Stress is an individual’s reaction to excessive pressure and other demands placed on them. Pressure can keep you motivated, but too much causes stress.

Non-work factors can also contribute to someone’s stress levels. This will affect their ability to ‘bounce back’ and could leave them more vulnerable to work-related stress.

Work factors that create stress can include:

• excessive work demands

• not enough work

• fear of failure

• bullying

• poor job design.

Non-work factors that create stress can include:

• family life

• financial worries

• divorce

• birth of a child

• bereavement.

Employers should be aware of effects of stress:

•  Physiological effects: increased blood pressure, tiredness, stomach ulcers, digestive disorders, weight loss or gain, headaches, general malaise such as skin rashes, increased perspiration, aching neck and shoulder muscles, blurred vision, dizziness and lowered responses to infection

•  Emotional effects: increased tension, anxiety, depression, frustration and loss of self-esteem

•  Behavioural effects: anorexia, binge eating, misuse of alcohol or other drugs, interpersonal difficulties, insomnia, aggressive or passive behaviour, workplace conflict and absenteeism.

To manage stress effectively, managers need to address six key areas of work design:

•  Demands – what are the workload, work patterns, and the work environment?

•  Control – how much say does the individual have in the way they do their work?

•  Support – are encouragement, sponsorship and resources provided by the organisation, line management and colleagues?

•  Relationship – are there positive ways to avoid conflict and deal with unacceptable behaviour?

•  Role – do people understand their role within the organisation and does the organisation ensure that people don’t have conflicting roles?

•  Change – how is organisational change (large or small) managed and communicated in the organisation?

Find out how your organisation is performing in these six areas and comparing with what’s recognised as good practice, managers can identify potential problem areas and source of stress.