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Work-related stress

6-minute read

Key facts

  • Work-related stress can occur if what's expected of you at work is more than you feel you can manage.
  • It may be caused by a heavy workload, conflict in your workplace or unsupportive work-mates.
  • You might feel irritable or moody, or you may have panic attacks and find it hard to concentrate on your work.
  • Avoid work-related stress by taking regular breaks, making time for things you enjoy and not taking on more than you can handle.
  • It may be good for your mental health to take on flexible work hours, with some days in the office and some days working remotely.

What is work-related stress?

In general, work is good for your mental health. It can give your life a sense of meaning and help you connect to other people. Having some stress at work from time to time can be good too — it can motivate you to do your job better.

If you have too much stress at work, it can harm you both professionally and personally. You may feel stressed if there's a mismatch between what's expected of you at work and what you're able to do. You might feel you're under too much pressure, or that you don't have enough support and it can be hard for you to do well at your job.

Who might be affected by work-related stress?

Workplace stress can affect your family life, your relationships outside of work and your work-life balance.

Workplace stress also affects employers. It is estimated to cost Australian businesses hundreds of millions of dollars a year in workers' compensation claims. Reducing stress at work is matter of workplace health and safety, and it's in an employer's best interests to reduce the effects of work-related stress.

What causes work-related stress?

There are many reasons why your work might make you feel stressed, such as:

  • long hours or a heavy workload
  • inflexible deadlines
  • conflict, bullying or sexual harassment in your workplace
  • lack of support from your co-workers or manager
  • lack of appreciation for your efforts
  • an environment that is too noisy, hot, cold, dusty or uncomfortable

If you have a mental health condition, such as anxiety or depression, your employer is required by law to ensure your work environment doesn't make your mental health worse. If they are not supportive of your needs, you might feel discriminated against.

How do I know if I am experiencing work-related stress?

Symptoms of work-related stress include:

  • panic attacks
  • feeling tense and edgy
  • difficulty sleeping or eating
  • getting upset or angry easily
  • headaches
  • feeling tired
  • drinking or smoking more than usual

Changes in your behaviour may include:

  • being late all the time or staying home
  • not wanting to participate in meetings or staff events
  • not being able to concentrate and feeling distracted
  • not being able to complete work and feeling overwhelmed
  • distancing yourself from other people at work and at home

What can I do to deal with stress at work?

There are many ways to manage work-related stress. Some of these strategies may not be realistic for your job, workplace or individual situation, so think about which ones may work for you.

You can prevent pressure and improve your work-life balance by:

  • not taking on too many stressful things at once
  • making time for a break during your work day
  • taking on flexible work hours
  • limiting overtime
  • not taking work home with you
  • not answering work calls or emails when you're at home
  • taking regular holidays
  • making time for things you enjoy, such as spending time with family, hobbies or sport

You might want to try relaxation techniques, such as meditation or mindfulness.

If you're struggling, it might help to talk to:

Find out if your workplace has an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). This is a service that provides counselling and help with your mental health. It is usually available at no cost to you.

Does it help to work remotely?

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, many workplaces are now set up with remote work options. Many people have taken up hybrid work, spending some days in the office and the rest working from home.

This means you can enjoy the advantages of both — the social interaction and teamwork that come with working in the office, along with the flexibility and independence that come with working from home.

Hybrid work is often good for mental health. You might feel isolated when you're working remotely. However, this is less of a problem if you're spending some time in the office with supportive colleagues.

Sometimes remote work can cause stress — for example, if you're having trouble connecting with colleagues or if your manager doesn't trust you to work well at home. It can also cause stress and resentment in a workplace if not everyone can work remotely. It depends on how your employer handles it.

Resources and support

Contact Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636 to talk to a counsellor.

Check out SANE for online resources or call their support line on 1800 187 263.

Try completing this wellbeing plan from Beyond Blue, which can help you work out what makes you stressed at work and how you can deal with it.

Here are some other things to try:

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: July 2023

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