It is clear that problems caused by stress have become a major concern to both employers and employees. Symptoms of stress are manifested both physiologically and psychologically. Work stress is caused by demands and pressure from inside and outside the workplace. Work demands derive from uncertainty over where the job will take the employee, inconsistent or difficult expectations, interpersonal and physical demands.
Although the importance of individual differences cannot be ignored, scientific evidence suggests that certain working conditions are stressful to most people. Such evidence argues for a greater emphasis on working conditions as the key source of job stress, and for job redesign as a primary prevention strategy. Large surveys of working conditions, including conditions recognized as risk factors for job stress, were conducted in member states of the European Union in 1990, 1995, and 2000. Results showed a time trend suggesting an increase in work intensity. In 1990, the percentage of workers reporting that they worked at high speeds at least one-quarter of their working time was 48%, increasing to 54% in 1995 and to 56% in 2000. Similarly, 50% of workers reported that they work against tight deadlines at least one-fourth of their working time in 1990, increasing to 56% in 1995 and 60% in 2000. However, no change was noted in the period from 1995 to 2000 (data not collected in 1990) in the percentage of workers reporting sufficient time to complete tasks.
A substantial percentage of Americans work very long hours. By one estimate, more than 26% of men and more than 11% of women worked 50 hours per week or more in 2000. These figures represent a considerable increase over the previous three decades, especially for women. According to the Department of Labor, there has been an upward trend in hours worked among employed women, an increase in work weeks of greater than forty hours by men, and a considerable increase in combined working hours among working couples, particularly couples with young children.
A person's status in the workplace can also affect levels of stress. Workplace stress has the potential to affect employees of all categories. Managers as well as other kinds of workers are vulnerable to work overload. However, less powerful employees (that is, those who have less control over their jobs) are more likely to suffer stress than powerful workers.
Economic factors that employees are facing in the 21st century have been linked to increased stress levels. Researchers and social commentators have pointed out that the computer and communications revolutions have made companies more efficient and productive than ever before. This boon in productivity has caused higher expectations and greater competition, putting more stress on the employee.
The following economic factors may lead to workplace stress:
- Pressure from investors, who can quickly withdraw their money from company stocks.
- The lack of trade and professional unions in the workplace.
- Inter-company rivalries caused by the efforts of companies to compete globally.
- The willingness of companies to swiftly lay off workers to cope with changing business environments.
Bullying in the workplace can also contribute to stress. This can be broken down into five different categories:
- Threat to professional status
- Threat to personal status
- Excess Work
- Destabilization through a lack of credit for work or assignment of meaningless tasks. In effect, destabilization can create a hostile work environment for the employees that can affect their work ethic and contribution to the organization.
Non-work demands create stress inside and outside of work:
- Home demands: marriage, children and other family relationships can add stress and overload making it a role overload. The Academy of Management Journal states that this is, "an individual's lack of personal resources needed to fulfill commitments, obligations or requirements. "
- Personal demands: these are demands brought on by the person when he or she takes on too many responsibilities, inside or outside of work.