Center for the Promotion of Health in the New England Workplace

Job Stress 101

An Introduction to Job Stress

  What is Job Stress?

Job stress is defined as "the harmful physical and emotional responses that occur when the requirements of the job do not match the capabilities, resources or needs of the worker. Job stress can lead to poor health and even injury" (NIOSH, 1999).

Other definitions of job stress include: The demands of the workers are not matched by the decision-making authority and skill levels of the worker; and efforts made on the job are not matched by the rewards provided by the job, such as support, respect, security, or opportunities for advancement and income (Siergrist, 1996; Karasek, 1998).

  How Common is Job Stress?

  About one-third of workers say their work is very or extremely stressful; while 25% of employees view work as their number one stressor; and up to 44% of women and 36% of men want to quit due to job stress. Not only can stressors affect individual workers, but they can also decrease productivity, as well as increase financial burdens of workplaces (NIOSH, 1999).

  Job Stressors that May Lead to Poor Health

  • Specific Work Factors/Job Design:
    • Excessive workload
    • Tedious or meaningless tasks
    • Long hours and low pay
    • Infrequent breaks
    • Unreasonable performance demands
    • Constant sitting/lack of mobility
    • Unrealistic deadlines
    • Unused job skills
    • Fear of layoff
    • Frequent personnel turnover
  • Organizational Practices:
    • Favoritism
    • Inflexible rules
    • Low pay and benefits
    • Poor supervision
    • Job insecurity
    • Responsibility without authority
    • Lack of input in decisions
    • Poor chances for advancement or growth
    • Unclear responsibilities or expectations
    • Multiple supervisors
    • Lack of recognition
    • Poor communication
    • Mandatory overtime
  •   Physical Stressors:
    • Chemical agents
    • Noise, heat, vibration
    • Poor air quality
    • Improper lighting
    • Poorly designed equipment
    • Crowded working conditions
    • Unsanitary working conditions
    • Constant sitting/lack of mobility
    • Repetitive motion, awkward postures, heavy lifting
    • Ergonomic stressors
  • Interpersonal Relationships:
    • Distant, uncommunicative supervisors
    • Poor performance from subordinates
    • Office politics, competition, and staff conflicts
    • Bullying or harassment
    • Problems caused by excessive time away from family

  Warning Signs of Job Stress

Workers frequently exposed to physical, emotional or job design stressors are at risk for experiencing job stress. Warning signs of job stress include

  • Headache
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Upset stomach
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Short temper
  • Job dissatisfaction
  • Low morale
  • Over and under eating
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Skin rashes
  • Teeth grinding
  • Weakened immune system
  • Chronic mild illness
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Diarrhea/constipation
  • Anxiety, irritability
  • Angry outbursts
  • Accidents
  • Alcohol and drug use
  • Feeling powerless
  • Isolation from co-workers
  • Marital/family problems
  • Workplace violence
There are many short-term and long-term effects of prolonged exposure to job stress. However, by taking a proactive approach, there are many things you can do to prevent these effects.