How Stress Affects Your Work

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Stress is normal. Everyone feels stress related to work, family, decisions, your future, and more. Stress is both physical and mental. It is caused by major life events such as illness, the death of a loved one, a change in responsibilities or expectations at work, and job promotions, loss, or changes. Major workplace and personal stress are inevitable.

But it's important to understand the impact that stress can have on your well-being, as well as your work. In a survey by ComPsych, 61% of employees said stress made them feel tired and out of control. One-fifth of respondents said they'd missed six days or more per year because of stress.

Read on to learn more about the causes of stress and how it can affect your work.

Key Takeaways

  • Stress is normal, but it can have a strong impact on your health and your work productivity.
  • Common causes of workplace stress include your workload, your relationships with people at work, and work-life balance.
  • People cope with stress in different ways, and the way you view situations has a big impact on how stressed you feel about them.

Physical Impact of Stress

In response to stress, your body may increase blood pressure, heart rate, respiration, metabolism, and blood flow to your muscles. This stress response is intended to help your body react quickly and effectively to any high-pressure situation.


When you are constantly reacting to small or large stressful situations without making physical, mental, and emotional adjustments to counter their effect, you can experience chronic stress that can hurt your health and well-being long-term.

Stress can also be positive. Short periods of stress can make you more alert and improve your performance. The key to stress management is to determine the right amount of stress that will give you energy, ambition, and enthusiasm versus the wrong amount of stress which can harm your health, outlook, relationships, and well-being.

Stress Causes

While each person is different and has different events and issues that cause stress, there are some issues that almost universally affect people. These are the stressors you most want to understand and take measures to prevent.

  • Feeling out of control
  • Feeling directionless
  • Guilt over procrastination or failing to keep commitments
  • Making more commitments than you have time to keep
  • Making change, especially changes you didn't initiate or institute
  • Uncertainty
  • High expectations of self

The ComPsych survey found:

  • 41% of respondents said their workload was a cause of work stress
  • 32% cited people issues
  • 18% cited juggling work and personal life
  • 9% cited lack of job security.

What Affects Your Ability to Cope With Stress?

During times of stress and uncertainty, you can anticipate some predictable issues, problems, and opportunities. For instance, during any organizational change at work, your colleagues may have:

  • Different ways of regarding the change. Some people have difficulty accepting and adjusting to change and uncertainty; others will relish the changes and view them as great opportunities. Some people initiate change; others prefer the status quo.
  • Different amounts of experience and practice in stress management and change management. (What is devastating to one individual may excite another or only mildly irritate a third person.) Theoretically, people become better at managing stress and change with experience.
  • Varying ways of communicating about stress. Some people need to "talk it out." Others suffer silently. Some find relief in complaining. Some talk and talk and talk, but are really supportive of the change.
  • Different amounts and types of support from others. This may include support from a spouse, significant other, friends, manager, and coworkers.

Effect of Stress on Your Well-Being

Stress can cause physical, emotional, and behavioral problems, which can affect your health, energy, well-being, mental alertness, and personal and professional relationships. It can also cause defensiveness, lack of motivation, difficulty concentrating, accidents, reduced productivity, and interpersonal conflict between normally harmonious colleagues.

Too much stress can cause minor problems such as sleep loss, irritability, backaches, or headaches, and can also contribute to potentially life-threatening diseases such as high blood pressure and heart disease.

During stressful times or situations, people often blame themselves for being weak or for their inability "to handle it." Often managers in organizations do not understand the normal progression of change or stress-producing situations and they expect employees to immediately return to total productivity after a stressful event. It doesn’t happen.

People have deep attachments to their workgroups, organizational structures, personal responsibilities, and ways of accomplishing work. When any of these are disturbed, whether by personal choice or through an organizational process from which you may feel quite removed and not involved, a transition period occurs.

During this transition, you can expect to experience a period of letting go of the old ways as you begin moving toward and integrating the new.

When you consider stress in the workplace, understanding these components about stress, situations that induce stress, and your responses to stress can help you help you effectively manage stress and change.

Effect of Workplace Stress on Your Work

All of these and other issues impact your ability to manage workplace stress and change, to continue to function productively. The ComPsych survey found that 37% of people say they lose an hour or more a day in productivity due to stress. More than half say stress causes them to miss at least one day a year from work.

During stressful times or situations, people often blame themselves for being weak or for their inability "to handle it." Often managers in organizations do not understand the normal progression of change or stress-producing situations and they expect employees to immediately return to total productivity after a stressful event. It doesn’t happen.

Managers need to understand that adjustment to change is an individual experience and provide support to a wide range of people who are experiencing diverse feelings.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What are the negative effects of workplace stress?

If stress isn't controlled, the organization may see some of these, among others:

  • High absenteeism
  • High turnover
  • Poor performance and productivity
  • Low morale
  • Increased illness, accidents, and incident reports.

What causes stress in a job?

The causes of workplace stress can be put into six categories: demands, control, support, relationships, role, and change. For instance, you may feel stressed if you aren't able to control the way you do your work, you don't receive enough information and support to do your job, you're being bullied at work, or you don't entirely understand your role and responsibilities.

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The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. ComPsych. "More Than One-Third of Employees Say 'People Issues' Cause the Most Stress at Work."

  2. American Psychological Association. "Stress Effects on the Body."

  3. Berkely News. "Researchers Find Out Why Some Stress Is Good for You."

  4. Habib Yaribeygi, Yunes Panahi, Hedayat Sahraei, Thomas P. Johnston, Amirhossein Sahebkar. The Impact of Stress on Body Function: A ReviewEXCLI Journal.

  5. University of Cambridge. "Effects of Work-Related Stress."

  6. U.K. Health and Safety Executive. "Work-Related Stress and How To Manage It."

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