The Cost of Stress at Work: Employer Responsibility by Kgomotso Mopalami

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South Africa’s workforce is stressed and depressed. According to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) one in four employeeshave been diagnosed with depression. Job shortages and financial challenges are putting a strain on workers’ mental health. 

Stress is the reality of modern workplace; a common challenge globally, that affects both individuals and organisations. “Stress contributes to decreased organisational performance, high error rate and poor quality of work, high staff turnover, and absenteeism due to health problems such as anxiety; emotional disorder; work life imbalance; depression and other forms of ailments such as frequent headache; obesity and cardiac arrests”(Ajayi, S)[1].  Due to these factors, employers often might have to bear financial losses, due to decreased performance instigated by higher levels of stress.

Subsequently, a number of factors such as lack of administrative support, excessive work load and work demand; problematic customer relations, co-worker’s relationship, family & work life balance and associated job risks might cause stressful situations which can impact negatively on the employees’ well-being as well as job performance. 

Employee wellness has become a national phenomenon, apprehending the modern day organisations aiming for high levels of productivity. Employee wellness is defined as a strategy to ensure that a safe and healthy work and social environment is created and maintained, together with individual wellness commitment that enables employees to perform optimally while meeting all health and safety legislative requirements and other relevant wellness good practices in support of the achievement of organisational objectives (SABPP, 2013)[2]

Employees are a major asset of every organisation, however, if not well cared for, might become a liability instead.  Although many organisations are emphasising on the wellness of their employees, many individuals from different spheres of work are affected by stress, which ultimately affects their job performance. Job stress has become a key challenge for many organisations as it negatively impacts on individual performance as well as the organisation.  The impact of employee burnout may include:  

  • Poor performance and productivity
  • Low morale
  • Increased ill-health
  • Accidents and incidents report
  • Low motivation; also 
  • Legal financial damages (which eventually affects the employees work behavior and leads him/her towards counter-productive behavior) (Okeke,2016)[3].  

Employee performance should be a point of concern for the employer; this is important as stress does not only affect employees’ work performance, but also, their physiological wellbeing, behavioural levels as well as their family relations.  As a result, an employer should not take signs of stress on an individual for granted.  It cannot be ignored that one of the challenges might be of individuals who do not disclose the emotional mayhem they face until it is late.  However, it is the managers responsibility to confront any suspicious behavioural patterns or norms.  

Employees are continuously affected by stress; they have deadlines to meet, work demands; hassles and subsequently, frustrations. It is thus imperative for the employer to mitigate to sharply handle stress in the workplace. It is almost not possible to change the person’s general mindset and thought patterns. However, encouraging conscious thinking might be helpful for individuals undergoing stressful situations; stress should be dealt with in a clear and more positive way.  This might be achieved by confronting the person or the situation.  As the saying goes, “it’s not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it” (Hans Selye).

The Role of Employer / Human Resource Management

It is in the best interest of the employer to create a culture of support to deal with stress accordingly.  Also, HR plays a critical role in assisting the employer to deal with such situations. The employer can do the following: 

  • Minimise stress by providing adequate administrative support to employees
  • Optimise work load 
  • Effectively manage customer expectations
  • Minimise relationship and role conflict 
  • Deploy an adequate reward system  
  • Provide adequate training and counseling to employees
  • Good practice by assessing the situation; generating solutions; implementing remedial actions; evaluating the situation; and continuous monitoring 

Employers need to create a conducive, healthy environment, where employees will feel comfortable to share experiences without fear of victimisation. It is also important for an employer to continuously support employees’ wellness by having policies in place to guide on how effectively to deal with incidents that are stress related and how to well deal with individual sensitive issues.   In essence, employees’ needs should be well catered for by the employer. Any unpleasant working environment deters organisational progress; however, healthy relations can increase productivity and everybody’s wellbeing. 

Also refer to:


[1]Ajayi, Samuel, Effect of Stress on Employee Performance and Job Satisfaction: A Case Study of Nigerian Banking Industry (April 11, 2018). Available at SSRN:

[2]SABPP HR Standards, 2013

[3]Okeke, M.D. Ojan, E. & Oboreh, J.C. 2016. Effects of Stress on Employee Productivity.  International Journal of Accounting Research. 2(11): 38-49.