April is Stress Awareness Month, a time to focus on the importance of understanding and managing the effects of stress in our lives. As the world continues to grapple the after effects of the pandemic, stress and its impact on mental health have come to the fore.
The impact of stress on mental health is well documented; according to Statista the most common cause of stress is work-related stress (79% of those surveyed say they frequently felt it); according to the Mental Health Foundation and YouGov 74% of people say they feel so stressed they have been overwhelmed or unable to cope; and according to Ciphr one in 14 UK adults (7%) say they feel stressed every single day. Now, new research by insurer Axa UK and the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr) highlights the staggering economic toll of poor mental wellbeing.
The research, which surveyed 30,000 adults across 16 European, Asian and American countries, shows that in the UK alone, work-related stress and burnout is costing the economy £28 billion a year, highlighting the ongoing mental health crisis in the UK and the need for action to address it.
In the UK alone, work-related stress and burnout is costing the economy £28 billion a year
More people reported struggling with emotional distress in the UK than in any other nation surveyed, with over a fifth of UK adults falling into this category, compared to 17% in the US, 14% in Japan and Ireland, and only 5% of respondents in Thailand. A further quarter of respondents said they were ‘languishing’, indicating that nearly half of people in Britain were not in a positive state of mental wellbeing.
This translates to a significant loss of working days (23.3 million per year), with employees taking sick days due to stress, burnout and poor mental health.
Additionally, financial concerns among employees are costing UK businesses up to £6.2bn alone in sick days and lack of productivity, amid mounting cost-of-living pressures.
Stress in the workplace is often unavoidable, but when levels of stress are unmanageable, this becomes an issue for both one’s performance and one’s health. It is also a major cause of long-term absence from work, therefore knowing how to manage the factors that can cause work-related stress is key to managing people effectively.
According to the Workplace Health Report 2023 produced by Champion Health, the year-on-year percentage of UK professionals reporting moderate to high levels of stress has increased from 67% to 76%. The data shows that by far the most common source of stress for employees is workload, with other issues including a lack of support, lack of control and actions or behaviours of senior staff members. Over a third of employees reported that the stress experienced at work was having a negative impact on them.
Other research by Perkbox in 2020 showed that workplace politics were the most common cause of work-related stress (37%), followed by lack of interdepartmental communication (34%), and the work performance of others (33%). Whichever way we look at it, the work culture and environment is significantly impactful when it comes to work-related stress.
Employers have a responsibility to manage workplace stress and create a positive and supportive work environment that prioritises employee physical and mental health. Policies and procedures for managing workloads effectively are critical, along with flexible working arrangements, training and support for managers, and employee wellbeing assistance programmes.
It should also include regular two-way communication, compassionate leadership and inspiration, recognition and appreciation for good performance, caring candour where performance could be improved, with support when needed, and the promotion of a healthy work-life balance.
Economic impact is important although it isn’t the only driver for looking after one’s employees.
Most employers would agree it is the right thing to do. Fostering a caring and supportive culture where employees can be themselves is essential for the health of both the employee and the organisation.
Alongside this, employees can also take steps to manage their own stress levels, including setting boundaries, practicing self-care, seeking support when needed, and engaging in activities that promote stress relief and relaxation, including exercise, mindfulness, being outside in nature, spending time with friends and family, and taking regular breaks from work.
Whilst stress is a normal part of life, excessive and prolonged stress can have serious negative consequences for one’s mental and physical health, affecting individuals and businesses alike. The latest research highlights the significant financial toll of work-related stress and burnout on the UK economy; the same applies closer to home in the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.
By taking a more proactive approach to addressing work-related stress and burnout, employers, individuals and policymakers alike can come together to improve the quality of life for ourselves, our organisations and our economy. Stress Awareness Month is the ideal place to start.