Most common causes of stress in the workplace

8 Mins

Stress is a natural reaction to a perception of pressure; work-related stress specifically is a response to demands and pressures within the workplace. A certain level of acute stress at work is expected and can even be beneficial, for example, stress levels might be heightened as a deadline approaches and the pressure forces you to focus. The body is good at handling episodes of acute stress, and we’re designed to recover quickly.

However, when work pressures becomes unmanageable and relentless, acute stress can become chronic stress. The body isn’t good at handling chronic stress and overtime this can damage an employee’s physical health by causing nausea, fatigue, headaches etc. If chronic stress continues, it can become unmanageable and eventually lead to burnout.

To avoid compromising the health and overall productivity of employees, mental wellbeing must be a priority for every organisation. The first step towards improving employee wellbeing is to pinpoint the causes of stress. In our Wellbeing Report, we conducted a wide-reaching survey asking employers across a range of industries about the most common causes of stress in their organisation. We found there were five common contributing factors.


Workload was found to be the most common cause of stress, with 84% of employers believing this was a source of strain in their organisation. The pandemic has forced many organisations to adapt their working models to hybrid or remote. Unsurprisingly, this has blurred the lines between work and free time and people ended up doing more ‘hidden overtime’. When the workload is high and time is low, employees are bound to feel off-balance. If workloads are increasing, then there needs to be some level of compensation to balance this out. Employees need support and time away from work.

Management Style/ Communication

Employees with a poor relationship with their manager are more likely to experience stress, 46% of employers felt managers played an important role in the mental health of their employees. Managers who are critical, overly demanding, micromanaging, or unsupportive will inevitably be a source of stress. Over-management can leave employees feeling like they aren’t trusted which affects self-esteem. This can be made worse by a lack of effective communication within the organisation. If leaders don’t create a safe environment, employees may choose not to communicate at all, for example they might keep new ideas to themselves or avoid speaking to their manager about a problem they have.

Performance expectations

Dealing with unreasonable expectations and demands would put pressure on even the most resilient of employees, so it’s unsurprising to find 40% of employers believed performance expectations caused stress. It’s important to establish expectations early on. When someone accepts a job, they may not have full clarity on what the role entails and end up doing something out of their job description or capabilities. This can be resolved by collaborating with employees to help clarify clear job responsibilities, communication on targets and expected output, as well as transparent performance reviews.


The best workplace cultures are inclusive, and employees are continuously encouraged to collaborate and support each other. Company goals, such as employee retention, are directly impacted by work culture. A poor organisational culture can be toxic by regarding employees as cogs that fulfil the company needs rather than people who have their own lives. This type of negative work culture feeds into stress and anxiety, 30% of employers believed poor culture was a contributing stress factor in their workplace.


Motivation, mood, and drive can all be influenced by environmental factors. While our feedback found this wasn’t the most prominent cause of workplace stress, it was definitely considered to be a contributor by 22% of employers. Examples of a poor physical working environment could be extreme temperatures, distracting noises, poor lighting, uncomfortable seating, faulty equipment etc. Any of these factors can make people uncomfortable and influence unhealthy behaviours such as minimal movement. Employers should focus on providing an environment that is optimal to work in.

One thing to note is that most of these ‘common problems’ that cause stress are things that could be addressed and rectified quickly by employers by putting procedures and policies in place.

Employee wellbeing is the biggest responsibility businesses face. As global talent experts, we help firms build teams and create environments for people to thrive. That’s why our responsibility extends beyond our own customers, and why workplace wellbeing is now a key part of our overall business purpose.

Our 2022 Wellbeing Report will be available to download on 24 October.