6 Biggest Causes of Workplace Stress and What Employers Can Do About Them

Workplace stress is a growing problem right now. According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in the UK, there were an estimated 914,000 workers affected by work-related stress, depression, or anxiety in 2021/2022. This resulted in approximately 17 million working days lost due to these conditions.

Workplace stress, which encompasses physical, emotional, and mental strain, can result from excessive job demands, intense pressure, or feeling a lack of control over one’s work. When not properly addressed, work-related stress can negatively affect both employees and employers, leading to decreased productivity, increased absenteeism and presenteeism, and high turnover rates.

In this article, we will explore the primary causes of work-related stress and discuss practical strategies that employers can implement to alleviate its impact.

There are many reasons why the number of employees dealing with work-related stress is rising in the UK. Whilst each workplace is unique, there are some common factors we see time and time again. These include:

1. Poor Communication

One of the biggest causes of work stress is often poor communication. Employees who work under managers who fail to communicate effectively or provide clear expectations often feel frustrated, confused, and stressed. Additionally, inadequate communication can result in misunderstandings and conflicts, further escalating stress levels.

A lack of communication between team members can also leave employees feeling out of the loop and isolated, which has become more common in remote and hybrid working situations.

2. A Lack of Autonomy

Micromanagement can significantly contribute to employees’ stress levels. Constant monitoring and controlling of employees’ work by managers can lead to a lack of autonomy and a sense of mistrust, causing employees to feel undervalued and disengaged.

When employees have a sense of autonomy over their work, they perform better and feel less stressed. Finding the right balance between directing employees and allowing them to be autonomous is the key to reducing work stress.

Woman experience workplace stress

3. Heavy Workload and Unrealistic Expectations

Another major cause of work stress is excessive workload and unrealistic expectations. When employees face an unreasonable amount of work or tight deadlines, they can feel overwhelmed, leading to work burnout and stress.

In addition, employees who are expected to work long hours or invest extra time beyond their standard working hours may experience stress due to an imbalanced work-life situation. This imbalance can have negative effects on their personal lives, relationships, and mental health.

4. Lack of Work-Life Balance

A lack of work-life balance is a significant contributor to workplace stress. Employees who do not have a healthy balance between their work life and personal life often experience high levels of stress, which can lead to decreased productivity, burnout, and absenteeism.

Expecting employees to always be ‘switched on,’ particularly when remote or hybrid working, can lead to an imbalance that impacts their physical and emotional health.

5. Inadequate Resources or Support

When employees do not have the resources or support they need to complete their work effectively, it can lead to stress and frustration. This can include a lack of training or development opportunities, inadequate equipment or technology, or insufficient staffing levels.

The same also applies when it comes to providing the right resources and support for employee stress management and mental health. Clearly communicating these resources, and providing time for employees to use them, can help reduce work stress in the long-term.

6. Workplace Bullying and Harassment

Workplace bullying and harassment can have a significant impact on employees’ mental health and wellbeing. This can include verbal abuse, physical intimidation, or exclusion from workplace activities. Employees who experience workplace bullying or harassment often experience high levels of stress, anxiety, and depression.

In a study by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) in the UK, 15% of employees reported experiencing bullying or harassment in the workplace within the last three years. Employers must adopt a zero-tolerance approach to workplace bullying and harassment, which can include implementing policies and procedures to prevent and address such behaviour, providing training to employees and managers, and cultivating a safe and supportive workplace culture.

Man experiencing poor mental health due to work related stress

Chronic stress can lead to various mental health disorders, impacting employees’ overall wellbeing and quality of life. When there is no support for employees to manage stress, this can lead to issues such as:

Anxiety and Depression

Prolonged exposure to work-related stress can increase the risk of developing anxiety and depression. Employees who constantly face high levels of stress may experience symptoms such as persistent worry, irritability, fatigue, and feelings of hopelessness. According to the Mental Health Foundation, 74% of UK adults have felt overwhelmed or unable to cope due to stress. This highlights the significant impact that stress can have on mental health and underscores the need for employers to address workplace stress effectively.


Burnout is a state of chronic physical and emotional exhaustion resulting from excessive and prolonged work stress. It is characterised by feelings of cynicism, detachment, and a reduced sense of accomplishment at work. Burnout can lead to a decline in work performance, increased absenteeism and/or presenteeism, and a higher likelihood of long-term sick leave or leaving a stressful job entirely.

We’ve seen a huge rise in burnout in all sectors in recent years, but particularly in care-giving roles, and in non-profits and the public sector.

Insomnia and Sleep Disorders

Workplace stress can also have a negative impact on employees’ sleep quality. Chronic stress can lead to insomnia and other sleep disorders, which can further exacerbate mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. Sleep deprivation can also impair cognitive function, decision-making, and overall work performance.

Consequences of Workplace Stress for Employers

Workplace stress not only impacts employees’ wellbeing and job satisfaction but also has significant consequences for employers. High levels of stress within an organisation can lead to a range of negative outcomes, such as:

Decreased Productivity

When employees experience high levels of stress, their ability to concentrate, make decisions, and complete tasks efficiently can be compromised. This can lead to a decline in productivity, which may affect a company’s overall performance and profitability. In the UK, poor mental health costs employers around £45 billion every year, with a large portion of this coming from presenteeism.

