Workplace stress: Breaking point Workplace stress: Breaking point

You’re probably feeling excited about your summer vacation but in the mad rush to tie up loose ends before you go, have you also noticed the increased stress this might have on you and your work, asks occupational health specialist Dr. Sarah Peeters.

The stress you will be feeling before escaping the summer heat will probably only be temporary. Once you’ve reached your destination and you’ve had time to unwind, everything will go back to normal. But what if this doesn’t happen? What if the stress and pressure don’t disappear? Unfortunately, this is the case for many employees – for such people the stress at, or from work, never goes away.

The definition for stress is very broad. One way of explaining stress is the effect we feel from failing to cope adequately with stressors. When the body experiences too much pressure and is unable to cope with the external demands or pressure,  it will become unbalanced and respond with physical, emotional and mental reactions such as high blood pressure, ulcers, headaches, depression, anxiety and many more.

The stressors can be very different for everyone. Some people can’t cope with ringing telephones or deadlines and most people don’t respond well to fear or pain.

Let us now focus more specifically on work- related stress. By this term we mean the process that arises where work demands of various types and combinations exceed the person’s capacity and capability to cope. And again, this can vary greatly between individuals. Workload, deadlines or expectations that make some employees thrive, will be detrimental for others.

Where the first employees will experience the pressure as a motivating factor, the latter will feel it as excessive pressure and soon it will turn into a negative and stressful situation. If this situation continues, it will not only take its toll on their health but also on their ability to work productively. Work-related stress is proven to be a significant cause of illness and disease and is known to be linked with high levels of sickness absence, staff turnover and other indicators of organisational underperformance, including human error.

But how serious is this work-related stress? According to the statistics from The Health and Safety Executive in the UK, approximately one in seven people say that they find their work either very, or extremely, stressful.

Since 2001/02, stress has consistently been the second most commonly reported type of work-related illness in Great Britain, with musculoskeletal disorders being the most commonly reported illness.

When stress leads to absence, the average length of sick leave is 30.1 days, much higher than the average length of sick leave for work-related illness in general (21.2 days). Studies show that in 2005/6, a total of nearly 11 million working days were lost to stress, depression and anxiety.

Dr. Sarah Peeters

Therefore, work-related stress is a problem for the individual, the company and society. And it is worth managing stress. On an individual level, you can look into improving your time-management. A lack of proper time management is often a leading cause for stress. But also think about your lifestyle, social life and support. Stress at work will have an impact on your life outside of work, and vice versa. So if you want to deal with it, make sure to look at the broader picture. And don’t forget to get help if it all becomes too much for you. Your GP should be able to advise you further.

There are also a number of factors companies can manage to reduce risks from work-related stress.  Promote trust, positive working and an open communication with support between from the organisation, line management and colleagues, and avoid conflict and deal with unacceptable behaviour.  Set guidelines, goals and expectations and create job descriptions, thus increasing predictability.

Since many people experience change as stressful, manage and communicate large and small organisational changes with care. Make sure you have regular evaluations to discuss performance and expectations and to provide the employee with the opportunity to discuss any issues. Evaluate the job demands such as workload, work patterns and environment and be open to job redesign if issues are identified. Ensure employees understand their role within the company and don’t have conflicting roles.

And finally, consider participative decision making and allowing employees to have some control over how they do their work.


Dr. Sarah Peeters is a trained occupational health specialist physician, based in Dubai. She received her training at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium, in 1990 and has since been working in Belgium and Dubai as a specialist in occupational health and safety.

She has been serving a vast number of different small to large companies, both corporate and industrial, which allowed her to gain extensive experience in her field. The OHS areas of specific interest to her are offshore health, travel health and office ergonomics. For more information please contact Dr. Sarah at or call + 971 (0) 50 859918.

Rushika Bhatia Editor

Rushika Bhatia is one of the region’s leading commentators on business and current affairs issues. She is the Editor of SME Advisor magazine - the flagship title of CPI Business. She is passionate about infographics – with special emphasis on data, research and statistics. Rushika has a Bachelor’s Degree from Indiana University, USA and is also CIMA qualified.

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