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Work-related stress

Stress is a mental and physical condition. It happens when pressure affects how well we perceive we can cope. The sources of such pressure or demand are called stressors.

Work-related stress (WRS) is the conditions, practices and events at work which may give rise to stress. Work-related stress is caused or made worse by work.

There are positive and negative types of stress. Positive stress gives a sense of challenge and excitement. Negative stress causes worry, anxiety and agitation.

Symptoms of stress

Stress has many signs and symptoms.

Symptoms of mental stress (how the mind works):

  • indecisiveness
  • finding it hard to concentrate
  • poor memory
  • feelings of inadequacy
  • low self-esteem

Symptoms of behavioural stress (the things we do):

  • finding it hard to sleep
  • change in eating habits
  • smoking or drinking more
  • avoiding friends and family

Symptoms of physical stress (how the body works):

  • tiredness
  • indigestion and nausea
  • headaches
  • aching muscles

Symptoms of cognitive and emotional stress (how we think and concentrate):

  • irritable or angry
  • anxious
  • feeling numb
  • hypersensitivity (easily hurt, worried or offended)
  • feeling drained and listless

Preventing work-related stress

HSE’s approach to managing work-related stress focuses on risk assessment and hazard reduction. This approach aims to identify potential risks, put control measures in place and engage collaboratively with staff to address hazards.

Table 1: Interventions to support you in responding to work-related stress - organisation and employees (non-exhaustive list)

Intervention Type:


Healthcare Workers:


aim of primary interventions is to prevent stress from occurring by removing the sources of stress and enhancing the causes of well-being thereby reducing the need for future interventions.

Risk Assessment Training

Management training e.g. Mentoring Frist Time Managers Training

Implementation of Corporate Safety Statement

Site/Service Safety Statement

Health and Safety Policies

Creating and investing in safe and health work environments

Implement Dignity at Work Framework

Supporting Your Staffs Mental Health – a programme for HSE Managers -HSELanD training.

Selection & Assessment & best practice recruitment processes

Pre-employment medical examination

Health & Safety Training catalogue on HSELanD

Local Induction

Corporate Induction- HSELanD training

Training Programmes

Annual Work Reviews Personal Development Plan -HSELanD training

Dignity at Work - HSELanD


aim of secondary prevention is to reduce the severity or duration of stress once it has occurred and to prevent the level of stress becoming problematic

Using best practice recruitment processes

Induction process training on HSELanD

Providing identified training requirements to HCWs

Providing any needed coaching, mentoring and support for the employee

Providing performance feedback

Access to competent H&S advice and support

Access to Organisational Health

Access to Occupational Health and EAP

Staff Engagement

Stress Management Training & Workshops

Health Promotion, e.g., focus on individual health

Access to Occupational Health and EAP

Personal and Interpersonal skills training

Stress Control Programmes

Consultancy & Advisory

Access to specialised clinical services for employees that need them


aim is to manage, rehabilitate and minimise potential harm.

Confidential advice, guidance, support or counselling

Access to specialist clinical services for managers that need professional advice

Access to support services EAP confidential supports advice & counselling

Critical Incident Stress Management

Occupational Health Services

Manager responsibilities

As a manager, you are responsible for:

  • ensuring employees are aware of the Policy for prevention and management of stress in the workplace 2018 (PDF, 1.5MB, 44 pages)
  • promoting a positive and supportive work environment
  • carrying out regular risk assessments on stressors like work demands and changes in working practices
  • communicating to employees any change in the workload, work environment or work patterns
  • giving your staff an opportunity to discuss work-related stress
  • completing the 'Supporting your staff mental health - a programme for HSE managers' (available on HSELand)
  • recognising the signs of stress in yourself and others.
  • not engaging in behaviour that may give rise to stressors in the workplace
  • supporting your staff

Stress at work risk assessment

As a manager, you should complete a workplace risk assessment together with an individual employee or with their team to identify stressors in the workplace.

The risk assessment measures 6 key potential sources of stress at work:

  • demands - excessive demands or conflicts in the working environment
  • control - having inadequate say over how work is done
  • support - having inadequate support from managers or co-workers
  • relationships - being subjected to unacceptable behaviours including harassment or violence
  • role - not understanding roles and responsibilities
  • change - not being involved and informed in organisational change

You should put a plan in place to reduce employees' exposure to workplace stressors.

A risk assessment should be carried out :

  • proactively with an individual employee or collaboratively with a team; or
  • with an individual employee or with a team that may be experiencing workplace stress

Employee responsibilities

As an employee, you are responsible for:

  • protecting your safety, health and welfare, and that of others, including efforts to prevent or reduce stress
  • reporting to your manager any work practices that cause unnecessary stress
  • taking part in risk assessments and control measures
  • not engaging in behaviour that may give rise to stressors in the workplace
  • attend relevant training
  • work with your manager and colleagues to reduce any work stressors

Support and advice for employees

It is normal for us to feel under pressure and experience stress symptoms at various times in our working and private life. Learning about stress reactions and how stress impacts us, helps make it more manageable.

You can try and prevent work-related stress by:

  • talking things through with someone, this can help lessen stress or anxiety
  • not trying to appear strong and managing everything by yourself
  • contacting Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) - a free counselling service for staff

You should raise issues relating to stress with your manager.

Your manager may, if you agree, refer you to a support service.

This could be:

You may contact these support services directly. You can do this without discussing the issue with your manager. You can also ask your General Practitioner (GP) for support and to manage your health from a medical perspective.

The HSE has a number of health and wellbeing programmes to support staff

Support and advice for managers

As a manager, you should familiarise yourself with the Policy for prevention and management of stress in the workplace. This sets out the framework for preventing and managing stress in the workplace including line manager role and responsibilities relating to risk assessment.

See also:

Related documents

Stress management - identification (information sheet)

Stress management - prevention (information sheet)

Stress management - support and assistance (information sheet)

Stress management - monitor and review (information sheet)

Guidance note for Managers - HSE Workplace stress risk assessment (flowchart)

HSE stress workplace flowchart

Policy on preventing and managing critical incident stress (PDF, 419KB, 13 pages)

Policy for prevention and management of stress in the workplace 2018 (PDF, 1.5MB, 44 pages)

Supplementary note to the HSE policy for prevention and management of stress in the workplace 2018 (PDF, 177KB, 6 pages)

Workplaces stress risk assessment form (Word, 227KB, 4 pages)

Sample stress risk assessment (PDF, 300KB, 6 pages)

Guidance on completing a stress risk assessment (PDF, 280KB, 5 pages)

Page last reviewed: 20/11/2020
Next review due: 20/11/2023