While many reviews of job stress and the stressor–strain relationship have been conducted, such reviews typically focus exclusively on quantitative data. In the current paper, we review qualitative studies on occupational stress that met two criteria: (1) the studies employed qualitative methods; (2) the stressors, strains and/or coping strategies were grouped into identifiable, higher-order categories. Results indicated that the nature of the stressors experienced varied by (a) occupation, (b) country, (c) seniority and (d) gender. The review further revealed that organizational constraints, work overload and interpersonal conflict were relatively universal stressors. Anger and annoyance were the most frequently reported psychological strains in the United States and the United Kingdom, while Chinese workers exhibited tension and anxiety and Indian workers exhibited acceptance. Coping strategies also varied by gender, occupation and country. Research on gender differences suggested that, compared to men, women tended to report more interpersonal stressors. Differences in the ways in which the two types of methodologies are applied, as well as their relative strengths and weaknesses, underline the value of qualitative approaches to the study of occupational stress, especially when used in conjunction with quantitative methods in mixed-methods studies. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.