Work-related Stress in Organisations Essay Example

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Work-related stress, particularly in developed economies is emerging as a major cause for concern for human resource practitioners, governments and various stakeholders due to the resulting costs in treatment and low productivity [ CITATION Coo12 l 1033 ]. According to a 2014 survey by the Australian Psychological Society, 45% of Workers in Australia reported being stressed by their work. The report also identified a consistent trend of workers being more dissatisfied with their job and work-life balance. Work-related stress is a leading cause of low productivity at the workplace. According to a report by the Patty (2016), stress-related absence at work has been increasing significantly over the years. This results in low productivity of workers due to absences and incomplete tasks.

Companies are also committing significant resources to engage the services of psychologists that offer counselling and remedies to employee stress [ CITATION Whi13 l 1033 ]. While minimal stress may be important in stirring creativity and enthusiasm in employees, it may be harmful to employees’ health and results in low productivity and increased costs for businesses (McTernan, et al., 2013). Therefore, it is imperative for organizations to develop strategies of preventing excessive work-related stress among employees and where necessary, devise mechanisms of addressing sources of stressors when they are identified.

Work-related stress definition

According to the world health organization (WHO), work-related stress can be be viewed as the reaction that people make when presented with work demands and resulting pressure that does not match their knowledge, abilities, skills and available resources, to the extent that they feel significantly challenged to cope with the situation [ CITATION Wor07 l 1033 ]. George and Zakkariya (2015) define work-related stress as any characteristics of the workplace that constitute a threat to an individual. This means that work-related stress may be perceived as an employee’s feeling of personal dysfunction due to perceived undesirable conditions and his/her psychological and physiological reactions to the same. George and Zakkariya’s (2015) definition, is different from WHO’s as it classifies work-related stress as perceived threats to an individual’s wellbeing. WHO identifies work-related stress as demands and pressure to complete tasks that one is incapable of performing. However, the two definitions acknowledge that work-related stress causes undesirable psychological effects to individuals who are affected by a stressing workplace situation.

Main sources of work-related stress

The nature of one’s work depends on their professional category and designation at work. Some jobs may be more stressing for humans due to the level of mental involvement or exposure to factors that are likely to cause psychological disturbance (Wieclaw, et al., 2006). According to a research conducted across five European countries by Denny, Wells and Cunnigham (2011), workers in different occupations experience stress at varied levels. The research identified individuals working with mental health patients as workers who are susceptible to high levels of work-related stress due to the fact that they work with service users who may be challenging to understand and work with. Similarly, a police officer working in areas with high incidences of violent crimes such as murder may be highly susceptible to work-related stress (Arnetz, et al., 2013).

The way a job is designed and the flow of processes and decisions at the work-place may constitute a major source of stress [ CITATION Whi13 l 1033 ]. Some employees find it stressing to work in organizations where their roles keep on changing and they get to take responsibilities for failures that arise from different departments (Hülsheger, et al., 2013). Publicly listed organizations are also piling more performance demands on employees in order to increase profits and raise the company’s stocks value. As noted by George & Zakkariya (2015) employees are at times forced to multitask to complete more than two tasks at a go. Such poor job design and high demand for performance at work is likely to cause stress.

According to Hauge, et al., 2010), poor relations between workers and colleagues and management are also a major stressor at work. When organizations fail to institute proper conflict management policies and guidelines at work, employees may harbor animosity that makes it difficult for them to cooperate. This results in poor relations that affect completion of tasks leading to conflicts and work-related stress. Some employees also feel victimized or unappreciated at work by their managers. In some contexts, managers may also use abusive language, punishment or high-handed tactics at work to boost employee performance (Nieuwenhuijsen, et al., 2010). Such factors lead to development of poor relations between workers and management to the extent that the former experience work-related stress due to the lack of support and appreciation.

Work demands and pressure may not necessarily be a source of stress to workers if they have just the right amount of tasks to accomplish [ CITATION Wor07 l 1033 ]. Workers may also view stress as a positive challenge if they are equipped with resources and skills to handle a situation. Organizational support also helps workers to respond positively to stressors. However, workers may view stress as distress if they have more work than they can handle given the time, resource and abilities limitations. They develop coping mechanisms such as absenteeism and antisocial behaviours. This normally happens when workers are not involved in job design, planning and decision-making [ CITATION LeF06 l 1033 ].

Variation of work-related stress across different professions

Work-related stress varies from one profession to another. This is due to the fact that job design, nature of work and perceived organizational support is different across various sectors (Leka, et al., 2010). According to a research conducted by Roy Morgan Research (2014), retail sales support workers are the most stressed among Australian professionals. They are closely followed by hospitality workers in non-administrative positions. These workers are generally young and ill-equipped with stress management skills and mental ability. Moreover, retail and hospitality jobs are not paid well if the amount of work they must perform is put into context. Sales representatives and agents may also experience stress due to high performance targets set for them and lack of organizational support. Such workers feel overworked and less appreciated by management. These employees may need to enrol in customer relations classes to gain skills on managing the demanding nature of the clients in retail and hospitality sectors. This will enable such workers to handle difficult client situations effectively. The management may also develop friendly reward and recognition programs to ensure such workers feel appreciated and valued at the workplace.

