Workplace stress makes staff sick, research finds

One in five employees claim they are extremely stressed at work, according to a study for the Health and Safety Executive.

Slightly more (23 per cent) say they have experienced illness that has been caused or made worse by work in the previous 12 months.

The study also found middle-aged workers and graduates were slightly more likely to report feelings of stress. Marital status mattered too, with those who were widowed, divorced or separated reporting higher levels of stress than single or married people.

Stress was found to increase with salary and to be greatest in socio-economic group 2, those earning over £20,000.

The most stressed respondents were likely to work at night, do shift work and work longer, more unsociable or unpredictable hours than the low stress group. They were also more likely to be exposed to noise at work.

Those reporting high stress levels tended to have to work fast, or very intensively, more frequently than those in the low stress group and had less control over their work speed and working time.

The findings were highlighted by Professor Andy Smith at a stress at work conference run by employment analysts IRS last week. He said, “Stress occurs where demands exceed ability to cope. High stress is associated with a heavy workload.”

In the long term high stress levels run hand in hand with more arthritis and rheumatism, backache, hay fever and stomach trouble, the study also found.

Respondents who had suffered these health problems over the previous 14 days noted that they made more use of pain-killers, medicine for indigestion, sleeping pills and antidepressants.

“There is a very urgent need to look at long-term health associated with stress at work,” Smith told the audience.

“Perceived stress at work is a major problem and we should consider prevention.”

The Bristol stress and health at work study was based on 4,135 respondents in paid employment drawn from a random sample from the local electoral register.

By Kathy Watson

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