Top 10 Causes of Stress at Work
Updated: Aug 8
Learn the top 10 causes of stress at work and how to cope for better productivity and mood.
You’re motivated. Ambitious. You have goals you want to accomplish.
Except, there’s one sneaky culprit getting in your way – stress. The American Institute of Stress estimates that up to 83% of US workers suffer from work related stress, and stress causes around 1 million individuals in the workforce to miss work every day.
So, if you’re experiencing stress in the workplace, you are not alone.
The workplace can be a great avenue for creativity, ambition, and achievement. However, it can also be a highly stressful environment that can also interfere with your ambitions and goals you want to accomplish.
Identifying sources of work stress can give you the tools to reduce distractions from stress so you can step into your most productive, energetic, and accomplished self.
Top 10 Causes of Stress at Work: The Stats Behind Work Stress
It is estimated that up to 1/3 of workers report high levels of stress, with more than 40% reporting worrying frequently. Stress is thought to be one of the most common work-related illnesses that can significantly decrease productivity, increase healthcare costs, result in missed days of work, and increased job turnover.
Changes in the economy related to the COVID pandemic have further increased the burden on employees and increased stress.
According to the American Psychological Association, work is one of the top three sources of stress for individuals in the United States.
Stress not only impacts people in the workplace, but it also impacts them in their personal lives, which can further increase stress.
There are many reasons for workplace stress, and according to the American Psychological Association, employees have noted lack of opportunities for growth and advancement (43 percent), heavy workload (43 percent), unrealistic job expectations (40 percent) and long hours (39 percent) as significant sources of stress.
Therefore, addressing workplace stress is crucial not only for your workplace efficiency and productivity, but for your overall health and well-being.
Watch Out for These Top 10 Causes of Stress at Work
There are many reasons for stress at work. It’s helpful to identify the stressors that apply to you specifically so you can make an action plan to address them.
1. Excessive Workload
Excessive workload and unreasonable or unclear workplace demands are a top source of stress in the workplace.
When employees are burdened with too much work, work outside their scope of practice or their job description, or other tasks, they are more likely to experience work stress and burnout.
2. Toxic Workplace
We spend the majority of our hours awake in our work environment. If the workplace is a toxic environment, this is likely to increase not only stress, but other mental health conditions.
A toxic workplace may be related to unhealthy dynamics between employees and their peers or their supervisors. A toxic work environment may also include office gossip, lack of support for employees, and unpredictable expectations.
3. Lack of Development Opportunities
Lack of opportunity for development and advancement can be a major source of workplace stress, especially for highly motivated individuals.
If your efforts are not being recognized, appreciated, or helping you get to the next steps that you envision for yourself, this can be a major source of stress.
4. Low or Inequitable Pay
Low pay that is not commensurate with the work completed can be a large source of workplace stress. Inequality in pay is a common issue in the United States.
This can also lead to significant workplace stress and decreased confidence.
5. Poor Workspace Setup
A comfortable and well-designed workspace is important for productivity and focus.
Proper ventilation and heating, lighting, and ergonomic furniture are important both in the workplace and when working from home.
For those working from home especially, it is important to take an inventory of your workspace and make sure that it is set up in a way that will set you up for success.
6. Lack of Work-Life Balance
One of the biggest culprits behind workplace stress is poor work-life balance. When people are feeling overwhelmed in the workplace or with their responsibilities, they are likely to work longer hours.
However, longer hours do not always mean an increase in productivity.
Furthermore, working longer hours can often take away from other mood boosting and stress relieving activities, such as spending time with family, engaging in leisure activity, or even getting proper sleep at night.
7. Poor Sleep
Poor sleep is a major culprit of workplace stress that is often not discussed. If individuals are sacrificing sleep to complete their work or having difficulty falling asleep due to the stress at work, they are less likely to feel refreshed, rested, and energetic the next day.
This often results in poor attention and focus, leading to less productivity and more stress.
8. Difficulty with Setting Boundaries
A major reason for workplace stress is difficulty setting boundaries. Many people struggle to set boundaries not only with their leadership and coworkers, but even with themselves.
