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The 7 Types of Organizational Stress and How to Identify and Prevent Them

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Man with sticky notes stuck onto him feeling stressed and overwhelmed at work

Merriam-Webster defines stress as “something that causes strong feelings of worry or anxiety.” That’s a gross understatement of what today’s workers have experienced in the last year due to the far-reaching impacts of COVID-19. The effects are profound. Consider these facts:

  • Nearly 70 percent of individuals believe that the pandemic has negatively affected their job.
  • More than half cite job stability as a significant source of stress in their lives.
  • More worrying is that 60 percent of Americans feel that the amount of stress is overwhelming. 

 Are you struggling to identify where the stress is coming from in your organization?


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Now more than ever, it behooves organizations to identify the elements of these volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) times and get a handle on workplace stress. It’s no longer someone else’s problem. The backbone of an organization depends on addressing the issue. The solution begins with awareness of the types of challenges facing employees.


1. Demand Stress 

Being challenged at one’s job is often a rewarding experience that leads to employee satisfaction. However, poorly designed assignments foster unrealistic demands when a team member doesn’t have the necessary skills or knowledge to meet the task. The disconnect is evident, considering 60 percent of employees want to do their best on the job.

According to the Gallup State of the American Workplace Report, only 21 percent of employees feel that their organizational leaders direct their performance to do their best work. It’s not surprising then that a poor job fit is one of the most common reasons individuals cite for quitting their current position.

2. Effort/Reward Balance Stress 

Expecting high effort on the job from employees without an adequate reward can create the perfect storm for stress within an organization. One of the primary fallouts is disengagement. Only one-third of American workers are actively engaged in their job. Disengaged individuals are more likely to leave their jobs, costing organizations more than just the loss of productivity.

The consequences of disengagement are significant and can erode an entire organization’s morale, with effects that go beyond the workplace. Incommensurate compensation for one’s effort can lead to financial stress, with employees taking their feelings of resentment back home.

3. Control Stress  

A balance between responsibility with commensurate authority and control is imperative to empower employees. It is a vital step on the path to self-actualization. Without this equilibrium, an employee feels powerless and without a voice in the matters that affect them directly. The lack of control becomes an unscaleable hurdle toward performing one’s best. 

Employees want autonomy to be able to manage their future, and they require the tools to do it. It frees them to achieve their personal best. Without control to do their job well, engagement suffers, and burnout increases.

4. Organization Change Stress

Change is inevitable as organizations pivot to navigate the evolving landscape shaped in a pandemic world. Nevertheless, clear communication is vital to lessen the uncertainty caused by these transitions, whether they involve new policies, restructuring, or other workplace shifts. Otherwise, it poses a threat to what psychologist Abraham Maslow referred to as humans’ hierarchy of needs.

It’s essential to put this type of stress in context. The pandemic has turned people’s worlds upside down, with uncertainty jeopardizing even the fabric of the things we take for granted. Adding occupational ambiguity to the mix can push employees to the brink of manageable stress. The cascading effects will become evident in other areas of their work and personal life.

5. Manager/Superior Stress

The goals of any organization should be realistic, reasonable, and obtainable. Moving the goalposts or setting the bars too high creates stress in employees that can turn inward. Failure fuels even more dissatisfaction. The quality of the work deteriorates and impacts productivity. It becomes worse when the expectations change without explanation, mounting pressure to work quicker and harder.

Stress can also occur with conflicting goals if the management team isn’t on the same page. Employees feel like pawns, unable to enjoy the satisfaction of a job well done because the expectations keep changing

6. Social Support Stress

An organization’s success depends upon the culture it creates among its team members. It fosters cooperation and support among its employees at all levels. An unhealthy workplace environment lacks these basic elements. Instead of working toward a common goal, it foments unhealthy competition that pits employees against one another. It creates winners and losers and the inevitable cutthroat ethics.

Employees come to work thinking of it as a race or competition. It becomes a me-against-them mentality that can have deep-rooted effects on the overall employee morale. 

7. Job Security Stress 

Employees want to support their families financially. They want to provide for their basic needs and feel secure in their futures. An unstable work environment creates a highly stressful situation. It becomes a greater concern, considering that over half of Americans don’t have enough money saved to cover their monthly expenses.

Adding to job security stress is the uncertainty of another wave of COVID lockdowns and those consequences on businesses and the economy. However, it can also come from a lack of advancement or salary increase. The rising cost of living expenses puts an even greater burden on employees as they struggle to make ends meet.

Solutions for Identifying and Preventing Organizational Stress

Organizations have a vested interest in preventing workplace stress and its repercussions. The numbers tell the story. Disengaged staff cost employers up to an estimated $605 billion in lost productivity each year. Unhappy employees can undermine the progress of engaged workers, creating an even higher financial loss.

If the pandemic has taught society one thing, it is that the workplace has changed forever. The old way of doing business won’t work for the future. Instead, organizations need to rethink how they manage their staff and find different ways to support them through these transitions. The process begins with looking at the situation from the employees’ perspective and assessing the current stress levels.


