Decoding workplace stress: exploring its causes, effects, and strategies for employers to reduce it

Decoding workplace stress: exploring its causes, effects, and strategies

Workplace stress refers to the physical, emotional, and mental strain experienced by employees due to various factors within their work environment. It is a common and natural response to the demands and pressures of the workplace. While a certain level of stress can motivate and enhance performance, excessive or prolonged stress can harm both the individual and the organization. In this article, we’ll look at the causes, signs, and effects of stress in the workplace, as well as the strategies that employers can put in place and how Addezia can help companies reduce it. 

Why do people experience stress at work? 

A study by Gallup found that 44% of employees say they experience daily stress at work, making workplace stress the most common type of stress.

According to the World Health Organization, workplace pressure is an inescapable reality, driven by the demands of the contemporary professional sphere. The pressure perceived as acceptable can serve as a catalyst, keeping employees vigilant, motivated, and capable of adapting to work challenges, based on resources at their disposal, and their personal attributes. 

When this pressure surpasses reasonable limits or becomes unmanageable, it transforms into stress. The ramifications of stress extend beyond the individual, negatively impacting both the health of employees and the overall performance of the business.

Research suggests that the most stressful type of work is characterized by overemphasizing demanding and pressurized conditions that do not match employees’ knowledge and skills. 

On the other hand, employees tend to experience lower levels of stress when the demands and pressures of their jobs match their knowledge and skills. The presence of control over their tasks and work methods, coupled with support from supervisors and colleagues, contributes to a more favourable work environment.

What are the causes of stress at work and what role do employers play?

While employers often aim to create a positive and productive work environment, certain practices or aspects of the workplace can inadvertently contribute to stress among employees. Let’s explore the key contributors to workplace stress:

  • High workload

Intense workloads, looming deadlines, and overwhelming job demands can significantly amplify stress levels. When employees find themselves overwhelmed by the volume or complexity of their tasks, it can lead to heightened stress levels.

  • Unclear expectations

Unclear roles, responsibilities, and expectations can lead to stress. Employees need clear guidance and communication to perform their jobs effectively. Lack of clarity can lead to confusion, anxiety, and increased stress.

  • Lack of control

Employees who perceive a lack of control over their tasks or decision-making processes often experience elevated stress levels. Providing employees with a sense of empowerment and autonomy can help alleviate this aspect of workplace stress.

  • Poor management and leadership

Ineffective or unsupportive leadership can be a significant stress factor. When leaders fail to communicate effectively, provide guidance, or demonstrate emotional intelligence, it can foster a negative work environment and contribute to increased stress levels among employees.

  • Interpersonal conflict

Navigating workplace relationships and dealing with conflict between colleagues or supervisors can be stressful. A work environment characterized by hostility or lack of support can have a negative impact on mental health, adding to the stress experienced by individuals.

  • Job insecurity

Worries about job stability, facing redundancy, or having to deal with organizational change can increase stress. Fear of possible job loss can affect job performance and overall job satisfaction.

  • Inadequate resources

A lack of tools, technology or resources that are essential for job performance can cause stress. When employees find themselves without the support they need to fulfill their responsibilities, it often leads to frustration and increased stress levels.

  • Poor work-life balance

Working excessive hours, lacking flexibility, and failing to balance work and personal life can lead to burnout and increased stress.

  • Inadequate recognition

A lack of recognition and appreciation for a job well done can contribute to stress. Employees who feel a lack of recognition can experience reduced motivation and increased dissatisfaction.

  • Organizational culture

The overall culture of an organization, including its values, communication practices, and approach to employee health, can affect stress levels. A positive and supportive culture can reduce stress in the workplace.

Read more: Towards a more resilient world: Overcoming the challenges of mental health at work

What are the signs and symptoms of workplace stress?

Workplace stress can manifest through a range of signs and symptoms, impacting both physical and mental health. It’s essential to recognize that people may express stress in diverse ways, and the severity of symptoms can differ. Below are typical signs and symptoms of workplace stress:

Physical Signs

  • Headaches: persistent or recurring headaches.
  • Fatigue: feeling tired, even after a full night’s sleep.
  • Muscle tension: stress often leads to muscle tension, causing discomfort and pain.
  • Sleep problems: difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or experiencing restless sleep.
  • Digestive problems: stomachaches, indigestion, or other gastrointestinal problems.
  • Changes in appetite: changes in eating habits, such as overeating or loss of appetite.
  • Increased heart rate: feeling an irregular heartbeat can be a physical response to stress.
  • Weakened immune system: chronic stress can compromise the immune system, making individuals more susceptible to illness.

Emotional and behavioral signs

  • Anxiety: feelings of worry, nervousness, or restlessness.
  • Irritability: becoming easily frustrated, upset, or having a short temper.
  • Difficulty concentrating: having trouble concentrating on tasks, making decisions, or remembering details.
  • Mood changes: rapid mood swings or a noticeable change in general mood.
  • Withdrawal: social withdrawal, isolation from colleagues or friends.
  • Increased substance use: turning to alcohol, tobacco, or other substances as a coping mechanism.
  • Procrastination: difficulty starting or completing tasks, repeatedly putting things off.

Cognitive signs

  • Racing thoughts: constant, fast, and anxious thoughts that are hard to control.
  • Negative self-talk: engaging in self-critical or pessimistic thoughts about yourself or the future.
  • Memory problems: forgetfulness or difficulty concentrating on tasks.
  • Impaired judgment: difficulty making decisions or accurately assessing situations.

