Work-related stress: Are you a victim?

Everyone has a bad day occasionally. It is fine to feel a bit stressed about work especially with a deadline looming ahead.

However, if you have too many blue days, or start to freak out at the thought of going to work, you may be suffering from work-related stress.

The term stress was first used by the famous Hans Selye after completing his medical training in the 1920s.

He proposed that stress was a non-specific strain on the body caused by irregularities in normal body functions as a result of the release of stress hormones within the body (Selye, 1977).

Work-related stress is a condition that occurs when the demands of the job are higher than the worker’s competence and coping capability.

It not only affects the mental health of the stressed worker but threatens the productivity of the organisation.

Job stress model

The latest model of job stress is Job Demand-Resources (JD-R) by Arnold B Bakker Evangelia Demerouti (2007) that shows how every job has its own specific risk factors.

Job stress is categorised into job demands and job resources.

The physical, psychological, social and organisational aspects of a job that requires sustained physical and/or psychological effort or skills is referred to as job demands.

Job resources meanwhile refers to the physical, psychological, social, or organisational aspects to achieve work goals, reduce job demands and its associated physiological and psychological costs, and stimulate personal growth, learning and development.

Figure 1.0: The Job Demands-Resources Model

The job resources in the model have motivational potential that will lead to high work engagement, low cynicism and excellent performance (Bakker & Demerouti, 2007).

Common work-related stressors

· Culture of the organisation

· Poor management

· Job demands

· Physical workplace

· Working relationships

· Lack of support

· Changes in management policy

· Role conflicts

· Trauma

· Long working hours

· Tight deadlines

· Over-supervision

· Lack of equipment and resources

· Few promotional opportunities

· Harassment

Work-related stressors can be categorised into individual capabilities and organisational factors.

Individual capabilities are like workers’ skills, psychological and physical health, and coping mechanisms.

Examples of organisational factors are management direction or style, organisation culture, working hours and so forth.

Therefore, stress consequences also affect individual health and the organisation as well.

Signs of work-related stress in individual employees

When stress exceeds the limit of an individual’s ability to cope with it, they experience stress consequences that affect their psychological and physical health.

If the psychological strain persists, it will lead to psychological health disorders like anxiety, major depression and psychotic issues.

Physical health will also suffer and can lead to cardiovascular diseases, musculoskeletal diseases, respiratory problems and more.

Negative or depressed feelings

Negativity takes many forms. It may be as subtle as a bad feeling about yourself when you fail to complete a task, and gradually progress to self-doubt, which means you begin to question your own competence.

Even minor mistakes can make you disappointed in yourself. Loss of self-confidence results in depression and anxiety.


You feel angry towards everybody. The jokes you used to enjoy now seem so intimidating that you fight back.

The normal behaviour of your co-workers now feel like insults. You cannot control your anger and snap at every little thing.

Unusual mood swings

One day, you come to work happy but just half an hour later, feel so down you started crying.

Once the blues pass, you feel embarrassed and have no idea why your mood changed so quickly for no reason.

Mental issues

You become increasingly forgetful. You have a short attention span. You cannot focus on your task. You feel confused at things that used to be within your area of expertise.

Changes in your lifestyle

Work-related stress may influence your life outside the workplace as well. You may experience abnormal sleeping patterns i.e. sleeping excessively or insomnia, and either an increase or decrease in appetite.

Substance abuse

To cope with stress, you may start consuming alcohol, and even abuse drugs. You may develop an addiction to alcohol, recreational drugs, or both.

Punctuality problems

Due to lack of motivation and fear of your job, you unconsciously arrive late and want to leave as early as possible.

Signs of work-related stress in groups or organisations

· Internal disputes within the group

· Increased staff turnover

· Increased complaints

· Increased absence from sickness

· Poor performance

· Customer complaints about productivity

· Difficulty in recruiting new staff

How to deal with work-related stress

If you are experiencing one or more of these symptoms, you may be experiencing work-related stress and should talk to your manager or trade union representative to find a way to overcome it.

These symptoms may also be warning signs of a medical condition, in which case you must seek medical care.

To reduce or control stress, investigate the cause of the stress – is it an individual problem, organisational problem or both? Thus, intervention must be focused on the root causes of stress.

Examples of individual intervention include mindfulness practice, better communication skills, and cognitive behavioural therapy.

Organisational intervention will include employee assistance programmes and reduction in working hours.

Intervention can also be focussed on both the individual and organisation.

While early detection of any changes in the dynamics of the group is important so prompt action can be taken, you should be careful not to over-react to small behavioural changes.

Everyone has good and bad days. Your co-worker may seem a little blue or agitated one day, but that does not mean he or she is having problems with stress.

The symptoms of stress should only be viewed as clues, and not a guideline to diagnose stress.

This article first appeared in The Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.