Health & Safety

article icon

Work-Related Stress

28 March 2009

Work-related stress affects as many as one in five employees and has been estimated to cost employers around 370 million and society around 3.75 billion each year.

stressed woman

It has been defined as "the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them". There is an important distinction between the beneficial effects of reasonable challenges and pressure, which can be stimulating and motivating, and work-related stress which is a natural but adverse reaction to demands or pressures that a person feels unable to cope with.

Anyone can suffer from work-related stress. Although not an illness in itself, cases where the stress felt is prolonged or intense can lead to ill health. Effects include heart disease, back pain, gastrointestinal disturbances anxiety and depression. Stress can also lead to other behaviours such as more tobacco smoking, excessive alcohol or caffeine consumption and skipping meals, all of which can contribute to health problems.

Symptoms of Work-Related Stress


Absenteeism, high staff turnover, poor time-keeping, disciplinary problems, bullying, aggressive communication, isolation.


Reduced output or quality of product or service, accidents, poor decision making, errors.


Increased costs from compensation or increased health care costs, referrals to health services.


Tobacco, alcohol or drug abuse, violence, bullying or harassment.


Sleep problems, anxiety disorders, depression, inability to concentrate, irritability, family relationship problems, burnout.


Back problems, heart problems, peptic ulcers, hypertension, depressed immune system.
Source: European Agency for Safety & Health at Work.