Increasing workload is the most commonly reported cause of work-related stress

Published on 11/04/2022 by Laura Burgess

Work-related stress can have huge impacts on health and safety in the workplace. In this article, Capterra looks at the common symptoms and factors of stress for employees of small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). What can employers do to help?

Employee wellness programs for work-related stress

Long work hours, heavy workloads, or unrealistic expectations set by managers are common factors that may lead to work-related stress in employees. An employee wellness program, which may consist of resources such as paid time-off or a referral to a mental health professional, can help workers better manage these stressors. But are many SMEs currently offering mental health resources for staff members?

Capterra surveyed 712 employees of SMEs about their mental health in the workplace to find out about the contributors and symptoms of work-related stress. We asked employees to describe what their company does in response and whether they find corporate wellness tools useful. The full methodology can be found at the bottom of this article.

According to The Australia Institute and Centre for Future Work: “The total costs of poor mental health on Australia’s economy, government, and society were estimated by the Productivity Commission (2020) at a staggering $200-220 billion per year.” 

Whilst work-related stress may be a contributor to the overall mental wellbeing of employees, how does it impact workers when coupled with the pandemic? Stress in the workplace existed pre-pandemic, but the global crisis brought along new concerns for employees. Isolation and loneliness from working remotely, or job uncertainty has undoubtedly made the problem worse.

Definition of work-related stress

When survey respondents were asked if they regularly experience certain symptoms as a result of their job or work tasks from a list we provided, “sleeping problems” was the most commonly selected answer (36%). Sadly, a quarter of employees surveyed (25%) admit they are “constantly worrying” as a result of work stress, whilst a further 25% of respondents experience “difficulty in concentrating”. It is worth noting, however, that 33% of survey respondents said they experience none of the symptoms of work-related stress that were provided.

Bar graph with the most common symptoms of work-related stress for employees

If company leaders have an awareness of mental health amongst employees, it may encourage staff to reach out to their manager for support. There are three areas of work-related stress that employers should take into consideration when establishing an employee wellness program.
These three factors include:

  • Organisational: employees are overworked, there is a lack of support from colleagues, or low levels of recognition.
  • Environmental: noise, temperature, or if employees work with chemicals.
  • Individual: how people respond to work demands in their own way.

Capterra’s survey found that an “increasing workload” is the most common cause of work-related stress for employees (41%). The pandemic has brought significant changes in workload as many employees may have had to upskill or retrain within their company, which may be because of economically motivated redundancies or hiring freezes.

The impact that the pandemic has had on the work environment is clearly reflected in Capterra’s survey, as over a quarter of survey respondents (26%) said that the “fear of being infected with COVID-19 at work” is one of the factors to cause stress in their job. Many industries, however, have introduced COVID-19 related safety procedures in the workplace. Work Health Safety (WHS) provides guidelines on managing covid risks for companies and employees.

Infographic of the most common factors of work-related stressAlmost one in five survey respondents (21%) said that “overwhelming or unsustainable work” is a factor of stress at work for them, and this may lead to burnout amongst employees. Despite the implementation of the hybrid work model in many companies, which includes remote working and flexible work hours, some workers have still been left feeling exhausted. Perhaps this is because employees are working longer hours into the evening or during the weekends. Having remote access to their work tasks means that employees often don’t really allow themselves to “switch off”.

Tips for SMEs: Ahead of working on-site, the completion of a risk assessment form can determine whether an employee has any COVID-19-related risk factors (whether they have knowingly had contact with an infected person or if they have symptoms of the virus). This helps employers ensure that there are safe working arrangements, and can prevent covid from spreading in the workplace.

Why social wellbeing is important in the workplace

Social interaction amongst colleagues can create a positive work environment and aid in reducing stress in the workplace. We asked respondents how often events (virtual or physical) were organised by their company and only 16% said “never”. The most popular selections were “once a month” or “once a quarter”, chosen by 22% and 18% of respondents respectively.

