El estrés laboral: definición, causas y consecuencias para la salud

Work-related stress: definition, causes and consequences for health


Stress has been dubbed the “health epidemic of the 21st century” by the World Health Organization. Since early studies, stress was defined as General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS) or the defense response of the body or the psyche to injury or prolonged stress (Selye, 1956).

Subsequently, numerous authors have attempted to define stress. There is no doubt that the most comprehensive conceptualization of stress was given byMcEwen (2000) who described it as, “a real or interpreted threat to the physiological or psychological integrity of an individual that results in physiological and/or behavioral responses” (p. 173).

There are different types of stress depending on several factors such as:

  1. Stress duration.
  2. The stimuli eliciting the initial
  3. The psychological or physiological consequences triggered by the stressful event.
  4. The environment determining the stress response.

As indicated bypoints two and four,the workplace is one of the most stressful environments. In this post, we consider the need to address work-related stress.

Work stress

Work stress is a type of stress associated with the workplace that can be occasional or chronic, although most cases fall under the second type mentioned (Cavanaugh, Boswell, Roehling and Boudreau, 2000).

It is also important to note that occupational stress can be positive or negative (Kung & Chan, 2014).

Positive stress in the workplace

Positive stress (eustress) refers to the response to stressors in an adaptive way. The consequences of El estrés laboral definición, causas y consecuencias para la salud 2 - Work-related stresssuch response do not affect the overall health of the individual and its duration coincides with the duration of the stimulus, e.g., the stress response triggered during your first day of work is adaptive (positive stress) because you must be alert to new stimuli (tasks, bosses, colleagues, company procedures, etc.).

Negative stress in the workplace

estrés laboral definición, causas y consecuencias para la salud - Work-related stressWhen does this response stop being adaptive and can thus turn into negative stress? Well, if this stress lasts more than a month, the response intensifies over time and begins to interfere with the worker’s health (problems such as insomnia, tachycardia, anxiety and depression, among others) then it would be a case of negative stress in the workplace and should be taken into account (we recommend reading the meta-analysis by Hargrove, Quick, Nelson and Quick, 2011).

Causes of work stress

There are numerous studies focused on finding the most immediate causes and consequences of occupational stress. The following are some of the most noteworthy conclusions:

  • It has been found that being a victim of workplace harassment immediately triggers an intense and prolonged stress response over time (Balducci, Fraccaroli and Schaufeli, 2011; Hoobler, Rospenda, Lemmon and Rosa, 2010; Neall and Tuckey, 2014). This is especially important given that 8 out of 10 Spanish workers are dissatisfiedwith their work (CepymeNews, 2018).
  • It has been shown that work stress is, in most cases, due to role overload and role ambiguity (Babatunde, 2013; Ganster and Rosen, 2013).
  • In addition, it has been proposed that low salaries arealso associated with the onset of job stress (Raver and Nishii, 2010).
  • Other authors have observed that the lack of intrinsic motivation, as well as ababsence of incentives, are direct causes of workplace stress (Conley and You, 2014; Karimi and Alipour, 2011).

Conditioning factors of work stress

In addition, research has shown that certain factors can contribute to workplace stress and its characteristics. These factorsare precipitating or conditioning factors of work-related stress. Although there is no agreed list of these factors, some previous research has considered what these could be: the age of the person experiencing work stress, the type of work, having already suffered from another psychological disorder, the time previously spent unemployed,some personality traits such as neuroticism and psychoticism, the gender of the victim and family responsibilities, among others (Colligan and Higgins, 2006; Ganster and Rosen, 2013).

Consequences of work stress

Finally, the consequences associated with work-related stress should also be highlighted.

Cognitive consequences

Some studies have focused more on the cognitive consequences involving memory problems (memory lapses and forgetfulness of work-related information), difficulty paying attention to work-related issues, concentration problems, and a decline in the ability to perform several tasks at once (errors in working memory) (Wiegel, Sattler, Göritzand Diewald, 2014; Rickenbach et al., 2014).

Physical consequences

El estrés laboral definición, causas y consecuencias para la salud 2 - Work-related stressOther studies have been more interested in the physical consequences of job stress and have found that individuals often complain of insomnia, abnormal cardiac markers, hypertension and diabetes, thyroid problemsanda large majority suffer from symptoms of skin disorders, as well as migraines and tension-typeheadaches (Ganster and Rosen, 2013); Heraclides, Chandola, Witte and Brunner, 2012; Kivimäki and Kawachi, 2015; McCraty, Atkinson and Tomasino, 2003).