Taking on too many tasks, staying late at work frequently when you have other things going on, and other situations in which boundaries are difficult to set can lead to increased stress.
9. Poor Workplace Relationships
Poor and unhealthy workplace relationships can happen for many reasons. At times, it is because we have difficulty setting boundaries.
Other times, a competitive or unhealthy work environment can create unhealthy relationships between employees.
Unhealthy relationships in general, both at work and in our personal lives, can be a large source of stress.
10. Unrealistic Expectations of Self
A common source of workplace stress that is often not discussed is unrealistic expectations that we put on ourselves.
When we push ourselves to be perfect, have unrealistic expectations of ourselves, or set goals that are vague and hard to achieve, we are going to experience more workplace stress.
How to Cope with Stress at Work
The good news is, there are many things that can be done to cope with workplace stress.
1. Identify Your Personal Stressors
First, it is important to identify your personal triggers to workplace stress. One of the most important parts of managing stress is being aware of our triggers to stress. Go through the list above and any other workplace stressors that are not listed there to identify your top triggers to stress.
Then, take an action-oriented approach to change the things that are in your control.
For example, you might set up your workstation to be more ergonomic and supportive of you sitting all day.
Other things may be less in your control, and that is where you will want to engage in problem coping strategies.
2. Identify Early Stress Clues
Not only is it important to identify our personal stressors, it’s also important to note the signs that we are getting stressed.
Watch out for changes in your behavior, negative and unhelpful thinking, and unpleasant physical symptoms that are often associated with stress.
3. Calm the Nervous System
One of the best ways to manage stress and prevent high escalations of stress is by calming the nervous system.
Engaging in deep relaxation exercises such as deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation can be especially helpful for keeping the mind and body calm.
4. Address Stress Thinking
Our thinking changes in predictable ways when we start to get stressed. The more stressed we are, the more likely we are to think in negative and unhelpful ways, often about ourselves.
Managing stress thinking is one of the most important parts of managing stress in general.
5. Prioritize Sleep
As you saw above, quality sleep is so important for maintaining a positive mood, reducing stress, increasing productivity, and improving overall health.
Therefore, prioritize getting quality sleep at night. This means shutting off work at a reasonable time and engaging in calming activities so you can fall asleep and stay asleep well.
6. Improve Work-Life Balance
The time that you spend engaging in your personal life will never be the same amount of time that you are at work. However, improving work-life balance is something that is crucial for stress management.
This might look like devoting 30 minutes to exercise or spending time with family, ending your night with a stress reducing activity, or anything else that enhances your personal life and wellbeing.
7. Evaluate Your Work Environment
The strategies mentioned so far are mostly related to problem coping. That being said, it is also important to evaluate your overall job environment and the opportunities presented to you.
If you are in a toxic workplace with little opportunities and inequitable pay, it may be time to consider another job for your well-being. It's never too late to make a change.
Addressing workplace stress is one of the most important things that we can do for our overall health and well-being. Focus on the things in your control so you can start to see an improvement in mood, better energy, and higher performance.
Workplace stress getting you down? My Master Stress Method will give you all the tools to prevent and manage high stress in your way so you can step into your best self.
Take charge of your life by booking a discovery call so we can chat further.
-----About Dr. Julia
Hi! I'm Dr. Julia. Health psychologist, stress and sleep expert, and creator of the Master Stress Method.
I have worked with thousands of individuals in major hospitals, university medical centers, and primary care settings to improve their stress levels, sleep, and overall emotional and physical well being.
My current focus is helping busy professionals prevent and manage the high stress that is getting in the way of their productivity, mood, sleep, and their ability to reach their full potential.
My 8-week, 1:1 coaching program has helped hundreds of stressed out, overwhelmed, and burned out clients significantly reduce their stress and anxiety, improve their sleep, and maximize their productivity, in just 8 short weeks.
I can't wait to help you stop the struggle with stress, for good. Let's chat :)