Level of job stress in Ireland doubles in five years

A new ESRI study, funded by the Health and Safety Authority (HSA), finds that job stress among employees in Ireland doubled from 8 per cent in 2010 to 17 per cent in 2015. However, the level of job stress in Ireland was still below the average for ten Western European countries in 2015 (19 per cent). Workers in Ireland were more likely to report the pressures of emotional demands and exposure to bullying, harassment and other forms of mistreatment but less likely to report time pressure than their Western European counterparts.

The report uses two waves of a European-wide dataset, the European Working Conditions Survey, carried out in 2010 and 2015, to examine the working conditions that are associated with job stress.

The study counted an employee as experiencing job stress if they reported experiencing stress at work “always” or “most of the time” and also reported stress reactions, such as general fatigue, anxiety and sleep disturbance.

The study identified that job stress is more common among people experiencing high levels of the following workplace demands:

  • Emotional demands: (i.e., dealing with angry clients/customers or having to hide emotions while at work). Those experiencing high levels of emotional demands were 21 times more likely to experience job stress than those with the lowest levels.
  • Time pressure (e.g. never have enough time to get the job done, work to tight deadlines) : those with the highest levels of time pressure were ten times more likely to experience job stress than those under the least time pressure.
  • Bullying, harassment, violence, discrimination etc.: those with the highest exposure were eight times more likely to experience job stress than those with no exposure.
  • Long working hours: those working over 40 hours per week were twice as likely to experience job stress as those working 36 to 40 hours.

Employees were less likely to experience stress if they experienced support from co-workers and managers, felt that their job was useful or had a feeling of work well done. Employees in Ireland enjoy relatively high levels of support from managers and co-workers. However, these factors had less impact on levels of job stress than the demands listed earlier.

Stressful sectors and jobs in Ireland

Employees in the Health sector (18 per cent), Public Administration (16 per cent) and the Manufacturing sector (15 per cent) experience the highest levels of job stress. The occupational groups most likely to experience job stress are technical/associate professionals (20 per cent), professionals (16 per cent) and managers (14 per cent).

Policy implications

The report highlights the importance for Irish firms to have policies in place to deal with job stress. Under health and safety legislation employers have a duty of care to protect employees against any personal injury to mental health arising from job stress. The effects of job stress are substantial. International studies show that job stress is linked to poor physical and mental health outcomes such as cardiovascular disease and depression, and to negative impacts for firms through absenteeism, increased job turnover and reduced morale. This has a knock on effect on government finances and the economy more generally.  The report shows that the most urgent need for action is in addressing psychosocial risks such as bullying, harassment and violence, high levels of emotional demands and time pressure.

“Job stress is becoming a more important issue in the Irish workplace as the economy becomes increasingly service based.  Employers need to manage these risks to prevent the significant individual and organisational costs of stress-related illness”, said Dr Helen Russell, an author of the report.

Dr Sharon McGuinness, Chief Executive Officer of the HSA welcomed the publication of the report, which is part of a research programme between the HSA and the ESRI. Dr Sharon McGuinness commented “Understanding the complex array of factors which cause stress for individuals, in and out of work, is not simple. To then capture the many factors which are work-based, and which are therefore preventable, is harder still. So this research by the ESRI, combining both subjective and objective indicators of work and non-work-related stress helps us better understand ways that stress becomes an organisational issue. The Authority’s Work Positive CI tool which is an on-line and free risk assessment system was developed to assist employers in this regard.”