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Stress Management - How to intervene?

Explaining Workplace Stress to you and Learn How to Change

Stress Management - How to intervene?

Explaining Workplace Stress to you and Learn How to Change

Mental health problems are a leading cause of global disease burden, contributing to significant labour force loss, and costs trillions of US dollars in lost productivity annually. Grievously, 42% of workers across the globe are suffering from work stress, and the numbers climb up to 87% in Hong Kong. In light of the ringing alarm, it warrants attention to the problem of workplace stress, and scientific-based interventions are needed to be implemented to prevent, fix, and alleviate job burnout in the workforce. In this article, we will briefly review the major sources of workplace stressors, the mechanism of workplace stress, and the interventions for workplace stress.

Major Sources of Workplace Stress

While most people reported being stressed, amongst the workforce, the level of perceived stress begins to elevate in young adulthood, peak at late-twenties and early thirties, and gradually decline after 40. Below are major categories of workplace stressors that influence most workers across age groups:

1. Task design (e.g., the nature and intensity of work)
2. Role in the organisation (e.g., level of responsibility and position)
3. Career development (e.g., personal growth and job security)
4. Organisational structure/climate/management style (e.g., organaisational culture and recognition)
5. Workplace conditions (e.g., workplace safety)
6. Interpersonal relationships at work (e.g., relationships between colleagues, superordinate, and subordinates)
7. Work-life balance (e.g., work-family conflicts)

Explaining Workplace Stress

There are ample amounts of theoretical models for explaining workplace stress. Amid the literature, the job demands-resources (JD-R) model stands out, which offers compelling explanations for the mechanism of workplace stress and directions for dealing with it.

In the JD-R model, job demands can lead to perceived stress, strain, and other negative emotions, whereas resources can lead to work engagement and motivation. In the JD-R model, demands can be categorized into job demands and personal demands; whereas resources can be categorized into job resources, personal resources, and non-work resources. A list of examples of demands and resources is presented below:

Job Demands

  1. Workload: How much work do you need to do?
  2. Work pace: How fast do you need to perform the work?
  3. Time pressure: How tight is the deadlines?
  4. Role ambiguity: How many supervisors do you need to report to? 
  5. Role conflict: How many types of positions do you need to work on?
  6. Discrimination: To what extent do you need to work alone?

Personal Demands

  1. Family demands: How much time, money, and effort do you need to take care of your family?
  2. Financial issues: How much money do you need for life?
  3. Relationship conflicts: How often do you get in trouble with others?

Job Resources

  1. Organizational support: Do you get sufficient support from your supervisors, coworkers, and/or organization?
  2. Control: Are things predictable at your workplace? Can you handle the uncertainties that happened at work?
  3. Feedback: Do you receive appropriate feedback to further equip yourself?
  4. Autonomy: Do you satisfy with the freedom given at work?

Personal Resources

  1. Core self-evaluation: Do you have high self-esteem?
  2. Psychological capital: Do you have great resilience?
  3. Physical: Do you have good health?

Non-work Resources:

  1. Social support: Can you receive emotional or instrumental support from your friends and family?

In a nutshell, when job demands outweigh resources, stress and burnout are likely to happen; when resources outweigh job demands, existence crisis and similar types of confusion are likely to occur. Therefore, individuals are striving for a balance between job demands and resources, so as to perform at optimal levels with high job satisfaction. Figure 1 depicts the theoretical framework of the JD-R model.

Figure 1. From The Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior (2015)

Workplace Stress Management Interventions

Now we understood what makes us stressed and why we perceive stress at work. Then, it raises the question of how to deal with workplace stress. In accordance with the modern intervention model, interventions for workplace stress can be divided into three levels:

(1) Primary interventions, which are proactive measures focusing on preventing mental health issues and promoting healthy behaviours;
(2) Secondary interventions, which are proactive and potentially reactive measures, focusing on removing risk factors that predict subsequent mental issues;
(3) Tertiary interventions, which are reactive measures focusing on recovery from existing mental health problems.

In general, primary interventions are the most effective among the three levels of interventions, while secondary interventions are more effective than tertiary interventions. Interventions can also be provided for the entire organisations, or employees in need of assistance. To address workplace stress holistically, implementing different levels and types of interventions is needed (primary, secondary, and tertiary interventions; as well as individual- and organisational-based interventions).

Importantly, there are countless existing effective interventions, but multimodal interventions are not necessarily under certain circumstances, given that every organisation has different cultures and each individual varies. Accordingly, comprehensive assessments and evaluations at both individual and organisational levels are needed to produce optimal outcomes.


In times of chaos when everyone strives to stand still, we often overlooked the silent shouts for help and took others’ efforts for granted. Now the global mental health crisis is surfaced, every party, especially organisations, is responsible for preventing and reducing further loss in human capital, and ensuring employees are living up to their potential.



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