Care givers and social workers are also a stressed group of workers. These workers develop stress due to the nature of the people who require their services [ CITATION Roy14 l 1033 ]. Some elderly, sick or mentally disabled patients may be stressed or difficult to manage due to the suffering or incapacitation they are going through. This causes their service givers to be psychologically affected by their jobs. Such workers may require a job design that has regular time-offs and recreational activities to reduce their exposure to stress factors that are permanent features of their work (Golubic, et al., 2009).

According to a news feature by the ABC Network, police officers, fire-fighters and paramedics are increasingly being affected by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that may lead to suicidal thoughts among the affected individuals[ CITATION Lor15 l 1033 ]. Emergency service workers and security personnel are significantly exposed to the reality of traumatic scenes in their work. These workers require constant counselling and stress management treatments to help them cope with the reality of being the first responders at traumatic scenes. Such institutional support is critical in reducing stress in these professions (Wieclaw, et al., 2006).

Stress management intervention in organizations

The human resource function in organizations should have an enhanced role to play in helping employees cope with high-levels of work-related stress. Job design and work planning are effective ways of ensuring every employee is given a role that is suited to his/her skills, abilities and knowledge [ CITATION Whi13 l 1033 ]. This also helps to eliminate uncertainty and unnecessary disruptions in workflow. Disruptions and inefficiencies normally increase the amount of work and time required to accomplish tasks (McTernan, et al., 2013). Proper job design and operational plans also make it possible to institute fair performance evaluation mechanisms to be used in promotion and compensation of workers. Clearly, job design and operational planning are effective measures at reducing work-related stress.

According to Avey, et al., (2009), organizations should also ensure there is adequate managerial support in terms of fair remuneration, training and development and availability of necessary resources and knowledge. Such a supportive environment makes it relatively easier for employees to accomplish tasks thus reducing stress at the workplace. Managerial support should also include counselling services and stress treatment programs. Le Fevre, et al., (2006) further recomends that such initiatives ensure that unusually high-levels of work-related stress may be preventing from causing adverse health problems among workers. It is also imperative to have reward and recognition programs for workers at the workplace. Recognition should include incorporation of employees in addressing major sources of stress such as work load, conflict management and operational planning. Employees should be rewarded with vacations and any other relevant rewards that make them feel appreciated for their contributions. Additionally, management should adopt a respectable approach while dealing with employees so as not to harm relations between the two parties.

Psychosocial stressors challenge in contemporary workplaces

Psychosocial stress is emerging as a major cause for concern in the contemporary workplace today. Employees who are working without contracts that protect their jobs are likely to experience anxiety and low morale at work. Some employees also feel overwhelmed by huge workloads and undefined roles. Such employees are likely to work for long hours that go uncompensated (Guthrie, et al., 2010). In most cases, employees do not participate in designing their jobs or setting the performance standards to be judged against. This makes them feel irrelevant and vulnerable to managerial decisions that render them jobless at any given time (Avey, et al., 2009). Lack of managerial support in accomplishing tasks and coping with job challenges is indeed a contributing factor towards psychosocial stress at work.

Psychosocial stress is a major challenge for the contemporary organization as affected employees are likely to deliver less than optimum productivity [ CITATION Den11 l 1033 ]. This is caused by perceived unfairness and lack of support at work. The same employees may also be distracted with feelings of quitting their job and as such may not be focused on performance targets. Stressed workers may also be absent when their contribution is most required at the workplace. Workplace conflicts and violence may also be partly attributed to work-related psychosocial stress that is caused by undefined roles and poor communication (Hauge, et al., 2010). As noted by Hülsheger, et al., (2013), employees in high-coordination departments such as sales, media, legal practice, retail, health and emergency services are likely to be affected by psychosocial stress. These employees work in contexts that require them to accomplish high performance targets and usually involve various people and departments working towards a common goal.


Evidently, work-related stress is a major cause for concern for organizations and stakeholders due to its impact on organizational productivity, people’s health and the financial costs involved. Work-related stress occurs due to people being presented with demand and pressure that they cannot cope with due to limited capability or lack of resources. Such workers become psychologically affected to the effect that they feel demoralized, victimized and less interested with work. Work-related stress results in high-absenteeism, low productivity and antisocial behaviours among employees. Organisations and governments incur huge direct and indirect costs related to costs of low productivity and treatment of stress in employees. It is imperative that organisations particularly in high-stress professions such as retail, emergency services, highly competitive sales-driven industries and public sector to develop effective mechanisms and policies that guide job design, tasks distribution, performance management, reward and recognition and inclusive decision making. Such mechanisms should consider the mental wellbeing and satisfaction of workers and management staff in the organisation. This will ensure that work-related stress is prevented or addressed at its early stages so as not to affect the health or workers or the productivity of the organisation.


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