Workplace Stress

Understanding the Problem

Loneliness. Isolation. Uncertainty. Grief. Fear. Stress can increase these and other mental health challenges and can be harmful to our health. The amount and type of stress experienced varies from person to person due to many factors, including those experienced at work.

While there are many things in life that induce stress, work can be one of those factors. Workplace stress and poor mental health can negatively affect workers through their job performance and productivity, as well as with their engagement with others at work. It can also impact worker physical health, given that stress can be a risk factor for various cardiovascular diseases. However, workplaces can also be a key place for resources, solutions, and activities designed to improve our mental health and well-being.

Work has always presented various stress. Workers are constantly dealing with new stressors introduced to the workplace, and in some instances, these stressors have amplified other issues at work. More than 80% of US workers have reported experiencing workplace stress, and more than 50% believe their stress related to work impacts their life at home. Workplace stressors may include:

  • Concerns about job security (e.g., potential lay-offs, reductions in assigned hours).
  • Lack of access to the tools and equipment needed to perform work safely.
  • Fear of employer retaliation
  • Facing confrontation from customers, patients, co-workers, supervisors, or employers.
  • Adapting to new or different workspace and schedule or work rules.
  • Having to learn new or different tasks or take on more responsibilities.
  • Having to work more frequent or extended shifts or being unable to take adequate breaks.
  • Physically demanding work.
  • Learning new communication tools and dealing with technical difficulties.
  • Blurring of work-life boundaries, making it hard for workers to disconnect from the office.
  • Finding ways to work while simultaneously caring for children including overseeing online schooling or juggling other caregiving responsibilities while trying to work, such as caring for sick, elderly, or disabled household members.
  • Concerns about work performance and productivity.
  • Concerns about the safety of using public transit as a commuting option.

These, and many other, work-related stressors can take a toll on a person's sense of well-being and negatively impact their mental health. For some, these stressors can contribute to serious problems, such as the development or exacerbation of mental health challenges (e.g., anxiety disorder, depression disorder or substance use disorders.) Psychologists and psychiatrists are sounding the alarm about a mental health crisis forming, and data supporting their concerns have started to emerge. As one example, survey results from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggest that about 40 percent of U.S. adults were experiencing negative mental or behavioral health effects in June 2020, including symptoms of anxiety disorder or depressive disorder, trauma-related symptoms, new or increased substance use, or suicidal thoughts. An article published by the National Safety Council in August 2020 detailing a spike in opioid overdoses further highlights the need for more mental health resources.

Because of the many potential stressor's workers may be experiencing, a comprehensive approach is needed to address stressors throughout the community, and employers can be part of the solution. More than 85% of employees surveyed in 2021 by the American Psychological Association reported that actions from their employer would help their mental health. The goal is to find ways to alleviate or remove stressors in the workplace to the greatest extent possible, build coping and resiliency supports, and ensure that people who need help know where to turn. This toolkit offers resources and tips that employers, workers, and co-workers can use to support each other. Unions and worker organizations can also use these resources to support worker mental health.

OSHA Resources