Because of the increasing devolution of responsibility for health care, personnel management and organizational policies to the trust level, it is self-evident that staff morale and job satisfaction will depend to an ever larger extent on the quality of the individual management style and the corporate culture it fosters. This study was prompted by mounting concern within a health authority about levels of absenteeism and workforce dissaffection. To examine the extent and nature of these problems, a survey of nurses in a psychiatric Trust and a comparable general acute unit was conducted. In particular, the study investigated occupational stress levels among the two cohorts of nurses and their preparedness to use workplace counselling to manage their problems. A stratified random sample of 50 psychiatric and 50 general nurses was selected from the cognate units and a questionnaire was distributed. The results were subjected to a range of statistical analyses. Overall it was found that general nurses reported stress levels that were significantly higher than those of psychiatric nurses (P<0·05) and that they would be more likely to use workplace counselling services (P<0·01). These results did not accord with previous studies of this type and are explained in terms of relative organizational cultures and potential interventions designed to reduce occupational stress. The need for local surveys in identifying stress levels and understanding both its sources and solutions is emphasized.