Workplace stress

Work-related stress can have major impacts on health and safety.

Workers experience stress when they perceive the demands of their work exceed their ability or resources to cope. This can occur when deadlines are constant and immoveable or when a worker receives limited support from co-workers or managers.

A worker can experience physical, mental and emotional reactions to their work environment. Their response to stressors at work may be positive or negative for their wellbeing.

Usually, people adjust to changes in their work demands and continue to perform their normal work duties. In some circumstances though, a worker will feel stress because of these changes. Individual workers will have different experiences of the same circumstances.

Stress itself it not an injury, but if it becomes excessive and long-lasting it can lead to mental and physical ill-health.

Your legal obligations

Work-related stress can lead to illness, injury and decreases in business performance. Stress can come from many sources, both work and non-work.

You have a legal obligation to minimise your workers’ exposure to work-related factors that can increase the risk of stress. This obligation is the same for self-employed people and contractors.

You need to eliminate or minimise your workers’ risk of harm from potential stress at work.

Risk factors for work-related stress

There are three areas to consider when you assess your workplace for potential risk of stress. These are:

  • organisational
  • environmental
  • specific characteristics.

Common organisational stressors are:

  • high work demands
  • having little control over your work
  • unsupportive supervisors and co-workers
  • lack of role clarity
  • poorly managed work relationships
  • poorly managed organisational or work procedure change
  • low levels of recognition and reward
  • organisational injustice.

Environmental factors such as the physical, chemical or biological demands of a job, will affect a worker’s comfort and performance at work.

Noise (physical) and dust (biological) might be factors in your workplace. Or your workers might use toxic chemicals. These factors can cause stress by themselves. But often, they combine to increase a person’s response to other stress factors in the workplace.

Types of environmental stressors include:

  • noise
  • temperature and humidity
  • lighting
  • vibration
  • air quality.

People respond to the demands of work in different ways. In general, your workers will benefit from:

  • a combination of challenging work
  • a supportive atmosphere
  • adequate resources.

You could give more stressful work to more resilient workers. But you still need to minimise their exposure to risk factors for stress. Someone who appears to be resilient still has limits. Your obligation is to reduce all workers exposure to work-related stress factors.

You also need to ensure the workplace does not exacerbate an existing illness.

Outcomes of work related stress

Information on the outcomes of work-related stress.

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Managing work related stress

Information on how you can manage work-related stress in your workplace.

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