top five causes stress

Effectively Managing the Top Five Causes of Stress in the Workplace

A study by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) into the effects of stress in the workplace found that of work-related ill health figures, 37% of cases and 45% of work days lost, were accountable to stress in 2015/16. With record figures of 64.7m antidepressant items dispensed in 2017 [i], employers should be taking note of the importance of overcoming stress factors in the workplace to ensure the wellbeing of staff to create happy, fulfilled and productive employees.

The cost of not looking after their well-being is just too high. Someone who is signed off with stress still needs to be paid, while an additional person is required to cover the role and the effects of these costs go straight to the bottom line. Successful managers understand that the role of stress control is just as valid and essential as other management functions and is a leadership responsibility.

The HSE defines work-related stress as ‘a harmful reaction that people have to undue pressures and demands placed on them at work’.

The Top Ten Causes of Stress

A survey to find the top ten causes of stress at work was conducted by the CEO of the Global Business and Economic Roundtable on Addiction and Mental Health. They were identified as [ii]:

Lack of control

Lack of communication

No appreciation

No feedback – good or bad

Career and job ambiguity

Unclear policies and no sense of direction

Mistrust, unfairness and office politics

Pervasive uncertainty – uncertainty is created by constant, unsatisfactorily explained or unannounced change

Random interruptions

Workload – too much or too little

Managing the Top Five Causes of Stress

Here is how employers and managers can focus on overcoming the top five main causes of stress for the workforce.

  1. Lack of Control

    This relates to how much say a person has in the way they work. Having no say about the things that affect an employee, is the greatest cause of workplace stress.

    If employees have a say and are consulted about their work patterns, the way they work, are encouraged to use their skills and initiatives to work efficiently and effectively and are encouraged to develop new skills to be able to take on new pieces of work even if challenging and support systems are provided to respond to individual concerns; it provides staff with a sense of control. This sense of control and being listened to and involved in administrative decisions can help to decrease sensitivity to all other stressors[iii], reduce stress and increase productivity. It can make employees feel that their opinion is valued and often the workforce who are doing the job daily have useful insights into how things can be run more effectively and efficiently.

    Overcoming this greatest cause of stress can have a significant positive impact on the bottom line but also the quality of care for staff, their mental and emotional health and attitude to work.

  2. Lack of Communication

    Poor communication up and down the chain of command leads to decreased performance and increased stress[iv].

    One-to-one conversations improve communication that can’t always be conveyed in a memo or announcement. Talking with members of staff can help encourage the sharing of beneficial ideas, allow complaints to be raised and dealt with, help with the smoothing of change implementation, reduce stress and encourage cohesion between employees. Most people get upset and fearful when there are changes going on, but they don’t know the details of what’s happening, why things are happening and what the effect will be for individuals. Uncertainty breeds fear and can negatively affect production and the mental well- being of staff. Clear communication, in the form of listening as well as informing, is vital to engage, motivate and keep staff working towards the overall goals of the company.

  3. No Appreciation

    Feeling unappreciated and undervalued has an enormous negative effect on the attitude of workers who will often express their negative feelings to other members of the team, creating a growing sense of disquiet, dissatisfaction and a reduction in willingness to work hard and work with full integrity and efficiency. It can create a ‘why should we bother’ reaction and in prolonged cases staff may even leave. An actual “Thank You”, said sincerely, from a manager or team leader can create a strong feeling of a sense of pride and value and encourages staff to remain loyal and to work hard, even through tough times. Never underestimate the importance of saying thank you, and no matter how tough situations are, there is always something that can be said thank you for. Let your staff know how important they are to you and the company.

  4. No Feedback – Good or Bad

    Feedback can give employees guidance on how they are getting on with their roles or jobs, if they are meeting expectations or not, areas of weakness or strengths and areas where they can be supported more if required. Having no feedback leaves employees floundering in uncertainty creating stress and a negative effect on their performance. Regular feedback can help to keep staff on track, keep them happy, feel part of the team and feel supported.

  5. Career and Job Ambiguity

    Job security is an important issue for employees. People like to know if their job is likely to change in the future or not. They might be thinking about applying for bank loans or mortgages for example, that rely on the status quo of their job. Keeping people informed about broader issues affecting the company can allow people to make financial decisions from a more informed point of view. The office grapevine can create panic, anger and uncertainty amongst staff in cases of mergers, restructuring and other major processes affecting the company, so keeping them informed about their jobs can help to negate this.

    People cannot always see an opportunity for career progression within the company and may leave to take another job where they believe they will be able to find promotion and progression. Losing a brilliant member of staff for this reason, is a loss to the company on top of the cost of recruiting someone new. Managers should communicate with employees to find out who is interested in career progression and then look at possible options for the future to build a strong, skilled workforce.

Implementing strategies and action for these five top causes of work-related stress can significantly improve your productivity, harmony in the workplace, reliability and loyalty of staff and positively affect your bottom line.





[iii] Copyright Dale Collie – Dale Collie, Professional Speaker & former US Army Ranger, CEO, and University Professor. Advising business leaders on corporate stress control, improving productivity, and increasing profits.


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