What is stressing employees out?

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Last week I wrote about assessing and defining stress in your own life and this week thought it equally important to tackle understanding types of stress and addressing the question: What stresses out employees?

First, I would like to briefly describe three different types of stress. It is useful to distinguish how long-lasting stressors are, which results in the following major categories (Greenberg, 2005).

Acute stressors: those that bring some form of sudden change that threatens us either physically or psychologically, requiring people to make unwanted adjustments. For example, you may be assigned a different shift at work, requiring you to get up earlier in the morning and eat meals at different times.

Episodic stressors: are the result of experiencing lots of acute stressors in a short period of time, such as “one of those days” in which everything goes wrong. In other words, you are experiencing particularly stressful episodes in life. This would be the case, for example, if within the course of a week you have a serious disagreement with one of your subordinates, you lose a major sales account, and then, to top it off, the pipes burst in your office, causing water to ruin important papers and your computer.

Many of the most commonly encountered stressors in organizations are episodic in nature. If you think about these, it’s not difficult to recognize how they actually are composed of several different acute stressors. For example, fear of losing one’s job includes concerns over money, threats to self-esteem, embarrassment, and other acute stressors.

Chronic stressors: are the most extreme type of stressor because they are constant and unrelenting in nature, and they a long-term effect on the body, mind, and spirit. For example, a person experiences chronic stressors if he or she is in a long-term abusive relationship with a boss or a spouse or has a debilitating disease (e.g., arthritis or migraine headaches) that adversely affects his or her ability to work. In recent years in which layoffs have become common, people have suffered stress due to considerable uncertainties about their future.

Next take a moment to now come back to the question: what stresses out employees? Having too much work to do and fear of being laid off are among people’s most common concerns. As you might imagine, these sources of stress are both harmful to individual workers and to their organizations (Northwestern National Life Insurance Company, 1999).  Drawing from Greenberg (2005), I have listed out some other common episodic stressors in the workplace:

  • Lack of involvement in organizational decisions
  • Unrelenting and unreasonable expectations for performance
  • Poor communication with coworkers
  • Fear of losing one’s job
  • Spending long amounts of time away from home
  • Office politics and conflict
  • Not being paid fairly given one’s level of responsibility and performance

With all this information about stress I would like to note that I plan on writing about ways of dealing with stress in an organization and some consequences of it,  in my next blog post.



Greenberg, J. (2005). Managing behavior in organizations. Pearson Prentice Hall.

Northwestern National Life Insurance Company. (1999). Employee burnout: America’s newest epidemic. Minneapolis, MN: Author.


One thought on “What is stressing employees out?

  1. Pingback: Major effects of organizational stress: What can be done to reduce stress? | Leadership Archways

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