Workplace stress affects the wellbeing of professionals across the globe—and according to Gallup’s most recent State of the Global Workplace report, it’s been on the rise for 15 years.

According to the report, 44 percent of respondents said they experienced negative emotions the previous day. 

In the European Union, the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) carried out a survey in 2022 in which 26.8 percent of the 27,000 respondents reported feeling “stress, depression, or anxiety caused or made worse by work.”

Similarly, a report by the American Psychological Association (APA) found that a whopping 79 percent of American professionals “experienced work-related stress in the month before the survey.” 

And it doesn’t stop at wellbeing. Workplace stress costs the United Kingdom’s economy £28 billion annually. It costs the United States more than $300 billion. 

But there is a silver lining for businesses: Investing in mental health and wellbeing is financially beneficial. Research by the World Health Organization (WHO) indicates that for every $1 businesses invest in mental health, they see a $4 return in improved health and productivity. 

In fact, proactively addressing stress can significantly reduce absenteeism, improve retention rates, and nurture a happier, healthier work environment. 

In this post, we’ll delve into the signs of stress in the workplace, its most common causes, and some effective strategies for tackling it.

How to identify signs of stress

Recognizing the early warning signs of stress can make all the difference when it comes to addressing it. 

Stress can manifest in different forms, both obvious and subtle. Signs can include:

  • Increased arguments between teammates
  • More frequent sick days
  • Moodiness or visible fatigue
  • Declines in motivation and confidence
  • Longer working hours with decreased productivity
  • A sudden drop in work quality
  • Changes in appearance, such as looking unkempt or experiencing sudden weight changes
  • Rising levels of turnover and attrition
  • Increased cynicism or negativity
  • More complaints and reports of being stressed

Communication also plays an important role in identifying when team members are stressed. Line managers can set up regular discussions around stress and its effects with their teams—either as a group or during one-on-ones. 

These conversations can reveal the nature of the stressors. Sometimes, very specific external issues—such as illness, family or financial problems, or a newborn at home—may cause a team member to feel stressed.

It’s important for managers to be aware of these external stressors, since they can impact the work performance and behavior of their team members significantly.

The most common causes of workplace stress

But why has work stress been on the rise?

Understanding the root causes of stress at work makes it easier to take steps toward solving and preventing the issue. Common causes include:

  • Heavy workloads. Overwhelming amounts of work can lead to significant stress and burnout.
  • Insufficient workloads. Surprisingly, having too little work can also cause stress. It can make professionals feel like their employers aren’t using their skills. This can cause people to worry about job security.
  • Job security concerns. Doubts about job stability can breed anxiety, although just 16 percent of professionals report it as one of the causes of their workplace stress.
  • Colleagues and bullying. Difficult workplace relationships, conflicts with co-workers, and bullying have a strong impact on mental health.
  • Skills gaps and lack of training. Inadequate training and support can leave people feeling unprepared, overwhelmed by work demands, and stressed as a result.
  • Bad management. Micro-management can inhibit team members from performing at their best. It can also make them feel like they always have to look over their shoulders. Weak leadership and multiple reporting lines can erode team members’ confidence in their organization’s ability to support them with any challenges they’re facing. 
  • Lack of communication. Poor communication leads to misunderstandings and can also mean team members don’t express their needs when they feel overwhelmed.
  • Blame culture. A culture that blames individuals for mistakes—making them feel like they’re walking on eggshells—creates a stressful workplace culture founded on fear. 
  • Lack of control. Professionals manage stress better when they know what they can control. When people are unable to influence decisions, processes, and ways of working, they’re more likely to experience higher stress levels. 
  • Lengthy commutes. Long and arduous commutes can add to daily stress.
  • Working from home. Equally, the shift to remote work has its own stressors. Remote work may isolate people and lead to feelings of loneliness. It can also blur boundaries between work and personal life, disrupting work-life balance. 
  • Adapting to change. Constant changes in the workplace can create uncertainty and make people feel like they don’t have the stability they need to handle the demands of their work.

Developing workplace stress management strategies

Effective stress management in the workplace does more than reduce stress—it also increases satisfaction and retention rates. The most effective way to manage stress is to put strategies in place to prevent it and address it when it arises. 

Below are some key strategies:

Speak openly about mental health

Creating a culture that encourages open discussions about mental health is vital, especially between managers and team members. That way, team members can feel safe to speak to their managers about their mental health and access the support they need.

You can create a culture that speaks openly about mental health by:

  • Discussing signs of stress at company meetings
  • Sharing articles on mental health with colleagues
  • Including mental health awareness in onboarding programs and performance reviews

Implement a zero-tolerance policy for toxic behavior

Toxic behavior can create a stressful work environment. A staggering 71 percent of professionals have experienced toxic management at some point in their careers. 

To maintain a healthy workplace culture, it’s essential to prevent toxic behaviors and management practices by implementing a zero-tolerance policy for toxic behavior by anyone. Establish clear consequences for that behavior, should it arise. 

Encourage daily welfare practices

Promote daily welfare practices to help your people manage stress at work. This can include:

  • Encouraging taking breaks throughout the day
  • Encouraging wellness walks during the day
  • Offering yoga and meditation classes in the office
  • Providing discounts on gym memberships

These practices can help team members take care of their physical and mental health, reduce stress, and increase overall wellbeing. It’s important to encourage these stress management techniques at work and ensure managers lead by example since there can be a lot of stigma around leaving the office during the workday.

What can HR do to reduce, prevent, and manage stress at work?

HR plays an integral role in reducing, preventing, and managing stress at work. Some effective stress management strategies in the workplace include:

Building a culture of support networks

Creating support networks within your organization can provide team members with the emotional and professional support they need. This can include mentorship programs, peer support groups, ERGs, and regular check-ins with managers.

Providing mental health resources

Offering mental health resources, such as access to counseling services and online mental health tools, provides your people with the professional support they need to look after their wellbeing.

Holding workshops

Workshops on stress management, yoga, and meditation can teach professionals how to deal with stress at work and raise awareness around the issue and its causes.

Promoting healthy behaviors

Encouraging your people to adopt the healthy behaviors listed below can lay the foundations for a healthier work environment:

  • Track stressors
  • Meditate
  • Develop healthy responses to stress
  • Establish boundaries
  • Take paid time off to recharge
  • Ask for and accept help 

Establishing resilience circles

Resilience circles, where team members share their experiences and coping strategies, can provide a sense of community, connection, and support.

Leading by example

Managers and high-level leaders can lead by example by taking advantage of benefits such as counseling services, participating in meditation and yoga classes, and accepting help when they need it. This encourages team members to prioritize their own mental health and adopt these healthy behaviors themselves.  

Less stress means better business

By recognizing the signs of stress, understanding its common causes, and implementing effective stress reduction programs in the workplace, businesses can significantly improve wellbeing and retention among their people. 

Investing in mental health isn’t just good for your people—it’s also a smart business move. It leads to improved health and productivity and creates a work environment that ensures organizations and their people can flourish. 

Tali Sachs

From Tali Sachs

Tali is a content marketing manager at HiBob. She's been writing stories since before she knew what to do with a pen and paper. When she's not writing, she's reading sci-fi, snuggling with her cats, or singing at an open mic.