What is stress?

The Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) formal definition of stress is “the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressure or other types of demands placed on them”.

Being under pressure is a normal part of life. It can be a useful drive that helps you take action, feel more energised and get results. But if you often become overwhelmed by stress, these feelings could start to be a problem for you.

Stress is not an illness, it is a state. However, if stress becomes too excessive or prolonged, mental and physical illness may develop.

What causes stress at work?

The HSE has identified six aspects of work that can lead to stress.

These are:

  • demands: such as workload and pattern of work, adequacy of the management team, build programme, client expectations and contract penalties
  • control: how much say someone has about the way that we work
  • support: whether employees receive adequate information and support from managers and colleagues, and whether there are local systems to respond to individual concerns
  • relationships: the nature of work relationships, including ways to deal with unacceptable behavior such as bullying
  • role: whether people understand their jobs and have the skills, experience and support to deliver - and whether there is any conflict of responsibilities
  • change: how change is managed and communicated in the organisation, and whether work is secure, including when contracting

How do I recognise stress?

Remember it is normal to experience some of these on occasions - it is how many, how often and how severe that is important.

Work Performance

  • poor concentration
  • inconsistent performance
  • uncharacteristic errors
  • indecisiveness
  • inability to deal calmly with everyday situations
  • signs of tiredness or anxious behaviour
  • making complaints
  • irritability
  • lapses in memory
  • reference to time pressure
  • resistance to change
  • lack of holiday planning and taking
  • longer or excessive hours
  • quickness to anger especially in conflict situations


  • arriving late
  • leaving early
  • extended lunches
  • absenteeism or increased sickness absence
  • passivity or lack of commitment

Abnormal Coping Strategies

  • changes in alcohol, tobacco or recreational drug use
  • changes to eating habits

Where do I find advice?

More guidance can be found at:

Contact us

Occupational Health Services

10 Parks Road

Oxford OX1 3PD

 01865 (2)82676


Opening hours

 Monday - Thursday: 8.30am to 1pm and 2 to 5pm

 Friday: 8.30am to 1pm and 2 to 4pm


Popular pages


Related pages