HSE's formal definition of work related stress is:

"The adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them at work."

Stress is not an illness – it is a persons response to situations and circumstances. If people experience Distress for excessive and prolonged periods, mental and physical Dis-Ease and illness may develop.

Work is generally good for people as it promotes EuStress, but it can also be a great source of Distress. Eustress is a positive and motivating factor, and is often essential in a job. It can help us achieve our goals and perform better.

Demands = Coping

Job Design, Targets, Environment, Time Management = Skills, Knowledge, Experience, Training

This is Eustress.

A person experiences Distress when they perceive that the demands of their work are greater than or out weight their ability to cope. Coping means balancing the demands and pressures placed on you (i.e. the job requirements) with your skills and knowledge (i.e. your capabilities).


  • a member of your team is given a tight deadline on a project which they feel they have neither the skills nor ability to do well.
  • Someone is asked to cover the work of a colleague who is on A/L or Sick leave as well as their own work
  • a member of staff is bullied by a Manager
  • someone is given a task to do in an insufficient time/environment/circumstances

All of these situations can result in Work place Stress - Distress

Distress can also result from having too few demands, as people will become bored, feel undervalued and lack recognition. If they feel they have little or no say over the work they do or how they do it.


  • Outwith their Skills
  • Unattainable Targets
  • Inappropriate Environment
  • Specific Training required


  • Unskilled
  • Lack of knowledge
  • No experience
  • No Training

If their Coping does not match their Demands they can experience Distress or even Extreme Stress!


Stress affects people in different ways and what one person finds stressful can be normal and a welcoming challenge to another. In each situation a person will decide how they perceive, assess and react to Stress and it has great variables from person to person. This determines if they experience Eustress or Distress and even possibly Extreme Stress!

How they asssess the situation will depend on various factors, and create different Stress Responses including:

  • their background and culture;
  • their skills and experience;
  • their personality;
  • their personal circumstances;
  • their individual characteristics;
  • their health status;
  • their ethnicity, gender, age or disability; and
  • other demands both in and outside work.

Management have a duty to ensure that work does not create Distress in your team and promote Eustress where at all possible. Understanding Stress, it's responses, effects, signs and symptoms and promoting Stress Management will prevent illness and Dis-ease in staff and prevent absence rates and high staff turnover.