Work-Related Stress: Causes, Signs, and Symptoms

by Jerry Kennard, Ph.D. Medical Reviewer

Work overload

Work overload can lead to physical and emotional exhaustion that leads to symptoms such as headaches, stomach complaints and difficulties sleeping. We can see the signs of work overload in people when they become inflexible, irritable and when they deny having a problem. Left to fester, they become cynical, detached, and mental health starts to suffer. These are all signs of burnout.

Man bored at his bakery job.

Work underload

Work underload is the extreme opposite of burnout, yet its effects can be just as marked. A dull, repetitive, unrewarding job with no prospects can quickly lead to boredom. Left unchecked, apathy sets in and productivity slows. Such jobs can become highly stressful as there is no outlet other than grumbling. In worst case scenario’s workers may even resort to minor acts of sabotage that can negatively affect others.

Woman scared and hiding in office cubicle.


People who fear job loss during difficult economic times may find themselves turning up earlier than usual for work, taking shorter breaks, staying longer and volunteering for extra work in an attempt to show dedication and increase their profile. They may refuse to take a day off sick, even when it is needed. Turning into work when sick is called presenteeism and it’s a sign of vulnerability and work anxiety.

Businesswoman working late at night.


For workaholics, work often dominates all other considerations, including relationships, family and friends. While some workaholics get a buzz from work, others use work to deflect attention from deeper issues such as depression, troubled relationships, fear of job loss or of losing personal control. These masked issues can accumulate and lead to illness.

Hands typing on laptop computer.


WIth more technology, work follows us via email, texts and social media outlets. Some people have found ways to separate personal life and work life, but increasingly, employees need to be available to meet the needs of work when necessary. The stress of work technology is a relatively new feature and its one that is fueling debates over how it affects our quality of life.

Coworkers gossiping behind woman's back.

Workplace bullying

Workplace bullying can include rudeness, gossiping, giving impossible deadlines, ageist or sexist comments and more. Most of the time, we are polite, we try to be helpful, and we try to give back. But not everyone shares this agenda. The effects of bullying are so harmful some experts claim they are worse than sexual harassment.

Man exhausted at work.


Signs of work-related stress also tend to vary because of the type of work involved and lifestyles out of work. The most common signs are likely to include the need to work longer hours. A sense that there is never enough time. There’s little or no time for relaxation. Rushing to complete things. Missing breaks. Missing vacation entitlements. Spending less time with family and friends.

Man experiencing back pain at work.


Psychological symptoms include inability to concentrate, loss of motivation and a lack of commitment to work. Emotionally, there is a tendency to become more sensitive, more irritable and more negative. Physical symptoms typically include headaches, back pain and digestion problems. Eating and sleeping patterns may change, and alcohol or drug use may increase.

Jerry Kennard, Ph.D.
Meet Our Writer
Jerry Kennard, Ph.D.

Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s work background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of