Awareness is crucial. The management must determine the health of their team to understand where to focus their efforts. Using a third-party service can prevent biases that may cloud your assessment. It also frees employees to speak candidly about the state of the workplace. An independent service can see both viewpoints and identify areas of miscommunication or misunderstanding.

This step provides the foundation for making changes that will have noticeable impacts on productivity, performance, and employee morale. Surprisingly, many employers may not see what is in plain sight to their workers. Unfortunately, many managers suffer from their brand of the curse of knowledge that prevents them from detecting the obvious. Next, it’s vital to use this information wisely.

Mindset Shift

The world is now a different place, requiring organizational leaders to reassess their mindset and change it to match the times. The overall lack of engagement in the workplace as a whole marks a significant vulnerability for all organizations of any size. One of the best ways to turn the ship around is to embrace a philosophy of developing the strengths instead of fixing the weaknesses of team members.

This change creates a positive working environment that can provide what employees want the most from their jobs. It gives them the tools and knowledge they need to do their best work. It also provides these materials to all staff so that everyone has the same goals. The result is a culture of encouragement that benefits the entire organization.

Managers must also embrace the power of positive feedback and share it frequently with their staff. A compliment or few kind words can motivate employees and reduce stress, making the workplace more enjoyable for everyone. It’s essential for individuals not to associate a talk with the boss as something that is always negative.

The mindset shift also involves looking at an organization’s mission differently from a short-term perspective to the future. It’s what author and inspirational speaker Simon Sinek refers to as the “Infinite Game.” Perks and bonuses are all well and good. However, it misses the point about the greater human desire that motivates our actions: the need to give back to the world and future generations.

Interestingly, employees care more about an organization and its values. Delivering quality products and services is a start. However, individuals also want to feel proud of their employer and their mission. Therefore, it behooves management to consider their organization’s role in the greater scheme of things when doing their initial assessment.

Clear Communication

A vital aspect of changing an organization’s mindset is clear communication between management and staff members. Writer Patrick Lencioni details four principles of organizational health that can guide leaders from building a cohesive team to creating clarity to reinforcing its message. The process begins with an honest assessment by leaders of its purpose and path to success.

Communication is a two-way street that requires the input of all employees so that they feel their opinion counts, too. It can give an individual a stronger sense of ownership and a stake in the outcome. The communication outlines clear goals and expectations, so everyone knows their role and their place within the organization. Positive feedback ensures the progress stays on track. 

Another vital factor is consistency, particularly with management. Only one set of rules should exist to avoid this common source of workplace stress. It will also build a greater sense of community when everyone uses the same playbook. The next piece goes to the heart of the organization’s culture.


Mutual Support

Mutual support comes as a natural result of clear communication of an organization’s mission. It’s vital for creating a workplace of giving. People want to be respected and be a part of a community. That includes the workplace. Encouraging it can eliminate the social support stress that pits employees against one another.

It can involve things as simple as weekly check-ins with team members or employers conducting one-on-one talks with their employees. This facetime, in turn, reassures individuals that the management cares about them as people. It’s also an excellent opportunity for an employer to ensure their staff has what they need to do their jobs, whether it’s training, tools, or control. 

Building mutual support recognizes the fact that preventing organizational stress isn’t a cookie-cutter solution, either. The needs of employees are fluid. Employers should take the time to listen to their employees’ concerns and fears, especially in light of the pandemic. In these times of uncertainty, they should strive to be the rock of stability, even if that means going out of their comfort zones.

It’s also essential to encourage this same rapport between employees. The benefit of this approach is that it encourages everyone to pay it forward and become stakeholders. A simple act of kindness and the goodwill that it creates can have far-reaching effects that go well beyond the workplace. However, it doesn’t stop there.


Employees want a healthy work-life balance. The pandemic has played an unforeseen role in making it happen with the rise in remote work. According to the PwC’s US Remote Work Survey, it’s been a success, with improved performance that surpassed pre-COVID levels. Both employers and employees felt their productivity improved despite the lack of office time.

Part of the reason behind these achievements is that remote work tapped into one thing that employees want most from their jobs: flexibility. It also reduces distractions. Flexibility empowers individuals by reducing other stress factors, such as childcare, commuting hassles, and annoying co-workers. A study by Poly found that 76 percent of respondents identified the latter as their biggest issue on the job.

Perhaps embracing the hybrid workplace is one of the best ways that leaders can manage organizational stress. It can reduce effort/reward balance conflicts by giving employees something they want. Employers benefit from more satisfied employees and improved productivity. That can offset many of the costs of this strategy. That makes it the proverbial win-win solution.

Final Thoughts

Managing organizational stress is imperative because it benefits both employers and employees. The costs of doing business as usual are too high to ignore the signs anymore. It’s evident that the workplace has evolved in the wake of COVID and must adapt to the changing times. 

Accessing the stress levels of employees provides an excellent first step toward a healthy working environment. It can identify weaknesses and open a path for better communication and a more united, community-based workforce. It all begins with awareness and the courage to act. 




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