Managing Work-Related Stress

Impacts of Work-Related Stress

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), work-related stress is defined as "the response people may have when presented with work demands and pressures that are not matched to their knowledge and abilities and which challenge their ability to cope" (Leka et al., 2003, p. 3).

The demands of contemporary work are expected to create pressure in the workplace. When employees perceive the amount of pressure is appropriate, it can motivate them to learn and perform well. However, excessive pressure can result in work-related stress that may impact employees' physical and mental health and organisational performance (World Health Organization, 2020).

While the impact of stress on employee health may vary depending on the characteristics and responses of individuals, a high level of stress may lead to physiological, behavioural, emotional and cognitive effects like headaches, sleep issues, anxiety and poor concentration.

Over a prolonged period, the affected employees may suffer from high blood pressure, musculoskeletal disorders, cardiovascular disease, depression or burnout. These physical and mental health conditions can translate to human, social, and financial costs for organisations arising from lowered productivity, motivation, commitment, satisfaction, work quality, and increased absenteeism and turnover (International Labour Organization, 2016).

Sources of Work-Related Stress

The causes of stress at work ('stressors') are known as psychosocial hazards or psychosocial risks (International Labour Organization, 2016) and tend to relate to the content of work (i.e. the way work is designed) or the context of work (i.e. the way organisations are managed) (World Health Organization, 2020).

Some of the hazards associated with work content include:

  1. Job content (e.g. monotonous tasks or a low variety of tasks);

  2. Workload and work pace (e.g. too much work or excessive time pressure);

  3. Working hours (e.g. long working hours or poorly designed shift arrangements); and

  4. Participation and control (e.g. low autonomy in decision-making or no control over work procedures)

Other hazards linked to work context comprise:

  1. Career development, status and pay (e.g. lack of job security, limited opportunities for promotion or unclear performance appraisal system);

  2. Employee's role in the organisation (e.g. role ambiguity or role conflicts);

  3. Interpersonal relationships (e.g. unsupportive management or poor relationships with colleagues);

  4. Organisational culture (e.g. lack of communication or poor leadership); and

  5. Work-life balance (e.g. incompatible demands of work and home or lack of policies to support work-life balance)

Indeed, the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic has increased work demands and taken a toll on the employees' mental well-being. According to a survey by Mercer Marsh Benefits with over 14,000 employees from 13 countries, more than half (56%) of Singapore employees reported that they did not receive strong support from their employers during the pandemic. Similarly, over half (55%) of Singapore's workforce stated that they had experienced everyday stress. Interestingly, these results are higher than those reported by other employees in Asia and across the globe (Mercer LLC, 2022).

On a positive note, the pandemic has, however, generated greater awareness of employee mental health (Loh, 2021).

Legal Requirements of Mental Well-Being at Work

In November 2021, the revised Code of Practice on Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) Risk Management, or more commonly known as the Risk Management Code of Practice (RMCP), was published by the Workplace Safety and Health Council (2021a) to take into consideration employee mental well-being at the workplace.

In other words, organisations are mandatorily required to update their risk management processes to account for their employees' mental well-being to comply with the Workplace Safety and Health Act and the Workplace Safety and Health (Risk Management) Regulations.

However, besides informing organisations on the legal requirements, the RMCP has also presented a systematic approach for guiding organisations to implement risk management at work.

Playbook on Workplace Mental Well-Being

Organisations may also refer to the Playbook on Workplace Mental Well-Being (PWMW), which is co-developed by the Workplace Safety and Health Council, Institute for Human Resource Professionals and Ministry of Manpower and published in December 2021 (Workplace Safety and Health Council, 2021b).

As an extension of the 'Tripartite Advisory on Mental Well-being at Workplaces', the PWMW aims to guide organisations in supporting employee mental well-being and is mainly focused on these five (5) initiatives:

  1. Create safe spaces for conversations;

  2. Encourage self-care;

  3. Set up a peer support system;

  4. Use digital mental health tools; and

  5. Set clear expectations on after-hours communication

ISO 45003:2021 Standard

The ISO 45003:2021 standard was published in June 2021 as a guide for organisations to manage psychosocial risk based on the ISO 45001:2018 standard on occupational health and safety (OH&S) management system.

This new international standard contains extensive information on raising awareness about psychosocial risks, developing abilities to manage psychosocial risks, and supporting the recovery and return of affected employees to the workplace (International Organization for Standardization, 2021).


Psychosocial hazards or risks may result in work-related stress that can be detrimental to the health of employees and the performance of organisations. Hence, organisations should address such hazards and risks, not just to comply with the regulatory requirements in Singapore but also to safeguard the mental well-being of employees for the benefit of the business.

The RMCP, PWMW, and the ISO 43001:2021 standard are some valuable resources that organisations can use to guide them towards achieving this goal.


International Labour Organization. (2016). Workplace stress: A collective challenge.

International Organization for Standardization. (2021). ISO 45003:2021(en): Occupational health and safety management – Psychological health and safety at work – Guidelines for managing psychosocial risks.

Leka, S., Griffiths, A., & Cox, T. (2003). Work organisation and stress: Systematic problem approaches for employers, managers and trade union representatives. World Health Organization.

Loh, D. (2021, July 07). Singapore's stressed workers highlight COVID mental health strain. Nikkei Asia.

Mercer LLC. (2022). Employers in Singapore fell behind in supporting staff during the pandemic, according to a Mercer Marsh Benefits survey. Retrieved from

World Health Organization. (2020). Occupational health: Stress at the workplace. Retrieved from

Workplace Safety and Health Council. (2021a). Code of Practice on Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) Risk Management.

Workplace Safety and Health Council. (2021b). A Playbook On Workplace Mental Well-being.