Work related stress: what is it and how to manage it

In the recent ERSI report on job stress and working conditions, they stated that “17 per cent of Irish employees experienced job stress. This was an increase from 8 per cent in 2010, meaning that job stress doubled over the course of five years.” Whilst Ireland is below average across nine other countries in Western Europe, the report highlights that we are one of the countries that is “showing the steepest increase in job stress between 2010 and 2015.”


Work related stress is a growing issue and is one of the top ten queries that the SFA received this year so we take you through the definition of work related stress, some potential causes of it and a five step plan to help you manage it.


What is work related stress?


The Health and Safety Authority guideline defines Work Related Stress as “stress caused or made worse by work. It simply refers to when a person perceives the work environment in such a way that his or her reaction involves feelings of an inability to cope. It may be caused by perceived/ real pressures/ deadlines/ threats/ anxieties within the working environment.”


What this means is that stress itself is not an illness but the impact of stress could bring about physical or mental illnesses. In addition, work related stress affects people in different ways. One person may thrive in a highly pressurised environment and another person will suffer under it.


Under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, all employers must have a safety statement in place that outlines the hazards and risks in their workplace. It needs to document the control measures to eliminate or reduce those hazards or risks and this applies to both physical and mental hazards.  


Work related stress is not a one-way street where the employer carries all of the burden, it is important that employees are made aware of their health and safety obligations, so they need to inform you if they are experiencing work related stress as you cannot resolve the issue unless you are aware of it.


What can cause work related stress?


Listed below are some examples of what may cause work related stress or what the Health and Safety Authority refer to as psychosocial hazards such as:

  • Job content: Lack of variety, meaningless or repetitive work, ill-defined work roles
  • Workload: Either too much or too little work, high pressure for prolonged periods
  • Work schedule: Change in work schedule, inflexible or unpredictable or unsocial work hours, night shift working
  • Control: Lack of control over workload, little to no input in decision making
  • Environmental: Threat of violence, poor equipment or poor conditions in the workplace

The SFA five step plan to managing work related stress

  1. Create a culture that recognises and welcomes discussion on work related stress

Create an open culture that allows an employee to approach you if they are struggling with work related stress especially if there is a change to the business, for example expansion, redundancies, change in shift patterns and so forth. Encourage input from your employees as they may be able to provide solutions to an issue that could be causing work related stress.

  1. Do not ignore complaints of work related stress

It is essential that you do not dismiss or ignore complaints of work related stress even if they may appear to be frivolous. It is important to meet with and listen to the employee. Even the act of sitting with them and actively listening can make a big difference to the employee. It may be possible that both of you can work out a plan of action to reduce or remove the cause of the work related stress or some other workable solution for both parties.

  1. Avail of the Work Positive Tool to assess potential risks of work related stress

The Health and Safety Authority have relaunched their Work Positive Tool which you can avail of for free. It takes the user through a series of questions and gives an indication in certain key areas of work related stress. It takes about 30 minutes to complete and is a great way to assess what, if any areas you need to work on. It is ideal for businesses that have 10 or more employees.

  1. Create a policy that deals with work related stress

The Work Positive tool is a great starting point in 1) identifying 2) defining and 3) controlling those risks and hazards and will form the back bone of your policy on work related stress or well-being policy.

  1. Follow up with sick certs that cite work related stress

If you receive a sick cert that cites work related stress follow up with the employee whilst they are on sick leave to see if you can offer them any additional supports. This could be a phased return to work, a change of duties if possible, or access to an Employee Assistance programme. 


EAPIreland are part of the SFA affinity programme and are offering discounts on EAP services to our members.


If you have any further queries on work related stress or need additional advice contact Helen Quinn on 01 605 1668 or

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SFA E-zine - The Tuesday Edition
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Work related stress: what is it and how to manage it
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