Job Stress – Meaning and Causes

PSYCH-105 Industrial Psychology

Chapter 10: Stress Management

Unit 1

Unit 2

Unit 3

Unit 4


Job Stress

Job stress means the harmful physical and emotional responses that occur when the requirements of the job do not match the capabilities, resources or need of the worker.

“Job stress is a condition arising from the interaction of the people and their jobs, and characterized by changes within people that force them to deviate from the normal functioning.” – Beehr and Newman

It is recognized world-wide as a major challenge to individual mental and physical health, and organizational health (ILO 1986). Stressed workers are also more likely to be unhealthy, poorly motivated, less productive and less safe at work. And their organizations are less likely to succeed in a competitive market.

Work-related stress occurs when there is a mismatch between the demands of the job and the resources and capabilities of the individual worker to meet those demands. Following are some of the example of work related stress.

Fig.: Model of work stress by Palmer and Cooper, 2001

Causes of Job Stress

Stress has become increasingly common in organizations, largely because of increased job complexity and increased economic pressure on individuals. The major job conditions that cause stress for employees are: 

I. Organizational Stressors

1. Factors intrinsic to the job

Work overload, Time pressure, Having too many decisions to make, Long hours, Fatigue from physical strains of the work environment, Excessive travel are the factors related to job that create or increases stress.

2. Role in the organization

The source of stress in organizational role includes work overload, insufficient amount of work, role ambiguity (uncertainty), role conflict, responsibility towards people and things and other stressors such as lack of participation in decision making, lack of managerial support, continuous unreasonable performance demands and need for maintaining standards of performance.

3. Interpersonal relationships at work

Relationships with one’s boss, subordinates and colleagues. Poor relations involve low trust, low supportiveness and low interest in listening to and dealing with organizational problems of the members, lack of adequate support from colleagues during difficult situations and bullying or harassment, by anyone, not necessarily a person’s manager. “Things oriented” managers create more stress then “people oriented” managers.

4. Organizational structure and culture

Source of stress involves perception of being in the organization and a threat to one’s freedom, autonomy, and identity. Little or no participation in decision making, lack of effective consultation, poor communication, restrictions on behaviour and politics.

5. Organizational leadership

Leadership style may also cause stress. If leader is autocratic and subordinate is creative and wants some responsibilities, or leader applies laissez faire leadership style but subordinates want a great deal of social support from him, then stress will be the result. 

6. Group pressures

Group pressure may include pressure to restrict output, to conform to the group’s norms and so forth. If someone performs much more or less may be pressurized to get back in line. 

7. Poor working conditions

Extreme heat, noise and overcrowding can result in stress amongst employees.

II. Individual Stressors

1. Career development

There are two major clusters of stressors relating to career development:

(a) lack of job security (fear of redundancy, obsolescence, or early retirement);

(b) status incongruity (under or over promotion and frustration stemming from attainment of one’s career ceiling) 

2. Type A and Type B

Some people have high level of urgency and aggressiveness for their work and are time conscious (type A) while others are less in hurry, have relaxed and balanced approach and have weaker sense of time urgency. They all feel stress in different situations. 

3. Life change

Some changes in personal and/or professional life may create stress like change of residence, addition of a new member in family or fired from work, retirement etc.

4. Life trauma

A life trauma is an upheaval in an individual’s life that alters his/her attitudes, emotion or behaviour like death of significant family member, health problems, divorce etc. Life trauma is similar to life change but it has a narrower, more direct and shorter-term focus. 

5. Locus of control

The degree of control that an individual exercises over his work is known as the locus of control. If an individual feels that he has no control over his job he is more likely to feel stressed out.

6. Cognitive dissonance

When there is a gap between what we do and what we think, then we experience cognitive dissonance, which is felt as stress.

III. Group Stressors

1. Absence of group cohesiveness

If the task is designed in such a way that it does not encourage group cohesiveness or other group members exclude an employee, or if the manager prohibits an employee from being a participant in group activities, then all these situations will create stress.

2. Absence of support from other members

In the absence of support of others within the group, they have no one to share their problems. Consequently, they may bottle up their feelings and experience high level of stress.

3. Conflicts related to the group

When the group member experience conflict between his personal goals and group goals he may experience high levels of stress. responsibilities and pressures disrupting life balances (diet, exercise, sleep and rest, play, family-time, etc.)

IV. Extra Organizational Stressors

These sources of stress are varied including family problems, life crisis, financial difficulties, and conflict between family and company demands.

1. Social and technological changes

Increase in urbanization, along with accompanying elements such as time pressure, overcrowding and fast lifestyles have reduced the well being of individuals and increased their chances of experiencing stress.

2. Family problems

Research states that when both husband and wife are working their high level of stress in that family.

3. Residential and community conditions

The social level, region and community to which employees belong also play an important role in determining their stress levels, such as lack of neighbourliness in huge apartment complexes.

Author – Dr. Niyati Garg

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