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Stress in the Workplace

Updated April 18, 2019

Peggy Schlechter

SDSU Extension Community Vitality Field Specialist

David Spiegel, Stanford Psychiatrist says that living a stress free life is not a reasonable goal; the goal is to deal with it actively and effectively. I have often heard that the only people who do not have stress are dead people so when I put it in those terms, I think I will choose the stress!

What is Stress?

Let’s first talk about what stress is. Stress is the condition or the feeling experienced when a person perceives that demands exceed the resources they are able to use.

According to the American Psychological Association, there are 3 types of stress.

  1. Acute Stress is the short-term stress of certain demands and pressures or when situations gone awry.
  2. Episodic Acute Stress is when an individual suffers stress frequently and their life could be described as in constant chaos and crisis or when an individual is a ceaseless worrier. This individual may be tense and anxious most of the time.
  3. Chronic Stress wears people away day after day; these are the never ending troubles of poverty, abuse, dysfunctional families, or long-term traumatic events which an individual may never see a way out. With chronic stress a belief system is created and the lifestyle becomes familiar so an individual is unable to recognize their stressful situation.

How Does Stress Relate to Work?

How does this relate to workplace stress? According to Northwestern National Life, one-fourth of employees view their jobs as the number one stressor in their lives. Three-fourths of employees believe the worker has more on-the-job stress than a generation ago according to a survey done by Princeton Research Associates.

Some typical workplace stressors include: 

  • Tighter budgets
  • Tougher workloads
  • Increased paperwork and regulations
  • Pressure to meet rising expectations

Other stressors can be unclear policies, a focus solely on revenue, co-worker drama and a hostile environment. Job stress often results when the requirements of the job do not match the capabilities, resources, or needs of the worker.

This is a huge issue for business owners because stress has taken over as the leading cause of absenteeism. Healthcare expenditures are nearly 50% greater for workers who report high levels of stress. (Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine).

Further articles will address how to manage workplace stress for greater efficiency and happier employees.


  • Northwestern National Life Insurance Company (1992). Employee burnout: Causes and cures. Minneapolis, MN: Northwestern National Life Insurance Company.
  • American Psychological Association. (2013). Stress: The different kinds of stress.
  • Goetzel R. Z., Anderson D. R., Whitmer R. W., Ozminkowski R. J., Dunn R. L., & Wasserman J. (1998). The relationship between modifiable health risks and health care expenditures: an analysis of the multi-employer HERO health risk and cost database. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 40(10).