What is occupational stress? Definition and examples

Occupational Stress is stress stemming from one’s job, specifically arising or building up within the workplace environment. Having to cope with unexpected responsibilities may trigger this type of stress. If workers have to deal with pressures for which they do not have the necessary training or skills, their ability to cope suffers.

The terms ‘work-related stress’ or ‘work stress’ mean the same as occupational stress.

Lack of perceived support can raise stress levels. Occupational stress increases if the employee has little or no control over work processes. Extended work hours without adequate breaks can also contribute to increased occupational stress.

Occupational stress – managing it

Good stress management is vital in the workplace, says British mental health charity MIND. Workers who frequently experience high levels of work-related stress might be at risk of developing mental health problems.

Anxiety disorders and depression, for example, are mental health problems that exist in the workplace.

MIND says the following regarding having feelings of stress:

“If you often experience feelings of stress, you might be at risk of developing a mental health problem, like depression or anxiety, and stress can also make existing problems worse.”

“Building resilience can help you to adapt to challenging circumstances.”

Occupational Stress - Definition and image
In an Article published in the International Journal of Mainstream Social Science, Haradhan Mohajan describes occupational stress as: “The harmful physical and emotional responses that occur when the demands of the job exceed the capabilities, needs or resources of the worker.”

Origins of occupational stress

The workplace is fertile ground for work stress to develop. Below are some sources:

  • Financial pressures.
  • If the employee has to work too many hours.
  • Role conflict or ambiguity.
  • A negative workload.
  • A workplace with where there is a lot of drama and infighting – where personal conflicts frequently harm productivity. In other words, a ‘toxic’ environment.
  • Unlawful workplace harassment. Perhaps there are degrading comments, racial jokes and slurs, and gender harassment. There might also be religious, disability-based, age-based, and sexual orientation-based harassment.
  • An abusive, aggressive, spiteful, incompetent, or unfair boss.
  • Barriers to career development.
Causes of Occupational stress
Several factors contribute to the buildup of occupational stress.

Occupational stress – human health

Some studies have shown that high levels of work-related stress can make people ill. Some of these illnesses are fatal.


A study carried out by Chinese scientists found that work stress could raise the risk of developing some types of cancer.

The researchers gathered and analyzed data on 280,000 workers in Europe and N. America. They found that work-related stress increased the risk of lung, esophagus, and colorectal cancers.

Cardiovascular disease

Researchers at University College London examined data from 27 cohort studies in Europe, Japan, and the USA. The studies covered 600,000 men and women.

The researchers found a link between working long hours and work-related stress and a moderately higher risk of coronary heart disease. The risk of stroke was also higher.

They wrote:

“This review of evidence from over 600,000 men and women from 27 cohort studies in Europe, the USA and Japan suggests that work stressors, such as job strain and long working hours, are associated with a moderately elevated risk of incident coronary heart disease and stroke.”

“The excess risk for exposed individuals is 10-40 % compared with those free of such stressors.”


Teleworking means working remotely. This could be in a cafe, at home, or a designated work center away from the office.

Many of us imagine that occupational stress is not possible if we work from home. This is a myth.

According to a team of researchers at Baylor University, people who find it difficult to manage occupational stress in the office are also likely to have the same problem teleworking.

Professor Sara Perry, study leader, gave managers who are choosing people for telework the following advice:

I would suggest managers look at employee behaviors, rather than for personality traits, per se. For example, if someone does not handle stress well in the office, they are not likely to handle it well at home either.”

“If someone gets overwhelmed easily or reacts in big ways to requests or issues in the office, they are likely less well positioned to work remotely and handle that responsibility and stress.”

Video – What is Occupational Stress?