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Stress, in this document, as in most health promotion literature, refers to potentially negative physical or mental tensions experienced by a person.

A Stressor is any event or situation that an individual perceives as a threat; precipitates either adaptation or the stress response.[1]

Employers and employees alike talk about stress. However, it is often not clear what stress is. Stress can come from good and bad experiences. The effects of stress can be positive or negative. Stress is needed; without stress, there would be no productivity or engagement. Stress becomes a problem when individuals are not able to handle an event or situation and become overwhelmed.

Sources of stress are different for everyone. An environmental factor that hinders the work of one employee can help another employee. For example, one employee may like a lot of structure and routine in their day, while another employee may need variety and challenge to stay engaged.

Demand/control and effort/reward relationships

The major causes of job stress come from problems with conflicts in demand vs. control as well as effort vs. reward. Excessive job stress can be caused by many factors but research shows that some stressors are worse than others. When the demand and control an employee has at work changes, stress results if either factor is not increased or decreased proportionately. The same is true for the relationship between effort and reward. Social support, however, can serve as a buffer for the negative effects of stress and strain on an individual.

High demand (e.g., constant deadlines over prolonged periods) and low control (e.g., little choice over the day to day organization of work) jobs can lead to:
Demand & Control

  • more than double the rate of cardiovascular problems.[2] They also lead to significantly higher rates of anxiety, depression, and low morale;
  • significantly higher alcohol, prescription and over-the-counter drug use and a significantly higher susceptibility to infectious diseases—which in turn lead to increased disability claims.

High effort (physical or mental) and little reward (compensation, status, financial gain or career enhancement) jobs are associated with:

  • triple the rate of cardiovascular problems;
  • significantly higher rates of depression, anxiety and conflict-related problems.

Accumulated home and job stress affects an individuals’ health too [3] More information on this is provided in the work-life balance section of this Info-Pack.

Organizations need to be aware of the amount of stress their employees are experiencing. Changes to the organization can make for a more mentally healthy workplace, especially when employees feel appropriately rewarded for their effort and in control of their work.

Case study: giving employees control at Delta Hotels[4]

Situation: Keeping employees engaged through giving them more control.

Action: The Power to Please program was initiated to give employees more responsibility and accountability. By giving employees the authority to make decisions, it was thought that this would get rid of the stress of asking for permission. For example, staff can give a guest more towels or more coffee when asked. Housekeepers have input into cleaning products, processes for cleaning and amenity packages. If a customer complains, staff members have the authority to have room service send up a cheese tray with an apology.

Result: Employees have gained more control over their work. They stay more engaged because they know their work directly impacts the business.

To read the whole case study visit http://www.vifamily.ca/media/webfm-uploads/Publications/SocialInnovations/delta.pdf.

Case study: rewards and recognition at Lee Valley[5]

Situation: Lee Valley Tools wanted to recognize and reward its employees.

Action: Lee Valley implemented a series of small programs and policies to recognize and reward its employees. One example is Lee Valley’s profit sharing program for its employees. Rather than pro-rate the profits based on performance or salary, the company takes 25 percent of pre-tax profit and distributes it equally among all the employees, from senior management to warehouse staff.

Result: Employees feel that they are valued and appreciated by management.

To read the whole case study visit http://www.vifamily.ca/media/webfm-uploads/Publications/SocialInnovations/leevalley.pdf

  • Are You Stressed? is printable resource in the appendix. This resource can be used to raise employees’ awareness and knowledge about stress and its effects.

[1] Michael Olpin and Margie Hesson. Stress Management for Life: A Research-Based, Experiential Approach. Thomson Wadsworth, 2007. 436.

[2] Kavimaki et al, “Work stress and risk of cardiovascular mortality: prospective cohort study of industrial employees,” British Medical Journal 325 (2002): 857.

[3] Martin Shain, “What Do We Know? Best Advice on Stress Management in the Workplace,” Health Canada, (2000) http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/ewh-semt/pubs/occup-travail/index-eng.php (accessed January 6, 2010).

[4] Elaine Lowe, “Response-Ability and the Power to Please, Delta Hotels,”  The Vanier Institute of the Family (2005), http://www.vifamily.ca/media/webfm-uploads/Publications/SocialInnovations/delta.pdf (accessed: October 07 2009).

[5] Elaine Lowe, “Working by the Golden Rule, Lee Valley Tools,” The Vanier Institute of the Family (2005), http://www.vifamily.ca/media/webfm-uploads/Publications/SocialInnovations/leevalley.pdf (accessed: October 07 2009).