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Most common causes of workplace stress

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September 15, 2023
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This story originally appeared on Wysa and was produced and distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.

Most common causes of workplace stress

Each weekday, roughly 1 million adults in the U.S. miss work because of stress, according to Zippia Research. Absenteeism induced by depression and other mental health conditions costs businesses $51 billion a year, treatment amounts to an additional $26 billion, and at least 4 in 5 Americans (83%) suffer from workplace stress.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that "stress accounts for 75% of all doctor visits," which include a wide array of complaints, such as "headache, back pain, heart problems, upset stomach, stomach ulcer, sleep problems, tiredness and accidents." What's more, a 2023 American Psychological Association survey found that while 77% of American workers are "very satisfied" or "somewhat satisfied" with mental health support from their employers, 53% said their employers think the workplace is better for mental health than it actually is. 

While workplace stress can affect all workers, a 2022 report by Wysa found that people under the age of 44 were more likely to say they experienced work-related stress. A combination of stressors, magnified by the economic and public health climate under which they entered the workplace, might be to blame.

The COVID-19 pandemic prompted a shift in people's priorities and in the way they perform their daily work duties. Hybrid and remote work took over, and once companies and employees adapted to new methods (with the aid of technology), few were willing to go back to the strain that long commutes and endless office hours took on their health and families. 

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 3.7 million people quit their jobs in June 2023, almost 400,000 less than in the same month of the prior year. Most walk-outs happened in the Southern states, with the Midwest following far behind. Analysts cannot agree on the main causes of high job mobility rates, though polls support the idea that companies that strengthen corporate wellness programs may increase employee retention. According to Harvard Business Review and the CDC, these programs' benefits include increased engagement, higher productivity, fewer sick absences, employee longevity, and higher morale.

Citing Zippia Research data, Wysa looked at common causes of workplace stress and how workers and companies can manage them.

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The first reason for stress at the workplace is workload. When employees have excessive responsibilities or substantial tasks to complete, they can find it hard to set boundaries around work time and assignments. This results in staff remaining tired, nervous, and uneasy for long periods, risking burnout.

Overworked people are prone to make mistakes and have diminished problem-solving abilities. Workers communicating their duties and managers helping prioritize tasks are essential to effective workload management.

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Interpersonal issues

It can be hard to mesh with co-workers, especially if there is a disparity in workload, shifting responsibilities, and a mix of personality types among the team. And in a highly competitive environment or under a despotic boss, real trouble might not be far away. People can seek support to resolve interpersonal issues outside work and from human resources departments.

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Change in leadership

How company leaders act can make a work environment better or worse. What managers, supervisors, and senior leaders "say, feel, and do hugely influences their team's physical and emotional well-being," according to Harvard Business Review.

A new boss will likely have a different management style and may prompt changes in work procedures as soon as they take over the position. These shifts shouldn't be a stressor on their own—but when combined with unclear instructions or unreal expectations, they can disrupt the workflow and cause uncertainty and confusion.

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Work-life balance

Someone with a work-life balance can fulfill their personal and professional commitments in an organized and wholesome way. Due to long office hours, heavy workloads, and other job-related stressors, people can have trouble disconnecting from work and enjoying other activities, such as family time, traveling, sports, and hobbies.

Harvard Business Review interviewed 78 workers at a global company and found that "achieving better balance between professional and personal priorities boils down to a combination of reflexivity—or questioning assumptions to increase self-awareness—and intentional role redefinition." The research concluded that "work-life balance is a cycle, not an achievement."

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Poor company communication

Leaders' communication skills may not match their company's policies and philosophy. Workers can feel uncomfortable and uncertain when a leader delivers a message poorly.

Clear, calm communication is essential in large multinational organizations and small businesses to keep workplace dynamics healthy and strong. As noted by Indeed, poor communication "affects productivity, employee relationships, morale and staff retention."

Managers and workers must address communication struggles as soon as they arise to avoid bad decision-making and mistakes that can exacerbate workers' stress levels and affect productivity.

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Job insecurity

Unemployment has been historically low in recent years, but at least 15% of workers felt at risk of losing their jobs in 2022, according to a Gallup poll.

Harvard Business Review reports that "many workplaces intentionally stoke fears of job loss in an attempt to motivate workers and reduce costs," as workers who fear being laid off may postpone or dismiss asking for raises, promotions, and other perks. The harms of job insecurity have been studied, divulged, and proven.

Fear of losing a job affects "employees' sense of social connection, identity, and physical and mental health," the Harvard report found—though it can boost short-term performance.

Story editing by Jeff Inglis. Copy editing by Paris Close.

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