Increased Absenteeism

Workplace stress is a leading cause of absenteeism, with employees taking time off work to cope with stress-related issues. High levels of stress can also contribute to physical health problems, which may further increase absenteeism. Employers who fail to address workplace stress may face higher rates of absenteeism, resulting in additional costs and disruptions to workflow.

Increased Presenteeism

A rise in absences isn’t the only issue that organisations should be concerned about, as the cases of presenteeism in workplaces continues to grow. Presenteeism is when an employee comes to work while unwell, stressed, exhausted or experiencing personal issues. This can have a negative impact on overall employee health and productivity, costing employes billions of pounds every single year.

High Turnover Rates

Employees who experience chronic workplace stress may be more likely to leave their jobs in search of a healthier work environment. High turnover rates can be costly for employers, as recruiting, hiring, and training new employees is expensive. Additionally, high turnover can lead to a loss of valuable skills and institutional knowledge, which may negatively impact a company’s performance.

Damage to Reputation

Companies with high levels of workplace stress may develop a reputation for being an unhealthy, unsupportive or even toxic work environment. This can make it more difficult to attract and retain top talent, ultimately affecting a company’s ability to compete in the marketplace. Employers who prioritise employee wellbeing and create a supportive work environment are more likely to be seen as desirable places to work, which can contribute to long-term success.

8 Expert Strategies to Manage Stress at Work

Employers can take several steps to manage stress in the workplace and create a supportive and healthy work environment for their employees. Each of these strategies are individual to the workplace and, as always, we recommend asking employees what it is they need from you first. You can use our employee wellbeing strategy guide and template to help you work out what your team needs most and how you can implement it.

1. Employee Wellness Programmes

Employee wellness programmes can help employees manage stress and improve their overall health and wellbeing. These programmes can encompass physical activities such as movement classes, mindfulness activities, health education, and so much more.

When looking for employee wellness programmes, it’s key to find one that covers a wide range of topics as there is no ‘one size fits all’ for employees. We cover more aspects of wellbeing than any other platform – from mindful arts and crafts to yoga, and everything in between.

Click here to download our brochure and learn more.

2. The Time to Use Wellbeing Initiatives

Just providing your employees well a wellbeing platform and hoping they’ll use it is a one-way ticket to more employee stress. Employers should be ensuring that their teams have ample time to make use of any new wellbeing initiative in the workplace.

For example, instead of hosting ‘lunch and learns’ and taking up employees’ break times, consider hosting workshops during normal working hours instead. Not giving your employees the time to use any new wellbeing initiatives will lead to low engagement and decrease the effectiveness of any implemented programs.

3. Flexible Work Arrangements

Flexible work arrangements can enable employees to better balance their work and personal lives, reducing stress levels and improving mental health. These arrangements can include options such as remote or hybrid working, fully flexible schedules, or job sharing.

Employers that provide flexible work arrangements showcase their commitment to employee wellbeing, leading to increased job satisfaction and reduced turnover rates.

4. Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs)

EAPs can provide employees with access to counselling and mental health services to help manage stress and other mental health conditions. EAPs can also offer resources and support for personal and financial concerns, such as debt management or legal advice.

An Employee Assistance Programme should be used alongside other stress management tools to provide employees with an all-rounded approach to their health and wellbeing,

5. Encouraging Work-Life Balance

Employers can encourage work-life balance by cultivating a supportive workplace culture that values employees’ personal lives and wellbeing. This can include not contacting employees outside of working hours, offering flexible work arrangements, and encouraging employees to take time off when needed to discourage presenteeism.

6. Reducing Workload and Increasing Autonomy

Employers can alleviate stress levels by ensuring that employees have a manageable workload and a sense of control over their work. This can involve providing employees with clear expectations, setting achievable goals, and giving employees the autonomy to make decisions about their work.

If workloads are too high, then ensuring you have the right number of employees to manage is imperative.

7. Creating a Supportive Work Environment

Fostering a positive work environment can greatly impact employees’ stress levels. Employers can create a supportive work atmosphere by promoting open communication, encouraging collaboration, recognising employee achievements, and addressing workplace conflicts promptly and effectively.

This also means dealing with any workplace bullying and harassment that may be going on. Workplace wellbeing surveys are a great place to start if you’re unsure if this is an issue within your organisation.

8. Providing Opportunities for Professional Development

Employers can invest in professional development opportunities for their employees, such as training programs, workshops, and conferences. This not only equips employees with the skills and knowledge needed to perform their jobs effectively but also boosts their confidence and sense of value within the organisation.


Work stress can significantly impact employees’ mental health and wellbeing, as well as the overall success of a business. Employers must take proactive steps to manage stress in the workplace, including providing the right employee support, encouraging work-life balance, and reducing workload while increasing autonomy.

By establishing a supportive and healthy work environment, employers can enhance job satisfaction, decrease turnover rates, and boost productivity. It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved and will lead to a happier, healthier workforce.

If you want to talk about how we can help you and your team reduce work-related stress then book in a free 30-minute consultation. This is a no-obligation chat with our workplace wellbeing consultant Bex Spiller on any worries or concerns you have with your employee wellbeing right now.

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