Workplace Stress Is Pervasive, Deadly, And Getting Worse

Every brilliant business article always begins with an interesting statistic, so here it is:

80% of workers feel stress on the job and nearly half say they need help in learning how to manage stress[i].

The other 20% is lucky because apparently everyone else is suffering; both at the individual and the corporate level.

Stress may not need a definition but let’s make sure that we’re all on the same page anyway.  Stress is a reaction to a situation.  It’s not about the actual situation.  We usually feel stressed when we think that the demands of a situation are greater than our ability to deal with it.[ii]  The UK Mental Health Association defines it as “…the degree to which you feel overwhelmed or unable to cope as a result of pressures that are unmanageable.”  Psychologically, it’s a fight-or-flight response that brings on physiological reactions like sweating, fear, increased heartrate and the release of adrenaline.   Stress is caused by work, finances, relationships, parenting, and day-to-day inconveniences.

There are different types of stress — acute stress, episodic acute stress, and chronic stress — each with its own characteristics, symptoms, duration, and treatment approaches,[iii] but it’s chronic stress that many people are experiencing.  Chronic stress is stress that seems never-ending and inescapable, like the stress of a bad marriage, providing long term care for an elderly parent or an extremely taxing job.

Although workplace stress isn’t new what it’s doing to us today is new.  Our workplaces now cause the majority of our worst stress and it is manifesting itself in more frequent, more damaging, more costly and more disturbing ways than ever before.

The Covid-19 Pandemic has only exacerbated all of it.  People in the healthcare, retail, hospitality, travel, and teaching industries and those who have lost loved ones to the virus, have been hit particularly hard.  The American Psychological Association says that the negative mental health effects of the coronavirus will be serious and long-lasting. [iv]

So what’s really ‘new’ about any of this?

  • What’s new is how quickly it has increased and how bad it has become. Consider this, the relationship between job stress and heart attacks is so well acknowledged in New York, Los Angeles and elsewhere, that any police officer who suffers a coronary event on or off the job is automatically assumed to have a work-related injury and is compensated accordingly (including a heart attack sustained while fishing on vacation or gambling in Las Vegas).[v]


  • What’s new is that stress related absences from work tripled between 1996 and 2000 according to one study that assessed 800,000 employees at 300 companies. A different three-year study found that 60% of employee absences could be traced to psychological problems that were due to job stress.  Stress related absenteeism is estimated to cost American companies $602.00/worker/year and if you’re a large organization, make that $3 million annually.[vi]


  • What’s new is the rise in workplace violence. Approximately 20 Americans are murdered at work each week.  It’s the second leading cause of workplace death and the number one cause for women.  18,000 sexual or other assaults occur at work each week (or one million a year).  A 2000 Integra Survey found that 42% of the respondents said that yelling and other verbal abuse is common in their workplaces.[vii]


  • What’s new is that Americans now work a month more than the Japanese (who led the pack 20 years ago in 2000) and three months more than the Germans. In a 2001 survey, nearly 40% of workers described their office environment as “most like a real-life survivor program.”[viii]


  • What’s new is that in one survey 73% of employees said they would not want their boss’s job.[ix]

Frank Kenna III, the President of The Marlin Company, sums things up well:

“Stress has become the emotional toothache of the workplace. It leads to serious impairment that can cause big mistakes and serious injuries. As the economy worsens, we need the equivalent of a root canal – employers need to help educate their people on how to fight the infection and ease the pain.” [x]

Unfortunately, for both employers and employees, Kenna’s advice is not being followed enough or, in many cases, at all.  If stress and stress-related problems are plaguing 80% of the workforce, resulting in absences, abusive behaviour, conflict, bullying, fear, and seriously affecting people’s mental and physical health, then employers who do nothing to help are standing by idly at their own peril.

Approximately 30% of employees surveyed said that management is not sufficiently sensitive to the needs, conflicts or other problems that are stressful for employees.  Nor did they believe that management was helpful in resolving such needs, conflicts or other problems.[xi]  One cannot claim to provide a safe, supportive, and people-oriented workplace while simultaneously refusing to acknowledge the reality and the impacts of workplace stress on productivity, morale and employee health.

Although there’s no quick fix for workplace stress, there are ways that organizations and individuals can mitigate its effects and learn better coping strategies.  One of the first things that you, the reader, can do is avail yourself of the quick and free UK Stress Management Society’s Individual Stress Test.  It was designed as a quick way to determine the need for further investigation with more comprehensive assessments.  Let me stress (no pun intended) that free online quizzes are generally worth what one pays for them.  Those who obtain high scores or who need additional support have no shortage of resources available to them online, in bookstores and especially via local mental health organizations.

Employers who want to alleviate workplace stress and help their employees (and thus their companies) also have many options available to them.  The first step is to identify the problem. That makes finding the solution much easier.  To do this a professionally designed and reliable stress test must be used.  Although you needn’t always be a psychiatrist to use some of these tools, be advised that because stress is closely associated with mental health most stress evaluations do require special user qualifications in order to purchase them.  Having a trained professional administer them in conjunction with a formal employee wellness program is highly recommended.

Do NOT rely upon a free, online 15-question quiz.

Tools that don’t require qualifications include assessments like the Stress Indicator & Health Planner which assesses Personal Distress, Interpersonal Stress, Wellness, Time, and Occupational Stress, or  The Stress Profile which is designed to identify characteristics and behaviors that protect against or contribute to stress, or the Stress Processing Report.  There are also occupation-specific tools available such as the Healthcare Service Ability Inventory Test to measure healthcare stress and the Index of Teaching Stress.

If better, more in-depth and more revealing measures are needed, look to the tools designed for trained professionals like the:

Workplace stress isn’t going away, even after the Pandemic is over.  All the statistics indicate that workplace and societal stress are only increasing.  If you think that your employees or your organization are immune, you’re dead wrong.  Help them and, by doing so, help yourself as well.

If you’re interested in learning more about assessments and how they can help you personally or aid you in hiring, promoting or developing employees, please contact us.  Creative Organizational Design offers 100s of assessments for all kinds of applications.  We’d be happy to learn more about your needs and help you find the right solutions.


David Towler is President of Creative Organizational Design, a firm offering nearly 40 years of expertise specializing in employee assessments and which has over 2000 different product titles available. Creative Organizational Design has 100s of assessment tools designed to help employers screen out other people’s rejects, assess skills, aptitude, attitude and ‘fit’ within an organization. For more information about the options available and help selecting the best tools for your needs please contact us.  Please send comments about this article to


[i] The American Institute Of Stress –

[ii] From: “Stress”, Canadian Mental Health Association, 2018 –

[iii] Columbia River Mental Health Services –

[iv] STRESS IN AMERICA 2020 – Stress in the Time of COVID-19 –

[v] The American Institute Of Stress –

[vi] The American Institute Of Stress –

[vii] The American Institute Of Stress –

[viii] The American Institute Of Stress –

[ix] Attitudes in the American Workplace VII –

[x] Attitudes in the American Workplace VII –

[xi] Stress At Work – National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health –


Search Articles