What causes stress at work?

UNISON says work stress can be caused or made worse by any of the following:

  • long hours;
  • shift work;
  • too much or too little work;
  • lack of control and conflicting demands (especially for staff on lower grades);
  • poor management;
  • bad relations with other work colleagues;
  • repetitive work, boredom and lack of job satisfaction;
  • working alone;
  • job insecurity;
  • job or organisational change;
  • low pay; and
  • jobs with heavy emotional demands.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) says that problems at work, such as excessive workload, long hours and bullying are all sources of stress. The HSE calls them 'stressors'. Employers should tackle stressors by carrying out a risk assessment, in the same way that they must deal with any other hazards at work.

The HSE says that the following are the six primary causes of stress at work:

  • Demands: Can you cope with the demands of your job? This includes workload, the pace of work or your exposure to physical hazards. Is there any way you can discuss your concerns with your employer?
  • Control: How much (or how little) say do you have over the job you do and how it is organised? Is there any way you can raise concerns with your employer?
  • Support: Do you receive adequate information and support from your fellow workers and supervisors? Does your organisation cater for individual differences in approach, style and so on? Is training provided for the core tasks you carry out?
  • Role: Do you have a clearly defined role and position? Does your employer ensure that you don’t have seriously conflicting targets?
  • Relationships: Are you subjected to unacceptable behaviours, such as bullying and harassment at work? Does your employer have agreed procedures to deal with bullying?
  • Change: How are major changes at work managed and communicated? Are you engaged in these changes?

These six stressors form the basis of the HSE's Management standards for work-related stress, which lay out a clear approach for employers to follow.

Note: This content is provided as general background information and should not be taken as legal advice or financial advice for your particular situation. Make sure to get individual advice on your case from your union, a source on our free help page or an independent financial advisor before taking any action.

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