The Causes Of Stress

The recognized causes of work-related stress are numerous and fall into several categories:

Work Practices

  • people unable to exert any control or influence over the demands placed upon them
  • lack of a clear job description or chain of command
  • a high degree of uncertainty about job security or career prospects
  • temporary work and fixed term contracts
  • lack of any understanding leadership
  • cuts in government and local government funding leading to increased workloads
  • long hours cultures
  • no recognition or reward for good job performance
  • no opportunity to voice complaints
  • heavy responsibilities with no authority or decision making discretion
  • no opportunity to use personal talents or abilities
  • inadequate time to complete tasks to personal or company standards
  • chances for small error or momentary lapse of attention to have serious or even disastrous consequences


  • pressures piling one on top of another
  • pressures are unremitting or prolonged
  • there is confusion caused by conflicting demands

Harassment or bullying

  • prolonged conflict between individuals
  • exposure to prejudice regarding your age, gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity or religion

Management techniques

  • new management techniques including:
  • Human Resource management
  • Lean Production
  • Business process re-engineering and Total Quality management, which is described in managers handbooks as 'management by stress'

Environment and technology

  • unpleasant or hazardous working conditions
  • technology controlling workers, for example power
  • 'dialing' systems used in telephone banking where there are no gaps between calls and staff have no control

Bullying is a major cause of stress

What is Bullying?

Bullying can be defined as 'the unjust exercise of power by one individual over another using means frighten, denigrate or injure the victim'.

Bullying may be characterised as:

  • The use of offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power through a variety of means.
  • European nations often refer to this process as 'mobbing'.
  • Bullying or harassment may be by an individual against an individual (perhaps by someone in a position of authority such as a manager or supervisor) or involve groups of people. It may be obvious or it may be insidious. Whatever form it takes, it is unwarranted and unwelcome to the individual.
  • Bullying and harassment do not necessarily take place face to face. They may also occur in written communications, electronic (e)mail, phone and automatic supervision methods such as computer recording of downtime from work or the number of calls handled if these are not applied to all workers.
  • Bullying and harassment make someone feel anxious and humiliated. Feelings of anger and frustration at being unable to cope may be triggered. Some people may try to retaliate in some way. Others may become frightened and demotivated.
  • Stress, loss of self-confidence and self-esteem caused by harassment or bullying can lead to job insecurity, illness, absence from work and even resignation. Almost always job performance is affected and relations in the workplace suffer.
  • Professor Cary Cooper (UMIST) in his research work in the mid-1990's estimated that some 40 million working days a year were lost because of bullying in the workplace, this being 160 times more than days lost by industrial action.
  • The overall cost to the economy of bullying was estimated in 1995 to be £3 to £4 billion.

Signs of organisational bullying in the workplace

  • Rapid staff turnover; rising sickness and absenteeism rates
  • Otherwise inexplicable declines in productivity
  • Whole departments or sections appearing to be defective
  • Lack of motivation and low morale
  • Loss of respect for management
  • Fear culture

Responding to bullying

  • Raise the issue with work colleagues and trades union
  • Keep written records of all bullying incidents
  • Confront the bully about his/her behaviour
  • Use appropriate in-house procedures
  • Share the problem with a friend
  • Respond in writing to bullying memos and keep copies
  • Establish status of meetings before agreeing to attend, take a 'friend'
  • Raise issues with appropriate senior managers
  • Seek counselling and support via the employer
  • Record all absences due to bullying and submit form BI100a to the Department of Work & Pensions, keeping a copy.

Next: The Cost of Work-Related Stress