Of the group of respondents who said that their company organises social events, 77% said the events were effective in connecting them with their colleagues (26% said it was “very effective” and 51% said “moderately effective”). Team bonds are crucial for strong company culture as a sense of belonging amongst peers may lead to higher levels of motivation.

We asked the group of survey respondents whose company organises social events, to select the ones that hold the most value in socially connecting them with their colleagues. “In-person parties” proved to be of most value, with 76% saying that they found these “very” or “somewhat valuable.” 

Bar chart showing the most valuable company-organised social events

Whilst COVID-19 restrictions and the temporary closure of workplaces meant meetups were put on hold, employees were still able to build remote connections with colleagues. 51% of respondents found “online coffee breaks” with workmates to be valuable, and tools such as video conferencing software made this possible. Opportunities for workers to bond and socialise, however possible, remain an important part of an employee wellness program.

What to include in an employee wellness program

Employee wellness programs can create a positive corporate culture and may help staff to feel happier and more productive. But do many SMEs have resources in place for employees? 42% of survey respondents said that their company offers mental health resources (such as wellness reimbursements or nutritional wellness programs or more), but nearly two-thirds of respondents (58%) said their company doesn’t currently offer any of these benefits. 

Pie chart showing whether companies offer mental health resources for employees

An employee wellness program may consist of activities that are designed to cater to the emotional, physical and mental needs of a worker. Capterra’s previous article on mental health in the workplace found that flexible work schedules, paid time off, access to a mental health professional, access to informative print-outs, and ergonomic home equipment, were the most valuable resources for employee mental wellbeing.   

Tips for SMEs: Employee surveys can be used in order to design or improve an employee wellness program. Surveys are useful for gathering feedback and can be completed anonymously. It can help managers to understand employee perception around the mental health resources that may already be in place, or what may be required. 

Informing employees about mental health resources

Some employees may not realise or may have forgotten that their company offers services that they can use. This is why it is important for companies to regularly remind employees about the mental health resources that are available. Out of the group of survey takers who said that their company does offer resources, 38% said that they are reminded about them monthly. However, 5% said that they are never reminded that they have access to these wellness resources. 

When we asked the group of respondents whose company provides mental health resources how they are informed about these resources, the majority (59%) said it was “via email”. This was followed by “during in-person meetings” (49%), “through virtual workshops” (25%), or via a “printed brochure or booklet” (25%).

Tips for SMEs: It is important to make mental health resources easily accessible to employees. A dedicated section on the company Intranet can give workers a single resource or place for employees to refer to. A benefits administration system can help human resources (HR) or managers answer any mental health questions that employees may have, or organise access to a medical professional. 

In summary…

Sleeping problems, constant worry, and difficulty concentrating are the most common symptoms of work-related stress for SME workers. Mental health resources may provide coping mechanisms for employees and can help the work environment to feel less stressful. Employee wellness programs may help workers to improve both their mental and physical health, but also improve productivity and increase the retention of quality employees. 

Looking for corporate wellness software? Check out our catalogue!

Survey methodology: 

To collect data for this report, Capterra conducted an online survey in February 2022. Of the total respondents, we were able to identify 712 respondents who fit within the following criteria:

  • Australian resident
  • Aged over 18 years old and under 65 years old
  • Employed by a company with under 250 employees
  • Working either full-time or part-time 
  • Has not changed jobs between January 2020 and February 2022

This article may refer to products, programs or services that are not available in your country, or that may be restricted under the laws or regulations of your country. We suggest that you consult the software provider directly for information regarding product availability and compliance with local laws.

About the author

Content Analyst at Capterra, researching and giving insight on tech trends to help SMEs. Graduate of Bath Spa University, UK. Based in Barcelona after years of living in Australia.

Content Analyst at Capterra, researching and giving insight on tech trends to help SMEs. Graduate of Bath Spa University, UK. Based in Barcelona after years of living in Australia.


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