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What is workplace stress, and how what are its effects?

September 24, 2022 - 11 min read


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What is workplace stress?

What causes workplace stress?

What are the physical effects of workplace stress?

Symptoms of stress at work

For the future: what can be done?

Stress has a way of creeping into your life, and sometimes you can’t pinpoint exactly where it comes from. 

But here’s a hint: A study from Gallup found that 44% of employees said they experience daily stress at work, making workplace stress the most common type of stress. You might be part of the (almost half of) Americans who say their jobs are a major stressor. And work might not be your biggest stressor, but it’s likely a contributing factor. 

But what are the causes of workplace stress?

If you want to understand your stressors, unpacking work-related stress is a great start. And your health will benefit from learning and managing your stressors sooner rather than later.

But there’s a lot to learn. You need to learn to identify your sources of stress, stress management techniques, and what workplace stress is in general. We’ll take you through everything you need to know about workplace stress and how best to manage it.


What is workplace stress?

Work-related stress happens when your mind and body respond to high work demands you’re unable to cope with. Eventually, you may arrive at a point where you can’t keep up with your to-do list — often because there are too many tasks on it. 

Tight deadlines and larger workloads mean more pressure, increasing workplace stress. Some work environments create a higher level of stress than others if they expect faster turnarounds or operate in high-pressure industries, but nobody is immune to job stress. From healthcare professionals and consultants to teachers and executives, workplace stress lingers. 

And the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t made it any easier for employee mental health. Research has found that the pandemic intensified issues like financial loss and job insecurity. Fear of illness resulting in missed workdays or potential long-term disability also has a lasting impact. 

An increase in stress also means an increase in burnout at work. In professions like healthcare, the demands have reached breaking points. Studies have found that the increasing work demands have led many nurses to leave their jobs because of burnout. 

But any industry has stress that could lead to burnout, so learning about workplace stress could help you in the future.

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What causes workplace stress?

Take a moment to think about your work environment. What about it makes you feel stressed? There’s no source of stress too small. Any causes of stress add up quickly. 

Many different types of stressors may impact you. And what might impact you might not impact your coworker the same. Stress causes about a million workers to miss work each day, so knowing your sources of stress is key to managing it.

Here are seven stressors that have been known to cause workplace stress:

1. Types of tasks

You might have a lack of control when it comes to the tasks you perform. Time-consuming, frustrating, and confusing tasks contribute to stress. It makes you feel like you aren’t accomplishing anything productive or that your quality of work is poor.  

2. Management style

Do you feel a lack of support from your managers? When the leaders in your workplace don’t provide support or have your well-being in mind, it contributes to your stress. Maybe your manager pours on a heavy workload for you, and you feel like you can’t take any time off, causing your stress to build.

3. Work relationships

Not everyone at work is your friend. When other team members or managers don’t get along, it makes for stressful situations. It leads to more tension and poor decision-making. If your team members make you feel unsafe or uncomfortable at work, it piles on even more stress.


4. Roles and responsibilities

Wearing too many hats stretches you to your limits and brings you closer to burnout. It keeps you too busy, and you start to put in long hours rather than take time to relax. But knowing your roles and responsibilities will help you set professional boundaries.

5. Future career concerns

Everything from economic uncertainty to how much your industry is growing, job security, and promotions for career development can easily cause stress. Your future is important to you, but so is your mental and physical health. You can’t control the future, so focus on taking care of yourself in the present.

6. Work conditions

Your working conditions play a big role in how productive, focused, and engaged you are at work — not to mention your stress levels. If you work from home, distractions around the house may cause you lots of stress, or a noisy office creates anxiety about staying focused.

7. Commute to work

Your sources of stress don’t have to be in the actual office. Doing shift work might lead to tired drives home where you’re stressed about potential car accidents. Fighting through traffic on the way to work might increase your blood pressure. It’s a bad sign if getting to work adds to your workplace stress.


What are the physical effects of workplace stress?

Let’s break down what happens when you first encounter a stressor.

When your brain recognizes a threat, it sends a signal to the hypothalamus. Then, stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline start to flow through your body. These hormones travel to every inch of your body, impacting each area differently.

Once your body sees that the threat is gone, the hormones are supposed to reduce. But when you experience chronic stress, the hormones keep pumping even after you’re done feeling stressed.

Studies have found that employees have poor productivity levels when they’re dealing with job stress due to overwhelming stress. This results in little control over focus and plummeting productivity. 

Stress is enough to make you leave your job, too. What was once a joyful, purposeful, and meaningful job is now the opposite — draining and dreadful. It even threatens to derail your career development and future plans.


The effects of stress in the workplace may seep into your personal life, too. It wreaks havoc on your work-life balance and tears into your personal relationships. Absenteeism isn’t only for your workplace but also your friends and loved ones. You might isolate yourself from others, become irritable, or give up hobbies. 

And all types of stress impact you, and it’s evident in your work performance. If you’re experiencing financial stress, it’ll still show in your productivity.

Symptoms of stress at work 

The symptoms of stress at work might impact your mental health, while others are more physical. While a few symptoms may go away after your stressful day ends, others have lingering effects. And chronic stress could harm your mental or cardiovascular health, leading to high blood pressure, heart disease, and more.

Here are some symptoms of stress to be aware of:


For the future: what can be done? 

Learning to identify the causes of workplace stress may also increase your understanding of yourself. You’ll better understand prioritizing your health and well-being above work — even if it’s your dream job.

Companies should be aware of what high levels of stress do to employees. They may put leaders and managers through stress management training or hold seminars to teach employees about what resources are available to them. 

On a day-to-day basis, don’t forget to notice things like your working conditions, responsibilities, and company culture. Be mindful of how much you’re taking on, and don’t forget your work-life balance.

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Published September 24, 2022

Maggie Wooll

Managing Editor

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