Interpersonal signs

  • Conflict in relationships: increased conflict with colleagues, friends or family.
  • Isolation: social withdrawal and avoidance of interaction with others.
  • Communication problems: difficulty expressing yourself clearly or a decrease in effective communication.

Read more: Toxic workplace culture: recognizing the signs and navigating the solutions

Effects of workplace stress

The effects of workplace stress can be significant and may include:

  • Increased risk of health conditions

Chronic stress is associated with an increased risk of developing various health conditions, including hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and other stress-related disorders.

  • Mental health problems

Workplace stress is a significant contributor to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. It can worsen existing mental health problems and increase the risk of developing new ones.

  • Decreased job performance

Stress can impair cognitive functions, concentration, and decision-making abilities, leading to decreased job performance. This can result in errors, missed deadlines, and lower productivity.

According to APA’s 2021 Work and Well-being Survey results, nearly three in five employees (59%) have experienced negative impacts of work-related stress in the past month, including a lack of interest, motivation, or energy (26%), difficulty focusing (21%), and a lack of effort at work (19%).

  • Burnout

Prolonged exposure to high levels of stress without adequate coping mechanisms can lead to burnout. Burnout is a state of physical and emotional exhaustion, often accompanied by a sense of detachment and reduced personal accomplishment.

According to a survey conducted by McKinsey between February and April 2022, McKinsey conducted a global survey of nearly 15,000 employees and 1,000 HR decision-makers in 15 countries. On average, one in four employees surveyed across various demographics and all over the world reported experiencing symptoms of burnout.

  • Increased absenteeism

Stressed employees may be more likely to take sick leave or be absent from work, leading to increased rates of absenteeism. This can disrupt workflow and create additional burdens on the remaining staff.

  • High turnover

Workplace stress can contribute to higher turnover rates as employees seek less stressful work environments. High turnover can be costly for organizations in terms of recruitment, training, and lost institutional knowledge.

  • Strained relationships

Stress at work can spill over into personal life, leading to strained relationships with family and friends. The emotional toll of workplace stress can create difficulties in maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

  • Decreased job satisfaction

Workplace stress can diminish job satisfaction and overall job enjoyment. Employees may become disengaged and less committed to their work.

  • Negative organizational culture

Persistent stress within an organization can contribute to a negative organizational culture. This may include poor communication, low morale, and a lack of trust among employees.

Read more: How to foster psychological safety and mental health in the IT industry

How can employers reduce stress in the workplace?

Employers can take proactive steps to reduce stress in the workplace, promoting a healthier and more productive work environment. Here are some strategies that they can implement:

1. Promote work-life balance

  • Encourage reasonable working hours and avoid excessive overtime.
  • Support flexible work arrangements, such as remote work or flexible schedules.

2. Provide clear expectations

  • Clearly communicate job roles, responsibilities, and performance expectations.
  • Set realistic and achievable goals, ensuring that employees understand what is expected of them

3. Manage workload effectively

  • Monitor and manage workloads to ensure they are reasonable and achievable.
  • Distribute tasks evenly and consider workload when assigning responsibilities.

4. Offer training and development

  • Provide opportunities for skill development and training to enhance employees’ abilities to meet job demands.
  • Support professional growth and advancement within the organization.

5. Create a healthy work environment

  • Foster a psychologically safe work environment – create a culture of open and respectful communication so that employees feel comfortable raising concerns or seeking clarification.
  • Provide regular feedback and constructive criticism.
  • Recognize and celebrate achievements, promoting a sense of accomplishment and appreciation.

6. Provide resources for stress management

  • Provide workshops or resources on stress management techniques.
  • Provide access to mental health resources and counseling services.

7. Encourage physical activity

  • Promote a healthy lifestyle by providing opportunities for physical activity, such as fitness programs or gym access.
  • Encourage employees to take breaks and move around during the workday.

8. Provide job control and autonomy

  • Allow employees to have some control over their work tasks and decision-making.
  • Empower them to use their skills and creativity to solve problems.

9. Create a supportive management style

  • Encourage a leadership style that emphasizes empathy, understanding, and collaboration.

10. Address organizational issues

  • Identify and address systemic issues that contribute to organizational stress.
  • Ensure that policies and procedures are applied fairly, transparently, and consistently.

By implementing these strategies, companies can contribute to a healthy work environment that prioritizes employee health, reduces stress, and enhances overall job satisfaction. It’s important for employers to tailor these approaches to the specific needs and culture of their organization. Regularly assessing and adjusting these strategies can ensure ongoing effectiveness in creating a healthier workplace.

Read more: Unlocking Success: Fostering Psychological Safety at Work

How can Addezia’s solutions support your company deal with  stress at work

At Addezia, we’re committed to helping you identify the root causes of workplace stress and other factors that prevent your organization from thriving. 

Through tailored interventions – workshops, discussions, and training modules – designed to equip people at all levels of the organization – leaders, managers, and employees – with effective stress management techniques to help them overcome challenges and become more resilient while fostering a healthier working environment.


For managers, addressing workplace stress is essential to maintaining a thriving and productive work environment. Employers can create a workplace that prioritizes employee health and effectively manages stressors by taking a proactive and empathetic approach. Ongoing assessment of the workplace environment and adjusting policies as necessary is essential to fostering a healthy and supportive workplace.



American Psychological Association

World Health Organization



Harvard Business Review

Medical News Today



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