Meaning and Causes of Occupational Stress


Although there are ceaseless debate about the meaning of stress and countless definitions of occupational stress, simply put, occupational stress are those overt and covert behavioral responses to external stimuli in the work environment which places excessive psychological and physical demand upon the person. It is a subjective feeling or response as a result of the conflict between the demands of the job or characteristics of the workplace and the person’s potentials and or capabilities. In that instance, the demands of the job tend to outweigh or under task the person’s potentials and capabilities for meeting such demands.

Stress agents that lead to manifestation of occupational stress are classified into the following categories: personal stress agents, cataclysmic events, and background agents.

Personal stress agents or stimuli are those major events in one’s life that can produce an immediate stress reaction when the individual cannot meet with the demands of the job. Examples are starting school after a long period of being a business man, being elected into parliament; change into married life, starting a business after a long period of being a civil or public servant.

Cataclysmic stress events are stress stimuli that occur suddenly and are usually devastating. This type of event affects many people simultaneously and can lead to Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PSTD), a condition in which the victim re- experience in lucid flash back or dream the original event and the feelings associated with them. The September 11th 2001 terrorists attack on the world trade center in the USA is a typical example of a cataclysmic event.

Background stress agents (Hassles and uplifts) are minor irritations that people experience daily in life. However, a single background stress agent is not enough to produce much stress except when it is cumulative. The manifestation of psychological symptoms such as depression and anxiety is highly correlated to the number of daily hassles that one experiences.


Stress provoking stimuli or events that affect workers particularly in modern organizations are not limited to events within the organizations only but originate from the outside alone. No doubt, in the present high technological advancement, organizations tend to become larger and more complex; hence, there are more accompanying stress provoking events. More so, the growth and complexity of organizations are expected to continue by the day. Considering this fact, it becomes a herculean task to make exclusive list of various stimuli that causes stress in the work place. However causes of occasional stress are primarily of four categories.

a) Individual stress agents – they are stress stimuli that relate to the individual dispositions of the incumbent employee. Examples are psychological hardiness and type A personality pattern.

b) Group stress agents – they are stress stimuli that arise out of group interactions and influences. Examples are group conflicts, lack of inadequate social support and inadequate group cohesiveness.

c) Extra organizational stress agents – they are stress stimuli that arise from outside forces and events not relating to the organization directly but in alliance with other factors within the work environment can lead to stress. Examples are family problems, residential and financial conditions and technological changes.

d) Organizational stress agents – they are inherent factors of an organization that potentially provoke stress in the individual. Examples are the organizational structure and policies, inadequate lighting, inadequate information, line staff conflicts and others.

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