Workplace stress is a rising trend and the potential cost to business is huge. Work-related stress and mental illness now accounts for over half of work absences. Statistics released by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) reveal that there were 595,000 workers suffering from work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2017/18 and 15.4 million working days lost as a result.

It is clear that workplace stress is something businesses can’t afford to ignore. Stressed employees are less motivated, suffer poor sleep, find it difficult to focus and complete tasks, and generally suffer fatigue. This isn’t good for employees and it isn’t good for business.

Stressed employees are much more likely to suffer from mental health problems. Understanding and addressing the causes of stress at work is vital for a happy, healthy and productive workforce. It sounds simple, but how do you know exactly what is causing workplace stress and what you as an employer can do about it?

There are many misconceptions about stress at work and not everyone deals with stress in the same way. Besides, a certain amount of stress is actually good for productivity. So how do you when you have crossed the line?

In this article, I’ll be highlighting the most common causes of workplace stress. If businesses can truly understand the real causes of stress at work, they are in a much better position to take proactive action to fix any stress-related problems, boosting the happiness and productivity of staff as a result.

Increased workload

The primary cause of stress at work is increased workload. Many people love their job, but when the workload becomes too much it can cause stress in a number of ways. Some buckle under the pressure of simply having too much to do, while others manage the workload, but become disengaged because they have to compromise the quality of their work to meet targets.

A heavy workload can also force employees to work longer hours and this has an impact on work-life balance. Many employees take on extra work without realising the consequences and often feel insecure about saying they aren’t able to do the extra work.

Forcing employees to meet ever-increasing targets will in most cases end in reduced productivity, not the gains employers are expecting. Stressed employees are more likely to take time off sick, and are more prone to making mistakes.

Increased working hours

It is a complete misnomer that the more hours you work, the more work you will get done. This has been proved time and time again. Longer working hours don’t equate to increased productivity. In fact, beyond 40 hours per week, the more hours an employee works the more likely an employee is to feel stressed and the worse productivity gets.


There really are no positives about micromanagement. This over-bearing style of management erodes trust and chips away at self-esteem. Managers who pore over every detail and are constantly checking up on their employees squash creativity, goodwill and morale. Working for someone who micromanages is incredibly stressful. At best it is irritating, but in many cases, being micromanaged impacts mental health and can lead to anxiety and depression.

Bullying and harassment

According to Benenden Health, almost one in ten employees say that workplace bullying is the main cause of workplace mental health issues. Bullying and harassment in the workplace are unfortunately all too common and can be devastating for those at the end of it.

The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) explain that the negative behaviours of bullying occur in extremely diverse ways from “incivilities, such as shouting, eye-rolling and verbal abuse, to more concerted patterns such as ostracism.”

Bullying can go under the radar when it is very low level, but that doesn’t mean as an employer you can’t root it out. Bullied workers won’t be performing their jobs to the best of their abilities and are much more likely to take time off due to stress-related ill-health, anxiety or depression.

Financial concerns

While not directly caused by work, financial worries are having an impact on how stressed employees feel when they are in the workplace. Tackling personal financial problems is hugely stressful and employers could be doing more to help employees, such as through financial well-being advice schemes.

While the financial well-being of an individual isn’t directly attributable to the employer (apart from the association with fair pay), the knock-on effects of someone in the workplace with money worries is detrimental to the business. Extreme stress, wherever it manifests from, will have a negative impact on employee performance.

Poor work-life balance

According to the Mental Health Foundation, the pressure of an increasingly demanding work culture in the UK is the biggest challenge to the mental health of the population. When employees start to neglect other aspects of their life because of work, it increases the vulnerability of that person to mental health problems. Increased working hours are the biggest cause of poor work-life balance.

Work-life balance is a growing issue, especially for the sandwich generation who are trying to balance work with caring for children and elderly relatives. One study found that 75 per cent of working parents feel stressed by work-life balance management.

Employers must do more to understand the causes of workplace stress. Businesses addressing these problems are much more likely to improve employee engagement and productivity, as well as retain and attract the best talent.


Dakota Murphey has over 10 years of experience in employee engagement and business growth. Dakota enjoys sharing her knowledge and experience through her writing. Find out what else she’s been up to over on Twitter: @Dakota_Murphey

Dakota Murphey

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