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The Impact of Occupational Stress on Psychological Well-Being

Submitted by on November 10, 2017 – 3:56 PM

stressOccupational stress is one of the leading influences on our psychological well-being. It may originate from a number of causes, from work overload and insufficient pay to safety issues, unique to an individual’s working conditions and environment. Occupational stress has drastic effects on the physical, psychological and behavioral aspects of an individual’s life, and leads to changes in the personality of the worker.


As a result, people may end up with low self-esteem, unhealthy relationships, and may exhibit risk-taking behaviors such as alcohol consumption and even suicide. This global issue needs to be addressed timely with positive stress-coping techniques. Proper measures should be taken at the individual, government, national and international levels to eradicate the negative effects of occupational stress on workers’ health and organization.




All human beings in this world are involved in some sort of activity that keeps them physically and mentally busy in their lives. This state of working helps people to stay healthy. However, if increased disproportionately, the load of this work leads to the development of stress. Over the past few years, work-related stress has increased because people all around the globe are unable to cope with these stressors, and although technology and machines have reduced human workload, it is insufficient to mitigate the work-related stress of many individuals.


The World Health Organization (2015) has defined work-related stress as: “The response people may have when presented with work demands and pressures that are not matched to their knowledge and abilities and which challenge their ability to cope.” Kofoworola and Alayode (2012) have defined the two types of stress interestingly: ‘eustress’ as a friend and ‘distress’ as a foe to human beings. If stress is motivating an individual to work, it is considered as eustress (friend), whereas if this stress is somehow disturbing one’s routine and is creating discomfort, it is then termed as distress (foe).


Researchers have been exploring the subject of occupational stress extensively (Mazzola et al., 2011), as it can lead to compromised health and poor performance of employees (Malik, 2011). A study detailing the prevalence of occupational stress revealed that 65-80% of staff employed in different institutions under the private sector of Pakistan suffer from work-related stress (Shahzad et al., 2013).


The level of occupational stress may vary between different occupations, the position of an individual in the organization, responsibilities, and the way one tackle these stressors (Hussain Shah et al., 2011). However, the increasing number of work-stress victims in Pakistan is undoubtedly a matter of concern.


Causes of Occupational Stress:


There could be an entire list of occupational stressors faced by people at their workplace, however, work stress is usually associated with six main factors or stressors (Shahzad et al., 2013). According to Shahzad et al., (2013) and Beehr (2014), these include role ambiguity (lack of clarity about one’s own duties and objectives), role conflict (difficulty in playing different roles at one time), quantitative role overload (workload more than one’s ability to complete in a given time frame), qualitative role overload (expectation of the organization being higher than one’s abilities), career development (less options of self-growth and learning opportunities in a particular job), and responsibility for others (accountability for more people than are given job tasks).


Besides all the mentioned stressors, other possible causes of occupational stress include the relationship with bosses and colleagues, long working hours, overtime work, night shifts, extra duties on weekends, changes in the working environment, safety issues, insufficient pay, and discrimination at work (Hussain Shah et al., 2011). This list is incomplete as yet and will always accommodate other stressors as well, because each individual is dealing with a different work-related stressor.


Effects of Occupational Stress on Personality:


The personality of an individual is comprised of certain behaviors, feeling, and thoughts unique to a person. Personalities may change owing to certain conditions or stressful situations. Although occupational stress does not directly affect one’s personality, a personality change may still occur due to the reaction of people towards work-related stressors.


Many researchers have paid attention to the stress-strain relationship in their studies (Mazzola et al., 2011). While stress is defined as an environmental stressor, strain is the personal reaction given in a particular stress situation (Beehr, 2014). To manage work stressors, competition burden and the complexity of workplaces, people should maintain a balance between stress and strain. The famous quote of Hans Seyle (also known as “Father of Stress”) encompasses this relationship succinctly: “It’s not stress that kills us; it is our reaction to it.”


Mazzola et al. (2011) classified strain (reaction) into three categories: psychological, physical, and behavioral. According to Ford et al. (2014), psychological strain refers to negative affective (emotional) and cognitive (conscious) conditions, physical strain takes the form of psychosomatic changes such as headaches, gastrointestinal upset, fever, cold, etc., while behavioral strain is related to routine practices such as unhealthy eating habits, smoking or alcohol consumption. Nevertheless, it requires a great deal of time for an individual to incorporate psychological, physical or behavioral changes in their personality.


