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The General Causes of Workplace Stress

Stress can be highly destructive in the workplace. The American Psychological Association (APA) found in a 2007 study that three quarters of Americans identified work as a significant source of stress.

Stress costs U.S. industry an estimated $300 billion a year through sickness, absence and low productivity, in addition to recruitment and retention problems. With stress affecting the lives of U.S. workers so greatly, its general causes hold considerable importance.


Workplace Stress



Worries over losing your job can cause huge amounts of stress and tension, particularly in times of economic uncertainty, when firms may face takeovers, bankruptcy or a loss of business which causes them to shed labor.

The APA maintains that such concerns put workers at risk of “physical illness, marital strain, anxiety, depression and even suicide.”



A survey by The Global Business and Economic Roundtable on Addiction and Mental Health named the “treadmill syndrome” as a major source of stress. Employees may feel overwhelmed with tasks or demands on their time.

Such workers may repeatedly push themselves beyond the limits of a reasonable working day, causing their home and family life to suffer. This may explain the results of a survey by the Families and Work Institute reporting that 26 percent of workers often felt “burned out” by work. Long hours, the requirement to work shifts and restricted rest breaks can all contribute to the stress of overwork. Ironically, insufficient workloads may lead to employees feeling bored and undervalued and this too can cause stress.


Lack of Control

People in jobs that require them to always respond to the agendas, deadlines and priorities of others can experience a profound sense of powerlessness, which translates into high amounts of stress, according to the APA.

People with greater freedom to set their own deadlines and priorities are far more likely to express positive feelings about their work.



A great deal of work stress arises when employees feel trapped in jobs that do not interest them, or for which they are unsuited. Such workers can deal with this stress by seeking more interesting, attractive or rewarding positions that make better use of their abilities.



For workers who do jobs that expose them to high levels of physical danger–either to themselves or others–the stress caused by traumatic events can become overwhelming. Those involved in the military, or the emergency services may experience this kind of stress.

However, sudden traumatic events–such as accidents or the violent behavior of clients or co-workers–can occur in almost any workplace. Haunting memories, feelings of fear and remorse, or sleeplessness can result from this kind of stress and may require specialist therapy to resolve.



Unsanitary, uncomfortable or inadequate working conditions constitute a major cause of stress. Lack of space, natural light, ventilation or heating can all play a part in making workers feel tense and unhappy. Some workplaces, such as building sites, may contain inherent potential for physical danger.



A bullying, over-authoritarian management style which constantly blames employees for perceived failings, or its opposite–confused leadership with a lack of clear direction–can both create high amounts of stress for workers.

Lack of clear communication in the chain of command, poor feedback from managers on individual performance and little acknowledgment of achievements may all contribute to a stressful workplace.


Bullying and Violence

Poor inter-personal relationships in the workplace can create high amounts of stress, especially when they result in rivalries over salary or promotion. In such cases, some people may become highly antagonistic toward their co-workers and the situation may result in the verbal or physical aggression associated with workplace bullying.

The U.S. Justice Department estimates that each year, more than a million people experience physical violence in the workplace and the American Institute of Stress reports a study from the year 2000 which found 14 percent of workers felt like hitting a fellow member of staff.


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