSE


Applied Psychology Solutions

If you’d like to learn how to overcome work related stress problems but dislike the idea of having “therapy”, then why not learn how to change the way you make sense of your experiences and the World around you with the CORE Programme.

If you believe that your problems are the result of what has happened to you and not because there is something wrong with you, then this is the solution you’ve been looking for.