Occupational Health. Work Stress and Its Effects


Today’s world has changed significantly when compared to what it was some 50 or so years ago. Today’s processes take less than a blink of an eye and anything longer than that is freely called inefficient and outdated. The speed with which communication, business transaction, and information technology has become leaves the typical American in a state of constant demand and pressure. The upbeat environment welcomes new frontiers for progress but at the same time introduces taxing and hazardous conditions for workers. In addition, there are a number of stressful situations that is taking place: rapid increase of oil prices, low salaries and wages, and office politics that constantly threatens the psychological, mental, and emotional stability of workers which directly affects their performance at work. That is to say those workers, managers, and virtually everyone in the country is under the constant threat of workplace pressure and stress.

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Job or work stress takes shape when expectations, resources, and the needs of the worker does not and could no longer be handled. The stress associated with job pressures and unmet expectations are high and could become more complicated than mere stress. According to a survey conducted by Northwest National Life (cited in NIOSH, 1999) at least 40% of the workers interviewed during the survey indicate “that their job is very or extremely stressful”. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health declared that 25% of those surveyed said their job was the single greatest cause of stress in their life. (NIOSH, 1999). HealerWarrior.com (n.d.) states:

The U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and health reports stress related disorders are fast becoming the most prevalent reason for worker disability. Job stress is estimated to cost American industry 200 to 300 billion dollars annually as assessed by absenteeism, diminished productivity, employee turnover, accidents, direct medical, legal and insurance fees.

Job stress is not related to job challenge. Challenging situations in the workplace motivates people to achieve their goals and objectives while job stress has a detrimental effect in the afflicted individual. In today’s world, stress has become an irresistible and inescapable fact of life. Work stress shows no favoritism or bias toward age, sex, race, social class or religious background. Stress has permeated all areas of life including both private life and work place. While there are a high percentage of people unaffected by stress in the workplace, the long-term effectiveness of stressors outdoes the most enduring person in the workplace. Studies indicate that there is a high correlation between safety, health conditions, and job satisfaction and job stressors. Due to its importance to human life and health, and its serious consequence on the individual and organization, it has been the focal point for many research studies during the last few decades.

Stress in the workplace is a major problem with extensive costs to individuals’ organizations and society. From the perspective of the organization, high levels of stress within the workforce can result in poor productivity, absenteeism, high worker turnover, and worker grievance. From the point of view of the individual, excessive levels of job stress may manifest in physiological, psychological, and behavioral outcomes (Schafer & McKenna, 1991). Some of the specific job conditions that promote job stress are: design of task, management style, interpersonal and intrapersonal relationships in the workplace, work roles, career concerns, and environmental conditions. When the balance in these areas is tipped, it would be highly probable that job stress and work-related stress would come after.

Growing concerns over the consequence of job stress for both employees and organizations have stimulated efforts to understand the sources and consequences of stressors in the workplace. These concerns are dramatically reflected in increasing number of studies of occupational stress that have appeared in the psychological, organizational and medical literature over the past 20 years. Investigations in all three workplace-related stress categories, which are publications with titles such as job stress, work stress and occupational stress, have increased more than 50 fold over the pat two decades. The total numbers of studies in 1990-1992 was more than 8 times greater than during the entire decade of seventies. (Spielberg & Reheiser, 1994). There are three major causes for workplace stress that attracted the attention of and were studied by most of the organizational stress researchers: role ambiguity, role conflict and role overload.

Role ambiguity is a situation in which there is uncertainty about job duties and responsibilities. Kahn et al. (1964) asserts that role ambiguity exists when individuals have inadequate information about their work role. (cited in Coof, Hepworth, Wall, & Warr, 1981). In other words, where there is lack of clarity about the work objectives, expectations and responsibilities of the job, problems occur. Role conflict exists whenever differing expectations or demands are placed on a person’s role. According to Kahn et al. (1964), role conflict exist when the individuals in a particular work role are torn by conflicting job demands or doing things they truly do not want to do or think are a part of their job specification. (cited in Coof, Hepworth, Wall, & Warr, 1981). The most frequent manifestation of this is occurs when a person is caught between two groups of people who demand different kinds of behavior or expect that the job should entail different functions. Role overload exists when the total demands on time and energy, associated with the prescribed activities of multiple roles, are too overwhelming and exceed the capacity of an employee to meet all of the roles adequately and comfortably (Higgins & Duxbury, 1992). Role overload can also be simply having too much to do and not having enough time or resources to do it.


The risks of work-related stress lies in the wide array of physical, mental, and emotional disorders it could incite or prompt. Psychologically demanding jobs can cause cardiovascular disorders and could lead to stroke or even death. In addition, musculoskeletal disorders such as pain in the back bone, neck, and other parts of the body can be noted. If unchecked and unaddressed at an early stage, complications may rise which will lead to workplace injury. Of course there is always the risk of emotional and psychological disturbances that follows once one is stressed but the meatier part of work-related stress and stressors are the significantly high percentage of committing suicide, having serious issues with one’s internal organs such as kidney and liver problems, and impaired immune functions. Bottom line is employees and employers must be aware of the work stressors and avoid these as much as they could in order to live a happy long life. Experts advise that anyone at risk of job stress needs to identify the stressors, and ensure his or her own safety and health conditions.


Beehr, T. A., & Newman. J. E. (1978). Job Stress, Employee Health and Effectiveness: A Facet Analysis Model and Literature Review. Personnel Psychology, 31, 665-699.

Coof, J. D., Hepworth, S. J., Wall, T. D., & Warr, P. B. (1981). The Experience of Work: A Compendium and Review of 249 Measures and Their Use. London: Academic Press, Inc.

Higgins C. A., & Duxbury, L.E. (1992). Work- Family Conflict: A Comparison of Dual- Career and Traditional- Career Men. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 13, 389- 411.

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. (1999). Northwest National Life Survey. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Schafer, W. E., & McKenna, J. F., (1991). Perceived Energy and Stress Resistance: A Study of City Manager. Journal of Social Behavior and Personality, 6, 271-282.

Spielberger, C.D., & Reheiser, E.C. (1994). The Job Stress Survey: Measuring Gender Differences in Occupational Stress. Journal of Social Behavior and Personality, 9, 199-218.

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