Occupational stress affects each individual’s personality in a different way, depending on their personality traits. Personality is classified into five broad categories on the basis of character traits; openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism (Zhang, 2012). It is found that psychological strain is common with neuroticism and conscientiousness, and people with these traits commonly suffer from occupational stress (Zhang, 2012). Extraversion and openness also contribute to occupational stress, whereas agreeableness does not significantly add to occupational stress (Zhang, 2012).


Occupational Stress and Psychological Well-being of Employees:


Occupation stress tends to have a deleterious effect on all domains of life, including the physical, psychosocial, cognitive and behavioral, which altogether affect the psychological well-being of the worker (Akintayo, 2012). Psychological well-being is a combination of subjective and hedonic well-being based on six factors (Ryff, 1995): self-acceptance (a positive attitude about oneself), positive relationships (relationships of love and respect), autonomy (self-reliant behavior), environmental mastery (an ability to adjust and adapt to changes), purpose in life (a feeling of having a worthy life), and personal growth (increase in self-knowledge by learning new skills). If workers are unable to fit in the aforementioned six-factor criteria, occupational stress is expected to hinder their psychological well-being.


Strategies and Recommendations:


There are positive as well as negative coping styles for dealing with occupational stress. Naturally, positive approaches are recommended to obtain constructive results. For example, work stress can be significantly reduced through stretch exercises, taking small breaks while working, going for a walk, taking time to rest and relax, eating some healthy snack, reducing commitments, relying on expert advice, and trying to talk about/ventilate feelings (Kofoworola & Alayode, 2012). People can opt for any stress reduction tactics from several available coping strategies, a few of which have been mentioned above.


The burning issue of occupational stress can only be addressed when organizations play their part in helping the employees to cope with it. All institutions must set up a support cell to deal with the physical and psychological concerns of staff members (Akintayo, 2012). Appointing a counselor in the organization will also help workers to ease their stress issues (Beehr, 2014). Moreover, an institution must follow a ‘sub-group strategy’ and should form groups for each task rather than relying on one person in order to delegate responsibilities, which in turn will reduce employees’ stress level (Beehr, 2014).


The national government and all international organizations are equally responsible for the containment of this issue before occupational stress results in devastating effects on the global population. All non-governmental health-and-welfare organizations should join hands to eradicate this issue. Steps should be taken on an international platform to create a global standard criterion for healthy working environments (Burton, 2010).


Governments of countries all across the world should take prompt actions to ensure a stress-free working environment to their employees (Burton, 2010), so as to not only improve the health of employees but also to add to their enhanced performance and the company’s progress.


Research Needs:


Over the past few years, researchers have been poring over the issue of occupational stress and its impact on human beings (Mazzola et al., 2011). However, more research is still needed to fully understand the effect of occupational stress on personality and well-being.


Research should be done on possible strategies to reduce work-related stress in staff members, techniques to tackle stressful situations, and standard policies to create a stress-free working environment. Researchers are currently working on ways to reduce and allow management of occupational stress to fill in the research gaps. However, more research is required in order to eradicate the issue from its roots.




The issue of occupational stress is a growing concern of the 21st-century world. There are many causes of occupational stress, including qualitative and quantitative work overload, role ambiguity and conflict, lack of opportunity for personal growth, and burden of responsibilities. Occupational stress has a different impact on each individual depending on their ability to cope with it. It changes one’s personality, disturbs their psychological well-being, lowers self-esteem, disrupts relationships, makes people dependent on others, and makes adjustment and coping difficult for people.


If these issues are not resolved, a person under occupational stress may experience physical, psychological and behavioral changes that may last permanently. The stressed-out worker may also become involved in risk-taking behaviors, alcohol consumption, and suicide. Therefore, it is essential to work out this issue to prevent any negative consequences.


Some positive stress-reducing tactics are daily exercise, talking, taking breaks, relaxing and ventilating feelings. Organizations can also help their employees by delegating responsibilities and providing counselor services in their institution. Government and international health-and-welfare institutions should make policies to create a standard stress-free working environment for employees all around the world. Taking into consideration the aforementioned strategies and recommendations, the stress level of employees can indeed be reduced, allowing them to work freely in a healthy stress-free environment and enhance their organization’s productivity.




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