A combination of increasingly demanding, complex ‘knowledge’ jobs and poor management are behind the UK’s rising stress levels, a think-tank has argued.
A European-wide study by The Work Foundation said increasing pressure, coupled with inadequate support and few opportunities for career progression, were fuelling sleep problems, anxiety, irritability and stress at work.
An increasing number of professional and managerial jobs are also playing a part. Jobs that were highly complex, mentally taxing or involved juggling competing demands, were generally the most stressful, it argued.
The transition to a ‘knowledge-based’ economy, where many jobs were done with the help of computer technology, made work more efficient and speedy and helped with the widespread sharing and capturing of knowledge. On the downside, it had also led to the increased intensification of work and rapidly evolving jobs and roles.
Employers were now also able to use this technology to monitor and track staff performance more closely.
Senior researcher Rebecca Fauth said: “The most stressful job characteristics, especially among more highly skilled workers, is an intense job where employees are left to sink or swim within fast changing organisations, and where opportunities for rising through the ranks are low.
“Employers can put the right structures, processes and people in place to support workers properly,” she added.
Intriguingly, the study found little relationship between the degree of autonomy – control over the order, methods and speed with which employees do their work – and workers’ health.
Among those who reported work-related health problems, nearly two-thirds reported at least one stress symptom, despite UK workers being more likely to consider themselves in repetitive, monotonous jobs.
By comparison, just under three-quarters (check) of workers across the European Union reported suffering from stress symptoms.
However, the UK appeared to suffer less ill health in general than other European nations.
Slightly more than a fifth of UK workers reported a work-related health problem, against an EU average of 43%, it said.