Emotional consequences

In addition, different studies have examined the emotional consequences of workplace stress. These include emotional lability, panic attacks, anxiety and depressive symptoms (Tennant, 2001; Brosschot, Verkuil and Thayer, 2016).


In general, it can be concluded that work-related stress is not always negative but depends on the intensity, duration and adaptive function of the stress response itself. In addition, since there is a lot of research on this subject, we can proactively use the current knowledge regarding its causes, symptoms and consequences to intervene early and prevent work-related stress from interfering with our physical and psychological health.

By: AMUNE (Asociación Murciana de Neurociencia)

If you have liked this blog post about work-related stress, you might find the following interesting as well:


  • Babatunde, A. (2013). Occupational Stress: A Review on Conceptualisations, Causes and Cure. Economic Insights-Trends & Challenges, 65(3).
  • Balducci, C., Fraccaroli, F.,&Schaufeli, W. B. (2011). Workplace bullying and its relation with work characteristics, personality, and post-traumatic stress symptoms: An integrated model. Anxiety, Stress & Coping, 24(5), 499-513.
  • Brosschot, J. F., Verkuil, B., & Thayer, J. F. (2016). The default response to uncertainty and the importance of perceived safety in anxiety and stress: An evolution-theoretical perspective. Journal of anxiety disorders, 41, 22-34.
  • Cavanaugh, M. A., Boswell, W. R., Roehling, M. V., & Boudreau, J. W. (2000). An empirical examination of self-reported work stress among US managers. Journal of applied psychology, 85(1), 65.
  • CepymeNews. (2018). España es el país europeo con más estrés laboral. Retrieved on 25 September 2018 from: https://cepymenews.es/espana-es-el-pais-europeo-con-mas-estres-laboral/
  • Colligan, T. W. & Higgins, E. M. (2006). Workplace stress: Etiology and consequences. Journal of workplace behavioral health, 21(2), 89-97.
  • Conley, S. & You, S. (2014). Role stress revisited: Job structuring antecedents, work outcomes, and moderating effects of locus of control. Educational Management Administration & Leadership, 42(2), 184-206
  • Ganster, D. C. & Rosen, C. C. (2013). Work stress and employee health: A multidisciplinary review. Journal of Management, 39(5), 1085-1122.
  • Hargrove, M. B., Quick, J. C., Nelson, D. L., & Quick, J. D. (2011). The theory of preventive stress management: a 33‐year review and evaluation. Stress and Health, 27(3), 182-193.
  • Heraclides, A. M., Chandola, T., Witte, D. R., & Brunner, E. J. (2012). Work stress, obesity and the risk of type 2 diabetes: gender‐specific bidirectional effect in the whitehall II study. Obesity, 20(2), 428-433.
  • Hoobler, J. M., Rospenda, K. M., Lemmon, G., & Rosa, J. A. (2010). A within-subject longitudinal study of the effects of positive job experiences and generalized workplace harassment on well-being. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 15(4), 434.
  • Karimi, R. &Alipour, F. (2011). Reduce job stress in organizations: Role of locus of control. International Journal of Business and Social Science, 2(18), 232-236.
  • Kivimäki, M. &Kawachi, I. (2015). Work stress as a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Current cardiology reports, 17(9), 74.
  • Kung, C. S. & Chan, C. K. (2014). Differential roles of positive and negative perfectionism in predicting occupational eustress and distress. Personality and Individual Differences, 58, 76-81.
  • McCraty, R., Atkinson, M., & Tomasino, D. (2003). Impact of a workplace stress reduction program on blood pressure and emotional health in hypertensive employees. The Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine, 9(3), 355-369.
  • McEwen, B. S. (2000). The neurobiology of stress: from serendipity to clinical relevance1. Brain research, 886(1-2), 172-189.
  • Neall, A. M. & Tuckey, M. R. (2014). A methodological review of research on the antecedents and consequences of workplace harassment. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 87(2), 225-257.
  • Raver, J. L. & Nishii, L. H. (2010). Once, twice, or three times as harmful? Ethnic harassment, gender harassment, and generalized workplace harassment. Journal of Applied Psychology, 95(2), 236.
  • Rickenbach, E. H., Almeida, D. M., Seeman, T. E., & Lachman, M. E. (2014). Daily stress magnifies the association between cognitive decline and everyday memory problems: An integration of longitudinal and diary methods. Psychology and aging, 29(4), 852.
  • Selye, H. (1956). The stress of life. Nueva York: McGraw-Hill Book Company
  • Tennant, C. (2001). Work-related stress and depressive disorders. Journal of psychosomatic research, 51(5), 697-704.
  • Wiegel, C., Sattler, S., Göritz, A. S., &Diewald, M. (2016). Work-related stress and cognitive enhancement among university teachers. Anxiety, Stress, & Coping, 29(1), 100-117.

