Contributory Factors to Workplace Stress and How to Identify Them

“Stress affects people differently—what stresses one person may not affect another. Factors like skills and experience, age or disability may all affect whether a worker can cope.”

Health and Safety Executive (UK Gov)

Is work-related stress really an issue?

In recent years, work-related stress has increasingly disrupted the health and wellbeing of individuals and led to millions of working days lost in the United Kingdom. In 2022/2023 stress, anxiety, and depression accounted for 17.1 million days  lost from the workplace. The subjects of chronic stress and burnout have gained a lot of traction and momentum across all media outlets since the Covid-19 pandemic, with particular emphasis on the health and social care sector.  Human health care and social work is at the top of the list regarding the most stressful sectors to work in, with public defence and education not far behind. According to HR Review (published in February 2024): “Topping the list as the most stressful industry is human health and social work activities, with a staggering 3,530 reported stress illnesses per 100,000 workers. Despite this challenging work environment, this industry boasts one of the largest salary ranges, spanning from £17,000 to £63,000 and encompassing professions such as doctors, therapists, and nursing home assistants.”

In the addictions field (health and social care sector) the annual turnover of support workers, therapists, sober coaches, recovery workers, and nurses is high. Working in the addictions field is emotionally and psychologically demanding, and all too often, addiction facilities are understaffed and underfunded. This is why at Addcounsel, we go above and beyond to make sure our team is supported.

The most common contributory factors to stress in the workplace

Work-related stress is acknowledged by medical doctors in the UK. Although burnout is now recognised by the World Health Organisation as a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from workplace stress, a doctor in England will provide a fit note for work-related stress rather than burnout. Some patients signed off for work-related stress may also be suffering from chronic stress which will require treatment and an adjustment in lifestyle to ensure long-term recovery. Let’s explore the most common contributory factors to work-related stress.

Hostile relationships and bullying

One of the most challenging and demoralising experiences in the workplace is to be managed by a mean-spirited boss who demonstrates poor decision-making or who deliberately attempts to divide or undermine colleagues, to maintain a sense of control. Bullying in the workplace from a superior or a colleague is particularly damaging, leaving the victim feeling trapped and demoralised, especially if it occurs regularly and over a sustained period. According to the National Bullying Helpline: “70% of employee calls to our helpline have already been signed off work with work related stress by their GP. In some cases, callers have been off work for months and months and risk dismissal on grounds of ‘Capability Due to Ill Health’.”

A lack of autonomy

It’s quite normal, and often necessary, for a manager to oversee and engage directly with staff/team members, especially in the first few months of employment. And while some individuals thrive on being micromanaged, this level of supervision/control may leave some feeling undermined or that they are not trusted to carry out their roles effectively. Once the probationary period has been satisfactorily completed, and an individual is demonstrating that they are performing effectively, a degree of autonomy is paramount. Most hard-working individuals need to feel some level of control over their professional lives and to feel they can take the initiative to improve their output (this may lead to some mistakes, but this all adds to the learning curve). A common issue cited when an individual has been signed off for work-related stress is a lack of trust and autonomy impacting their self-esteem and self-image.

A lack of support

Poor support can manifest in different ways, from insufficient staff training to a failure to foster an encouraging ethos in the workplace. Persistent contradictory information from upper management or in policy and procedures, paired with poor communication can create deep resentment, confusion, and frustration in even the most brilliant of teams. Insufficient resources and unempathetic leadership can take its toll on an employee’s health.

Work overload

Even the most excellent organisations will go through a shortage in human resources from time to time, and it’s increasingly common for other team members to be asked (or expected to) pick up the slack. Although this can often be motivating for more ambitious team members wanting to use their initiative and hoping to be noticed and considered for promotion, it can often have the opposite effect and start to erode the mental health of the individual. A lack of support for the individual taking on extra responsibility and a greater workload (without compensation) can have a corrosive effect in the long-term. Feelings of anger, exhaustion and being taken for granted will take their toll if work overload persists with no sign of things slowing down. Many who have experienced work-related stress/burnout have reported that workload continued to increase with zero or sporadic financial compensation.

Job insecurity

If an individual is already experiencing a lack of support, workplace bullying or work overload, the fear of losing employment can exacerbate an already stressful situation. Announcements of potential cuts and downsizing can pile on the pressure. This can be particularly difficult if a new owner or manager steps in who needs to make cuts, regardless of whether employees have demonstrated competence, hard work, and loyalty. The need to prove oneself to a new boss who may be casting a critical eye over the business can be deeply unsettling particularly when there’s talk of letting people go. Job security alone usually doesn’t cause an individual to burn out, but it certainly adds to the list of work-related stress factors.

