What Are the Causes of Stress in an Organization?

by Jackie Lohrey; Updated September 26, 2017
Businesswoman drawing an organization chart

Organizational stress often results from an imbalance between internal and external pressures and a business’s ability to cope with ongoing challenges. According to an article on the CUPA-HR website by human resources specialists Deborah Manning and April Preston, factors that cause stress can have a boomerang effect on a business. Each factor causes stress for individual employees, which in turn increases stress levels within the organization. Identifying common causes is a first step toward reducing the negative effects.

Organizational Structure

Most small businesses start out with a flat organizational structure, which means there is no layer of management between top executives and staff. The larger a business grows, however, the less suitable a flat structure becomes. Stress comes in when owners or senior executives refuse to relinquish control to a lower level of management. The owner may no longer have the time or the expertise required to make every business decision, which creates stress for him. This in turn can delay communications, lead to poor decisions and decrease productivity. Without good planning and a willingness to design a new structure that better supports a long-term strategy, the work environment can become very stressful.

Organizational Change

Although change is inevitable, it can also be difficult for a business and its employees to adapt to. It can be especially troublesome if a business is not clear about why and when changes are coming. When this happens, employees may get their information through the company grapevine, which leads to uncertainty and insecurity. A worker's uncertainty about what the future holds, or his ability to perform in a new environment, manifests as an unwillingness to accept change. Those who reject or refuse to accept change put increased stress on management, colleagues and the business as a whole.

Positional Power

Organizational stress often results in businesses where supervisors or managers possess too much positional power. This might occur in a business without a dedicated human resource department. For example, a department manager might have full authority to give or withhold pay raises or bonuses, lower a salary and reprimand, demote or terminate employees. If the manager practices favoritism, or is overly concerned with meeting financial objectives at the expense of worker morale, he might increase stress in employees who have to walk on eggshells to avoid angering the manager or falling short of production goals.

All Work, No Play Philosophy

Although a mobile workforce has certain advantages, it can and often does increase stress. According to Manning and Preston, the cause is unrealistic work expectations. For example, a company-issued laptop might come with an expectation that an employee will work whenever it’s necessary. For someone who telecommutes from home and has normal work hours of 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. -- but consistently receives work-related emails that come in after hours -- she might get stressed wondering whether to respond to these emails immediately or wait until the next day. As the line between an employee’s work life and home life becomes increasingly blurred, the stress this creates can lead to resentment and burnout.

About the Author

Based in Green Bay, Wisc., Jackie Lohrey has been writing professionally since 2009. In addition to writing web content and training manuals for small business clients and nonprofit organizations, including ERA Realtors and the Bay Area Humane Society, Lohrey also works as a finance data analyst for a global business outsourcing company.

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