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Work-related Mental Stress

Work-related mental stress has been described as the adverse reaction experienced by workers when workplace demands and responsibilities are greater than the worker can comfortably manage or are beyond the workers’ capabilities (Leka et al. 2003). It can affect each worker differently and originate from different sources. The Job Demands-Resources model which was introduced as a model of worker well-being highlights that we need to balance both demands and resources in the workplace to manage work related mental stress.  High levels of Job demand and low levels of job resources increase the risk of mental stress, and may include:

Job DemandsJob Resources
Role overload
Role ambiguity
Role conflict
Cognitive demand
Emotional demand
Group task conflict
Group relationship conflict
Job control
Supervisor support
Co-worker support
Praise and recognition
Procedural justice
Change consultation


Mental stress causes the body to move into a fight or flight reaction which releases adrenaline and cortisol, raises the heart rate, boosts glucose levels in the bloodstream and diverts energy from the immune system to other areas of the body. This reaction helps people remove themselves from danger at which time the body usually returns to normal.  When mental stress is prolonged, the body will not return to normal as easily as it previously did and many key body systems can start to breakdown causing major health problems.  In the workplace the symptoms can be very costly:

  • poor worker health, both physical and psychological
  • breakdown of individual and team relationships
  • poor morale and erosion of worker loyalty and commitment
  • reduced efficiency, productivity, and profitability
  • poor public image and reputation
  • increased costs associated with counseling, worker assistance, mediation
  • increased absenteeism and staff turnover
  • increased costs with recruitment and training of new workers
  • increased workers’ compensation claims and legal costs


A person conducting a business or undertaking has the primary duty of care under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (WHS Act) to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of workers and that other persons at the workplace are not put at risk from the work that is carried out. ‘Health’ is defined in the WHS Act as both physical and psychological health.
Like any other work health and safety risk a system should be in place to:

  • identify the areas within the workplace that are likely to cause stress
  • assess the risks to determine which require controls
  • control the risks by eliminating or minimizing where possible
  • review the controls and their effectiveness

On the ground, preventing and managing stress in the workplace before it becomes a risk to health and safety may be achieved by:

  • Having senior management commitment to a reduction in workplace stress
  • Consulting with workers to create and promote a mentally healthy workplace culture
  • Use validated risk assessment processes
  • Ensuring the organisation has appropriate policies and procedures in place and workers are aware of these
  • Managing workplace psychosocial risk factors and stressors
  • Providing regular and respectful performance feedback
  • Having a Harassment Contact Officer (HCO) in place for workers to speak to
  • Provide training around managing workplace and individual stress levels


Information SourceContents
Code of Practice - How to Manage Work Health and Safety RisksThis code provides practical guidance for persons who have duties under the WHS Act and Regulations to manage risks to health and safety
People @ Work psychosocial
risk assessment process
The People at Work Project is a free psychosocial risk assessment process.  It measures how different workplace characteristics influence worker health and well-being, focusing particularly on risks to psychological health.
HSE Management Standards on StressThe Management Standards define the characteristics, or culture, of an organisation where the risks from work related stress are being effectively managed and controlled
Working Together: Promoting mental health and wellbeing at workThe guide aims to empower managers and workers to work together to build inclusive workplace cultures and effective systems for promoting mental health in the Australian Public Service (APS).
Psychological Health and Safety—An action guide foremployersGuidance for employers to ensure a psychologically safe workplace.


Information sourceWhat it contains
Incident notification - Part 3, Section 35 to 37 of the Work, Health and Safety Act 2011The legislative requirements for incident notification to Comcare
Comcare - Guide to incident notificationHelps you decide whether you need to notify Comcare of an injury, illness or dangerous incident under the WHS Act
Page last updated: 13 Apr 2016