Kim Barlow-Miles Counselling

Understanding work-related stress

Following news that the Welsh Government are tackling employee stress with the provision of a subsidised massage service, BBC Radio Nottingham’s Morning Show, hosted by Sarah Julien, invited me in to discuss the subject of work-related stress. (Wed 14th September 2011).

There are some obvious and clearly recognised sources of stress in the work place. For example, bullying/harassment/discrimination, job insecurity (threat of redundancy or dismissal due to disciplinary action), ‘missing’ out on promotion, and change of company culture/business model.

However, people may be less aware of the stressful consequences of extremes of perceived experience; that is, a sense of too much/an excess of something, or the opposite.

Perception of too much/over/an excess

1. Too much to do

2. Too many rules/restrictions

3. Too much (irrelevant) information/communications/meetings

4. Targets too difficult to achieve (eg in time available/with funding limits etc)

5. Too many bosses/hierarchical layers/too much ‘leadership’

6. Over-long working hours

7. Unrealistic self-other expectations (too high) = performance anxiety

8. Overqualified/skilled

Perception of Too little/ under/ a shortfall

1. Too little to do (boredom)

2. Too little structure/too few guidelines

3. Too little communication/ inadequate communication

4. Too few resources to do job adequately

5. Inadequate leadership/inaccessible leadership

6. Not enough time (eg full-time job in part-time hours)

7. Insufficient opportunity for initiative

8. Under-qualified/trained/skilled


1. Health deterioration. Examples include headaches/ tiredness/loss of energy/ weakened resistance to colds and other infections. Tendency to rashes/respiratory difficulties/digestive problems and other aches (neck, back etc). Prolonged exposure to stress causes the para-sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system to over-ride the sympathetic branch; the long-term effect of this can bring on heart conditions, gastric ulcer problems and other serious illnesses. The tendency is for people to self-medicate with alcohol/ over-eating etc leading potentially to alcoholism and unhealthy weight gain.

2. Mood disorder. People may become noticeably more irritable, tearful, indecisive, forgetful, demotivated to engage with activities previously enjoyed, avoidant of social interaction, withdrawn. They may be diagnosed with depression or generalised anxiety.


In each case, an individual approach to problem resolution is needed, but here are some suggestions that have been found by others to be helpful:

1. Communications: as early as possible, identifying what does not feel ok enough and assertively exploring this with someone who can make a difference.

2. Re-evaluating work/life balance. Maxing-up time outside work with fun and interest.

3. Making realistic adjustments in attitude/perspective on work, eg. this is a J.O.B. which pays for lifestyle needs, occupies x amount of daily time, and fulfils a function.

4. Reviewing options and possible changing job either within this organisation or outside.

5. Identifying and facing personal issues re specific extremes; learning self-soothing techniques eg calming breathing/relaxation exercises/strategies such as visualisations, letters/advice to self from a wise, warm, strong and encouraging Other self.

And finally……Prevention is always better than Cure! Check-out a company’s style if possible, before going on board. If, like the Welsh Government and Capital One (whose Head of HR also contributed to this debate), they seem to invest in looking after employees by providing a gym/ access to massage and other therapeutic body treatments/counselling etc, then this may be a good indicator of what to expect if you were to become stressed….

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