Focus on stress – Part 1: Why do people become stressed?

Photo by University of Salford via Flickr, under Creative Commons Licence

Due to the number of enquiries we receive about stress on the Health for Work Adviceline website (by far the most popular topic over the past few months), we shall be running a sequence of three blogs over the coming weeks about stress in the workplace. Stress is recognised as being a growing issue, which, when left unchecked, can lead to other mental health conditions (e.g. anxiety and depression), or physical health issues (e.g. high blood pressure, fatigue, etc.).

The Absence Management survey (October 2011) by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and corporate healthcare provider Simply Health, found that stress is the most common cause of long-term sickness absence for both manual and non-manual employees – the first time this has been the case in the 12 years the report has been published.

So, why do people become stressed?

Being in employment is generally accepted to be good for a person’s health, wellbeing, morale, confidence and feeling of self-worth. However, the demands placed on a person at work can sometimes exceed what they can cope with and this is generally when work-related stress develops. People who work full-time spend a significant proportion of their lives at work. If their workload is unmanageable, the working environment is not conducive to performing well, or perhaps relationships with co-workers or line managers aren’t as positive as they could be, people can become very disheartened at work, which can lead to a build-up of stress. Similarly, people may be negatively affected by what’s going on in their lives outside work and these issues, combined with work pressures, may cause stress to develop.

Part of the problem with dealing with stress is that it affects people very differently – what is extremely stressful for one person may not seem at all stressful to another. This means that a person’s stress may sometimes be misconstrued as an over-reaction or, within a work context, perhaps as a pretext for avoiding certain work tasks. Sometimes it may be quite clear why a person is feeling stressed (e.g. financial problems, relationship issues, bereavement) but at other times it may not be so obvious to others. This is because some people unintentionally put themselves under pressure due to their own psychological make-up (e.g. a predominantly pessimistic outlook, lack of assertiveness, perfectionism or unrealistic expectations) whilst people who are naturally self-confident and positive may put themselves under less pressure yet perform equally well.

The second part of this blog (to be posted next week) will look at the symptoms of short-term and long-term stress. In the meantime, more information on stress in the workplace can be found in our guide on workplace stress. Or for help with specific queries, contact the Health for Work Adviceline on 0800 0 77 88 44.

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One Response to Focus on stress – Part 1: Why do people become stressed?

  1. Pingback: Focus on stress – Part 2: The symptoms of stress | Health4Work Blog – Articles on small business workplace health