This is the cost in lost hours caused by spiralling workplace stress that is
crippling UK business, hampering productivity and preventing employers from
retaining and attracting staff.
Exclusive research by Personnel Today and the Health & Safety Executive
(HSE) has revealed the extent of the UK’s stress overload – an estimated
1,554,256 working days lost to stress every year. Worryingly, it is a problem
that is getting worse, with more than half of UK organisations reporting an
increase in workplace stress.
A massive 83 per cent of HR professionals say they believe stress is holding
back the UK’s efforts to close the productivity gap, while 60 per cent claim it
is adding to staff retention problems.
The Stress in the UK Workplace survey, based on responses from almost 700
senior HR practitioners, suggests that stress-related illness now accounts for
around 11 per cent of all sickness absence.
HR has a fundamental role to play in combating stress after nearly half the
employers questioned said the culture in their business was causing stress.
The main causes cited by respondents are all basic management failures that
must be addressed by the HR function.
These problems include unreasonable demands on staff, a lack of support and
training, poor relationships at work, and poorly defined job roles.
Meanwhile, a separate survey of UK employees, based on questions developed
by Personnel Today, highlights the pressures of the modern workplace with 35
per cent of staff admitting they felt unsupported by managers.
The National Employee Benchmarks Survey, by BMRB, questioned almost 2,000
employees and found that more than half the UK workforce feels under pressure
to work long hours. The issue of stress has reached such proportions that 42
per cent worry about their job outside working hours, 40 per cent feel they
cannot report concerns over excessive pressure and 19 per cent dread going into
A quarter of the workforce admitted that worrying about work was affecting
their sleep while just over a third of all employees in the UK said they felt
overwhelmed by their workload.
Mike Emmott, employee relations adviser at the Chartered Institute of
Personnel and Development, said HR must rise to the challenge of dealing with
"Tackling stress is about good management. Line managers have to be
competent and aware and stress is now a major HR issue," he said.
"It’s a growing problem that’s linked to bullying, long hours, work load
and management support."
The results of the Stress in the UK Workplace survey will now be used by the
HSE to fine-tune its Stress Management Standards, which are due to be phased in
Elizabeth Gyngell, head of the better working environment division at the
HSE, said the research highlighted the need for greater support and guidance
for employers. "This Personnel Today survey has enabled us to find out
directly from people at work, in particular HR managers, what will help them to
tackle work-related stress.
"It confirms what we have been hearing from employers – they would
welcome help with identifying practical interventions to manage the sources of
Survey’s key findings
– 83% think stress is harming
– 52% say stress is increasing
– 11% of absence due to stress
– 60% claim stress is damaging staff retention
– 51% of employers believe that only half of all the days lost
to stress-related sickness absence are genuine
Buy the stress survey
A comprehensive report on the findings of the October 2003 stress survey by
the Health and Safety Executive and Personnel Today is available
now. Price £25. Phone 01371 810433 for more information or