Workplace Stress

Stress and Human Performance


Substantial evidence indicates that chronic workplace stress can have serious effects on psychological, behavioural, social, and physical wellbeing. While certain risk factors may significantly increase the likelihood of developing a disease, there are many diseases that are strongly associated with stress including coronary heart disease, ulcerative colitis, diabetes, depression, migraines, bronchitis, obesity, thyroid disorders, rheumatoid arthritis, and skin disorders. People experience stress when they perceive that the stressors and demands of their work are greater than their ability to cope. In addition to dealing with chronic stress, healthcare professionals and other individuals working in high-risk industries often experience pronounced physiological and psychological reactions to repeated episodes of acute stress. These relatively short but intense episodes of acute stress may be triggered by workplace violence, verbal abuse, threatening behaviour, traumatic scene, critical incident, and other emergency situations. The adequacy of received training, prior work experience, skill level, personality, fitness level, coping strategies, social support, and other mediating factors can reduce or exacerbate the effects of stress and influence the ability of the individual to cope with the perceived stressors and demands. Work is considered to be generally good for people if work systems, processes, jobs, tasks, environment, technology, and human-machine interfaces are appropriately designed to reflect the needs and abilities of people. A moderate increase in demand can actually increase motivation and have a positive effect on human performance. However, when demands become excessive over an extended period of time we begin to recognize the detrimental effects of stress on individual and organizational performance.


Stress and Human Performance


Stress Prevention and Management


To prevent or minimize the effects of stress on individual and organizational performance, it is necessary to take an evidence-based, strategic, structured, and multi-level approach to organizational stress management. This approach requires unwavering leadership commitment, high employee engagement, effective teamwork, information sharing, and organizational culture change. Considering the magnitude and complexity of risks associated with workplace stress, the model of Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) should be used to manage stress proactively across an entire organization using consistent processes within a comprehensive framework. ERM provides a shared platform to manage stress strategically by integrating risk management into the overall governance, strategic and operational planning processes, organizational policies and procedures, training programs, and performance management. Organizational stress management generally involves identifying the risk factors, collecting and analyzing data, assessing the risks, determining the scope of the problem, developing solutions to eliminate, control or modify the sources of stress, improving recognition and management of stress, enhancing programs that help employees recover from stress-related problems, and evaluating effectiveness and sustainability of various interventions. The figures below are designed to help organizational leaders rapidly identify the sources of workplace stress, recognize organizational and individual symptoms of stress, understand primary, secondary and tertiary stress management interventions, and apply primary organizational stress prevention and management strategies.


Sources of Workplace Stress


Symptoms of Stress


Stress Management Interventions


Primary Organizational Strategies