Work-related stress: Safety basics

What causes work-related stress and ways to prevent it.


What is work-related stress?

Work-related stress describes an employee's stress response to work-related factors. These responses may be physical, mental, emotional or behavioural.

Factors that contribute to work-related stress

Organisational factors

  • work demands
  • low levels of control over work
  • poor levels of support by supervisors and colleagues
  • lack of role clarity and role conflict
  • poorly managed relationships
  • poorly managed change
  • incivility

Environmental factors

  • noise
  • temperature and humidity
  • lighting
  • vibration
  • air quality
  • cramped workspace
  • unguarded plant and equipment
  • hazardous manual handling

Individual factors

Individual factors refer to the differences in a person's resilience level, personality and experiences. They are not directly within the employer's control.

How work-related stress affects employees

Short term, stress may not be harmful. But if a stressful situation goes on, it can affect employee health and wellbeing in ways like this:

  • physical effects, like headaches, indigestion, tiredness, slow reactions, shortness of breath, and over the longer term, physical illness
  • mental effects, like difficulty in decision-making, forgetfulness
  • emotional effects, like irritability, excess worrying, feeling worthless, anxiety, defensiveness, anger, mood swings
  • behavioural effects, like diminished performance, withdrawal behaviours, impulsive behaviour, increase in alcohol and nicotine consumption
  • longer-term health issues, like musculoskeletal disorders, cardiovascular disease, immune deficiency disorders, gastrointestinal disorders, psychiatric/psychological illness

How work-related stress affects the workplace

There may be an increase in:

  • absenteeism
  • staff turnover (including the extra costs of recruitment and re-training)
  • accidents and injuries
  • health care expenditure and employee compensation claims (including WorkCover insurance premiums)
  • conflict
  • incivility, which can lead to damaged relationships and allegations of bullying behaviours

There may be a decline in:

  • productivity and efficiency
  • job satisfaction, morale and team cohesion
  • quality of relationships
  • client satisfaction (e.g. with customer service)

Preventing work-related stress

As an employer, having a prevention focus in your workplace by controlling risks that can contribute to work-related stress will help you comply with OHS law.

Risk management process

  1. Find the hazards in your workplace. Identify factors associated with work-related stress (e.g. job demands).
  2. Assess the risk of injury with those hazards. That means assessing the likelihood and consequence of injury or illness resulting from work-related stress. You don't have to do a formal risk assessment if there is already information about the risk and how to control it.
  3. Control the risks. Implement risk-control measures to eliminate work-related stress risk so far as is reasonably practicable. If it is not reasonably practicable, reduce that risk so far as is reasonably practicable.
  4. Monitor and review your risk controls to ensure they address the organisational factors that have contributed or may contribute to work-related stress. Revise the controls if they are not working.

You should consult with your employees regularly. That includes independent contractors and health and safety representatives (HSRs). They have the first-hand experience to identify tasks, systems and processes that could cause or contribute to work-related stress.

Effective and genuine communication helps to:

  • ensure employees feel valued and supported
  • create a positive and less stressful work environment/culture
  • encourage employees to support implemented safety solutions

Related pages

This information is from 'Preventing and managing work-related stress: A guide for employers'. The complete guide is available in two formats.

Website version PDF guide

This page references