20 thoughts on “Work-related stress: definition, causes and consequences for health

  1. sijo Thursday January 10th, 2019 at 01:51 PM

    Is there any difference between job stress , occupational stress, work place stress and work related stress ? or all are same.

    • NeuronUP Monday January 21st, 2019 at 01:23 PM

      Thank you for your message!
      As you have indicated, work-related stress can be designated by different names. They all refer to the relationship between the acute and chronic stress response and the work related stress!
      I hope that I have helped!

  2. Sofía Tuesday February 12th, 2019 at 08:30 PM

    Con k nombre se conoce el estrés laboral Estocolmo, útiles, burnout, o laboral

  3. Miriam Monday March 18th, 2019 at 09:58 AM

    ¡Qué artículo tan completo! Muy interesante eso de diferenciar entre estrés positivo y negativo, ya que es importante aprender a gestionar el negativo para que no afecta a la salud laboral (y general) de los trabajadores. Nosotros también hablamos un poco de eso: https://wellandco.es/ideas-reducir-absentismo-laboral/

  4. Fidel Moreno Briceño Wednesday December 18th, 2019 at 05:50 PM

    Un excelente y didáctico artículo, lo considero muy bien argumentado y su respaldo bibliográfico es evidente.


    • NeuronUP Thursday December 19th, 2019 at 09:22 AM

      ¡¡¡Gracias por tu comentario!!!

      Un saludo, Fidel

      El equipo de NeuronUP

  5. eva martinez Wednesday July 29th, 2020 at 01:53 AM

    Excelente blog, me pareció muy bueno ver el lado positivo del estrés laboral. Saludos!

    • NeuronUP Tuesday August 11th, 2020 at 02:50 PM

      ¡Gracias, Eva!

      Nos alegra que te guste 🙂

  6. Maria Sunday May 2nd, 2021 at 05:50 PM

    Muy buen post! ¿Cómo podemos aprender a gestionar el estrés negativo?
    Por cierto, no tenia ni idea que existiera un estrés positivo, siempre había visto el estrés como algo negativo.

    • NeuronUP Monday May 3rd, 2021 at 02:23 PM

      Hola María,

      Gracias 😊

      Para aprender a gestionar el estrés negativo es mejor acudir a un profesional cualificado que te ayude.

      ¡Siempre se aprende algo nuevo!

      Un saludo 👋🏻

  7. relajar la mente Monday June 7th, 2021 at 01:36 AM

    Gracias por compartir con todos un artículo tan completo como este. Enhorabuena por vuestro trabajo, un saludo!!

    • NeuronUP Monday June 7th, 2021 at 11:25 AM

      ¡Muchas gracias!

  8. Intelfon Monday June 7th, 2021 at 06:50 PM

    Muy buen articulo, cierto todo eso, buen aporte me ha gustado

    • NeuronUP Tuesday June 8th, 2021 at 10:11 AM

      ¡¡Muchas gracias!!

  9. Bienestar Monday June 28th, 2021 at 01:06 AM

    Muy buenas! En primer lugar daros la enhorabuena por la forma de redactar este artículo, muy claro y completo. Es bueno aprender siempre cosas nuevas…muchas gracias y saludos!

    • NeuronUP Monday June 28th, 2021 at 09:45 AM


  10. Estrés Thursday July 29th, 2021 at 04:43 PM

    Muy recomendable el artículo sobre el estrés. Gracias por compartir.

    • NeuronUP Friday July 30th, 2021 at 09:23 AM

      ¡Muchas gracias!

  11. Rutina de ejercicios hipopresivos en casa Sunday August 1st, 2021 at 01:17 PM

    A mi me ha servido mucho en casa hacer ejercicios para disminuir el estrés, escuchar música suave y comer saludable, hace que me sienta bien conmigo mismo y por lo tanto me trae paz mental, me ha gustado este artículo

    • NeuronUP Monday August 2nd, 2021 at 10:14 AM

      Muy interesante lo que comentas, muchas gracias por tu aportación, nos alegra que te haya gustado 😊

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