What Causes Work Stress?

What Causes Work Stress

Poor work organization, that is the way we design jobs and work systems, and the way we manage them can cause work stress.

Excessive and otherwise unmanageable demands and pressures can be caused by poor work design, poor management, and unsatisfactory working conditions. Similarly, these things can result in workers not receiving sufficient support from others or not having enough control over their work and its pressures.

Research findings show that the most stressful type of work is that which values excessive demands and pressures that are not matched to workers’ knowledge and abilities, where there is little opportunity to exercise any choice or control, and where there is little support from others.

The more the demands and pressures of work are matched to the knowledge and abilities of workers, the less likely they are to experience work stress.

The more support workers receive from others at work, or in relation to work, the less likely they are to experience work stress.

The more control workers have over their work and the way they do it and the more they participate in decisions that concern their jobs, the less likely they are to experience work stress.

Most of the causes of work stress concern the way work is designed and the way in which organizations are managed. Because these aspects of work have the potential for causing harm, they are called ‘stress-related hazards’. The literature on stress generally recognizes nine categories of stress-related hazards and these are listed below. One should keep in mind, though, that some of these hazards may not be universal or may not be considered harmful to specific cultures.

Work Content:

Job Content

  • Monotonous, under-stimulating, meaningless tasks
  • Lack of variety
  • Unpleasant tasks
  • Aversive tasks

Workload and Work pace

  • Having too much or too little to do
  • Working under time pressures

Working Hours 

  • Strict and inflexible working schedules
  • Long and unsocial hours
  • Unpredictable working hours
  • Badly designed shift systems

Participation and Control

  • Lack of participation in decision making
  • Lack of control (for example, overwork methods, work pace, working hours and the work environment)

Career Development, Status, and Pay

  • Job insecurity
  • Lack of promotion prospects
  • Under-promotion or over-promotion
  • Work of ‘low social value’
  • Piece rate payments schemes
  • Unclear or unfair performance evaluation systems
  • Being over-skilled or under-skilled for the job

Role in the Organization

  • Unclear role
  • Conflicting roles within the same job
  • Responsibility for people
  • Continuously dealing with other people and their

Interpersonal Relationships

  • Inadequate, inconsiderate or unsupportive
  • Poor relationships with co-workers
  • Bullying, harassment, and violence
  • Isolated or solitary work
  • No agreed procedures for dealing with problems or complaints

Organizational Culture

  • Poor communication
  • Poor leadership
  • Lack of clarity about organizational objectives and structure

Home-Work Interface

  • Conflicting demands of work and home
  • Lack of support for domestic problems at work
  • Lack of support for work problems at home


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