The main aim of this paper is to make the case for why a fundamental reappraisal rather than incremental development of work stress and coping theory is required. In order to do this we present, in simplified form, some of the basic tenets of theory in this field. These tenets are questioned and their limitations identified in two ways. The first way is through contrasting the son of stories that emerge in counselling and psychotherapy about the causes of people's distress with the simplified accounts found in stress and coping theory. The second way is through a critical examination of the specific ideas that stressors are 'out there' in the work environment and that individuals go through a simple process of primary and secondary appraisal when dealing with potentially harmful aspects of the work environment. Drawing on the notion of the employee as an active crafter and shaper of their job and data showing the complex ways in which people make sense of potentially negative work circumstances, we show how these ideas are of very limited value. In conclusion, we suggest that these limitations are so serious that fundamental reappraisal rather than development is required.