This much I know: what work-related stress (WRS) stands for

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The reason I am starting this article with above information is simple: If there is a place to discuss life events such as an organisational change, job changes including redeployment, redundancy, investigations etc. all concerning work related stress (WRS), therapy and associated psychological professions are the best route for discussing and analysing such aspects, in my (clinical) opinion. 

What is work-related stress?

Work related stress has been defined as:

"Work-related stress, depression or anxiety is defined as a harmful reaction people have to undue pressures and demands placed on them at work".  HSE (2020).

As it can be understood from the above definition, WRS has been aligned with clearly identifiable mental health difficulties in recent reports from Health and Safety Executive with all such conditions interlinked  i.e. work related stress can trigger a mental health difficulty.

Theoretical psychological perspectives to stress are many in kind and it is also a fact that stress - as a term - is usually used to replace many other types of difficulties that are not yet named or are difficult to assess in singularity, as it's the case in the above definition. That is why, at a minimum, identified stress states will require an identified environment (stressors including circumstances, interactions and settings such as work environment, hence the term: work-related stress or WRS).

The Health and Safety Executive (HES) statistics on work-related stress (WRS) had noted, repeatedly, in all its reports from 2000 onwards that WRS has high incidence and is prevalent in public services with statistics as high as 37%, but with statistics as high as 55% all throughout the past two decades in the UK. 

staff meeting in cafe

What does this mean? 

It means that WRS is a health priority and has been recognised as the second most commonly reported cause of occupational ill health in the United Kingdom with highest rates of incidence in the public services. 

“WRS accounts for 37% of all ill health cases and 45% of all working days lost due to ill health. The total number of working days lost in 2015/16 was 11.7 million, with an average of 23.9 days per case. Of the 488 000 cases, 224 000 were new in that year. The overall economic cost to Great Britain was estimated to be over £5 billion.” HSE stress statistics: 

Recent reports from the Labour Force Survey indicates that incidence of stress is on the increase or statistically significantly higher from previous period with 2019/2020 a total number of cases of 828,000, a prevalence rate of 2,440 per 100,000 workers. HSE (2020).

It is not difficult to note that within a period of less than four years, incidence of WRS has doubled across all reported industries.

Why it is important to recognise when you suffer of WRS

When one works in an environment of stress for prolonged periods of times, WRS can lead to mental health difficulties/conditions such as anxiety, depression, phobias, PTSD, low-self esteem and trigger preexistent mental health conditions, but it does not stop there. High level of stress is impacting on physical health from high blood pressure to sleep problems, digestive problems etc.

It is stated by the HES that key stressors are identified as a lack of support from managerial or leadership level of management coupled with identified increased workloads and high pressure/demands from specific functions of job role. 

“The key stressors most often identified are high workloads, high demands and insufficient support from managers”

When I developed Being Yourself Exercise and V.A.L.I.D.A.T.E. strategy in 2019 – I developed it specifically with work material content in partnership with the NHS staff.  What it is also a fact is that systemic bias and implicit bias was experienced by almost 90% of all interviewed with a recognitions of all such staff being BAME and LGBQ+ self-identified individuals. What would further research and or statistics may be able to offer in the near future is to look at relation/correlation between systemic bias and levels of WRS in the public services. 

WRS may be reported by the HES as second most commonly encountered/reported incidence of ill occupational health, but my practice work experience, tells a different story: WRS is in fact prevalent as a first such cause in all that can be defined as WRS and its prevalence within the NHS services. That is not to say that WRS is not currently present in all professions and or employment roles, it has been noted that WRS has an increased presence across a wide range of occupations.  

Man commuting to work

How to recognise work related stress

1. One of the first signs of WRS is the moment or thought in one’s mind that they are finding it incredibly difficult to continue in the type of job and environment that they are working in – that would be a first thought and a first recognition.

2. The second most common aspect of WRS is related to an experience of a constant worry state about all aspects of work and self-performance at work. Such worry state would have an impact on various aspects of your wellbeing and behaviours including and not restricted to:

  • Sleep - a lack of sleep routine and/or inability to sleep with extreme cases of insomnia.
  • Eating - for example, binge eating and/or craving unhealthy food.
  • Exercise - changing exercise routine and a decrease in usual engagement with physical activity and/or desire to do so.
  • Communication - it is highly possible that you will became easily distracted, lack concentration, focus and that would inevitably lead you to make more errors or not be sufficiently involved with various tasks including written and or verbal communication within an work environment;
  • Relationships - if you experience WRS, such a state has great potential to affect your relationship with significant others and work colleagues i.e. irritability with a high impact on your ways of relating to others; it is often reported that stress can cause mood swings.
  • Physical signs - high stress is related to cortisol also known as "stress hormone"  that can cause weight gain, increased blood pressure  and various other hormonal imbalance conditions.

All such signs are only but a few and one way of categorising "how to recognise WRS" but the list is by no means anything other than a point of reference to help you start thinking about whether or not WRS is a lived experience. Because if it is, there is so much that one can do to change such an experience and start anew by reassessing immediate changes that are needed including a reassessment of your work options.

I hope it helps!


  • 2021. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 3 March 2021]

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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