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Stress Series: Know thy stressor

Posted by Deb Muoio

Dec 8, 2015 3:09:31 PM


Some sources of stress are rather obvious: Tight deadlines, impatient customers, or large workloads. But what about unclear team roles, too much routine, or not having enough work to do? There are many factors at work than can be a source of stress - and they may not be as apparent as many managers may think.

There are ten main stressors that can decrease morale, job satisfaction, and engagement and as a consequence, increase the likelihood for burnout:


Having to work on unpleasant or redundant tasks can be a major stressor. So is unrealistic workload. Sometimes, however, it’s not so much the type or amount of work that stresses out employees. A factor that management often overlooks is a lack of sufficient resources to complete a task. For example:

  • Having to juggle conflicting priorities, which requires multitasking (i.e. doing a lot of things but nothing properly)
  • Being given stretch targets or unrealistic goals to reach
  • Not being given sufficient time to complete the task or project or having to work on large complex projects that involve a lot of steps – both of which require significant overtime, which is an added source of stress
  • Having to constantly rework aspects of a project, whether due to client requests, unclear SPECS on the part of management, or (less common but equally annoying) loss of data due to technology failure

In addition, a lack of skills (or the development of bad habits) on the part of employees can limit their ability to deal with a tough workload, which adds to their pressure. These include:

  • Poor time management skills
  • Poor organization skills
  • Poor concentration
  • The tendency to procrastinate
  • Excessive attempts to multitask


Teamwork requires a group of people with different personalities and varying work approaches and ideas to work together in harmony – not an easy feat. Common teamwork stressors include:

  • Unclear work roles - this often occurs when management does not clarify what the new team member’s role will be, or the team does not have a designated leader who can determine each person’s role and distribute tasks based on expertise.
  • Poor project management - another issue that could potentially be avoided by designating a competent team leader or project manager
  • Major differences in intelligence or work pace between team members
  • Uneven or unfair workload distribution among team members
  • Lack of competence of certain members
  • People not pulling their own weight, forcing others to pick up the slack
  • Having to work with people who have difficult personalities (abrasive, domineering, cynical etc.)
  • Being held back from attaining individual success because one is forced to work within the limits of the group
  • Having to wait for other team members to finish their part of a project in order to start on one’s own
  • Having to share credit for success as well as assume responsibility for failure
  • Having to collaborate with others when one prefers individual work

3-Work Relationships

It’s inevitable: A group of different people working together will lead to the occasional conflict. Even working with the public on a regular basis has its pitfalls. Common relational issues that can cause stress include:

  • The amount of social interaction required. More introverted employees may feel uncomfortable in positions that require them to interact with others for long stretches of time. Extroverts, on the other hand, are likely to feel isolated and bored in jobs where there isn’t a great deal of contact with others.
  • Lacking the skills needed to communicate clearly and productively with others
  • Having to interact with hostile, angry, and unpleasant clients, vendors or suppliers
  • Bumping heads with colleagues, direct reports or management
  • Receiving criticism from clients, management or colleagues in an destructive manner


Stability offers a sense of control over one’s present and future – and control offers a sense of security. In uncertain economic times (which is pretty much all the time), unfamiliar and unexpected changes can really rock the boat. Common stressors related to change include:

  • Having to take on new tasks or roles
  • New additions to the existing team
  • Having to learn how to use a new technology
  • Moving to a new workspace (especially when it involves downgrading in terms of space and esthetics, or if it means a longer commute, bad neighborhood or losing perks, such as on-site cafeteria, daycare etc.)
  • Company restructuring and the typical chaos that follows (heavier workload, unclear roles & goals)
  • Layoffs (whether you are the one leaving or staying behind, which can lead to “survivor’s guilt”)
  • Turnover (people leaving all around you – your bosses, peers or direct reports)

5-Unclear direction and goals

It can be rather terrifying, if not disconcerting to be aboard a ship or airplane where the captain has no idea where he’s going. When a team leader or company head has no idea where the organization is headed, this can make subordinates extremely uneasy. Common stressors of this nature that can leave employees scrambling include:

  • Ambiguity – unclear roles, tasks, goals, expectations, and boundaries
  • A vague, unclear or, worse yet, non-existent mission statement. Some companies have a mission statement, but fail to share it with employees in a manner that inspires them.
  • A lack of feedback on how employees are performing and whether they can improve
  • Having to go through a lot of “red tape” or report to multiple supervisors. This is often compounded by conflicting requests from different levels of management or conflicting priorities – not to mention an unwillingness on the part of some superiors to take responsibility for issue or errors (“It’s not my fault/problem. Talk to the head of X department.”).

Check out the rest of the top ten stressors here.

If you’re interested in using COSA - R2 (Coping Skills Assessment - 2nd Revision) or other assessments, request a free trial for ARCH Profile here.

Want to learn more about using psychological tests for hiring, leadership development, career development or talent retention? Download our free eBook loaded with down-to-earth information about psychological testing for HR purposes.

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Topics: HR Trends, Retention, Employee Wellbeing, stress, Employee Relations, Turnover

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