Poor communication

At first, poor communication in the workplace is irritating and frustrating, but if it persists and is causing disharmony in the team and leading to dissatisfied clients, severe stress usually ensues. Harvard Business Review writes on poor communication: “As more and more employees are working remotely or in hybrid work environments, the need for effective communication has become even stronger.” The article continues: “According to a recent report by FlexOS, employees gave their managers a mediocre seven out of 10 — in other words, a C — on effectively managing hybrid and remote teams. Worse, 30% said they’re frustrated by unclear communication from their bosses. Some of these challenges certainly come from the more siloed communication environment created by remote and hybrid work. According to a survey by Fishbowl, just half of all professionals even understand their company’s hybrid work plan.”

Insufficient resources

A lack of adequate resources to carry out a role effectively usually impacts those working for shoestring budget companies, from small sales offices flogging theatre tickets to underfunded mental health drop-in centres, new startups or companies struggling to make a profit. Not having the tools to carry out ones role to a high standard will add to stress and can lead to frustration and apathy if this isn’t addressed by the employer.

Financial insecurity

The fear of financial instability is a very real concern for most individuals, even for high-net-worth individuals with a large, blended family, for instance. A recent rise in inflation, cost of living crisis, and stagnation in some sectors can lead to work-related stress when the financial needs of an employee are not being met. While many ultra-high-net-worth individuals have seen their net worth increase in recent years, this is by no means the case for all.

Lack of personal development

Typically, a hard-working individual will need to feel valued and that they’re advancing in their field, even if a promotion isn’t on the cards. A lack of opportunities for personal development, from adequate staff training to being stretched beyond one’s scope of competency in an organisation, can cause resentment and dent one’s self-esteem leading to feelings of being undervalued/unappreciated. Learning new skills, regular feedback, and training can make all the difference to an employee’s wellbeing. Human beings need to feel they’re making progress especially in the workplace. Employer News (HR News for UK Employers) reports: “A new study shows that personal development is an increasingly important factor in where people work, and a key factor for job satisfaction. Sixty-five percent of UK employees consider lack of proper personal development opportunities a reason to look for a new employer.”

The causes of work-related stress

Let’s look at the most common causes of work-related stress and burnout.

  • Bullying and harassment
  • A hostile working environment
  • Continuously working with very challenging and dissatisfied clients
  • Continuous work overload with no compensation
  • Threats of downsizing and job insecurity
  • A lack of trust and autonomy
  • Unrealistic deadlines
  • A new overbearing boss/manager
  • Over-supervision and super micromanaging
  • Poor communication and contradictory information given to employees (usually caused by a clash of management or a poor communicator at the helm of the team)
  • A lack of sufficient resources
  • Feeling as though there’s a glass ceiling/few opportunities for personal development and growth
  • Crisis incidents such as a tragic death in the workplace
  • Inadequate working environment

The symptoms of work-related stress

Let’s look at the most common causes of work-related stress and burnout, starting with mental and emotional symptoms:

  • Plummeting self-confidence
  • Feeling depressed
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Deep apathy
  • A lack of motivation
  • Resentment/cynicism
  • Mood swings
  • High anxiety
  • Short-term memory loss
  • Inability to switch off when off work
  • Difficulty making decisions

Here are some of the physical symptoms of work-related stress:

  • Weight loss/gain
  • Brain fog
  • Insomnia
  • Panic attacks
  • Migraine and severe headaches
  • Feeling exhausted
  • Muscles pains and aches
  • Chest pains (sometimes heart palpitations)
  • High blood pressure
  • Hair loss
  • Indigestion/stomach pain
  • Loss of libido (sex drive)
  • Seeking ways to numb out by self-medicating with alcohol and/or drugs

Contact us today

Our experts will assess any factors that might have caused your work-related stress to develop and will leverage the world’s most extensive menu of burnout treatment services to help you get back to your old self, and create a robust aftercare programme to support re-integration into your family and lifestyle. Recovery treatment takes place in a luxury intimate, one-to-one setting in London—no groups, no other patients. Your comfort, safety and privacy are our priority.

Contact us today to start your recovery journey from the comfort and anonymity of our discreet, luxury rehabilitation accommodations in Mayfair, Chelsea, Knightsbridge or Notting Hill, London.

When you check in to our private and discreet clinics, you’ll be embarking upon a personalised burnout treatment programme tailored to your individual needs. We offer luxury private accommodation for the duration of your stay, with 24/7 access to a team of world-class experts headed by one of the UK’s leading psychiatrists.

Our integrative team is made up of a group of dedicated psychologists, physiatrists, therapists, and nutritionists who are all here to help you on your journey to burnout recovery. We combine our team’s expertise to provide a multidisciplinary treatment approach, fusing therapy, medication, and alternative treatment to improve both your physical and mental health. Contact us today to start your recovery journey.


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