Stress epidemic wreaks havoc in UK businesses

Nov 06 2002 by Brian Amble Print This Article

New research for National Stress Awareness Day (held on Wednesday 6 November) shows that almost two-thirds of the UK workforce is suffering the effects of stress at work – up from just over half of the workforce in 2001.

Commissioned by the International Stress Management Association UK (ISMA UK) in association with AXA Insurance, the research also found that almost two-thirds (64 per cent) of people who are suffering stress at work believe that it is reducing their job satisfaction, and more than a third (36 per cent) stated that it is reducing their productivity.

At the same time, a separate survey of 5,000 UK employers reveals that 82 per cent of employers feel "vulnerable and at risk" from being sued by their employees for causing workplace stress, discrimination, or for bullying.

Work is now playing such a major role in contributing to stress that redundancy is now perceived to be more stressful than other major life events such as divorce or moving house.

Another particularly worrying finding is the extent to which young people are being affected by stress at work. A staggering 75 per cent of 18-24 year olds surveyed said that they had experienced it (more than double the figure for 2001 - making them the most stressed group of any of those surveyed).

Some 28 per cent of workers who experienced stress at work said that it is damaging their relationship with everyone they work with; and 20 per cent their relationship with everyone at home. 14 per cent also said that they had experienced bullying at work; and 11 per cent that they had experienced violence at work during the last 12 months. 14 per cent have sought medical help with the problems that stress has been causing them.

"Last year when we published our National Stress Awareness Day research, we talked about an 'epidemic' of work-related stress," says Carole Spiers, Chair of ISMAUK. "Sadly, the figures for 2002 paint an even more disturbing picture. What concerns us most is the fact that 78 per cent of people suffering the effects of work-related stress have sought no professional advice to help deal with it. Both the Health and Safety Executive, and professional bodies such as ourselves, are continually publicising the message that the tools are available for organisations to manage work-related stress effectively; and that they have a legal duty of care to do so. While a number of forward-thinking organisations are recognising the benefits of this, many more are simply paying lip service to proactive stress management, and are still failing to take the issue seriously."

"As an organisation, AXA Insurance recognise how important it is for stress to be identified, discussed and dealt with in the modern workplace," agrees Ian Anderson, Human Resources Director of AXA Insurance. "This isn't just about caring for employees. Stress is widely acknowledged for its effects on sickness absence levels, productivity and job satisfaction."

ISMA President, Professor Cary Cooper of the University of Manchester concludes, "While the research confirms a lot of things we already know about workplace stress – for example that long hours, bad bosses and difficulties in managing work/life balance are all key contributors – three of the results are particularly worrying. The first is the extent to which people are fearing redundancy - second only to illness or death of family or friends. Second is the level of concern regarding constant change in the workplace or 'change fatigue'. And third is the extent to which the young or '20-somethings' are now affected by workplace stress: double the numbers from last year's survey. Do they feel the burnout effects of long hours and lack of job security just like their elders?"

Summary of findings

  • 64 per cent of people have experienced stress at work in the last 12 months, up from 53 per cent in 2001
  • There is very little difference between genders, with 67 per cent of males and 62 per cent of females saying that they had experienced stress at work
  • 57 per cent of these people say that this stress has increased over the last 12 months
  • The most common workplace "stressors" include too much work (62 per cent), deadline pressures (58 per cent), aggressive management and/or poor communications (49 per cent), an unsupportive work environment (43 per cent) and problems with maintaining an acceptable work/life balance (42 per cent)
  • 64 per cent of people who experience stress at work say that it is reducing their job satisfaction, 36 per cent that it is reducing their productivity, 31 per cent that it is damaging their social life, and 29 per cent that it is damaging their health
  • 14 per cent of people who experience stress at work have sought medical help, but 78 per cent have sought no professional help
  • 58 per cent of people who experience stress at work expect the problems resulting from it to either stay the same or get worse over the next 12 months
  • London and the North East are the regions that are worst affected by stress at work, with 74 per cent of people saying they have been affected by it. They are followed by Wales (73 per cent), the East and East Anglia (71 per cent) and Scotland (70 per cent)
  • On a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 is "least stressful" and 5 is "most stressful", 70 per cent of people gave "you or a member of your family being made redundant" a score of 4 or 5. This was compared to 69 per cent for "you or a member of your family getting divorced" and 56 per cent for "moving house". "You or a member of your family suffering a major illness" and "a death in the family" both scored 91 per cent.

National Stress Awareness Day is an annual event (now in its fifth successive year) held on the first Wednesday in November. Being held this year in association with AXA Insurance, the event is organised by the International Stress Management Association (ISMAUK) - a registered charity with a multi-disciplinary professional membership. ISMA exists to promote sound knowledge and best practice in the prevention, reduction and management of personal and work-related stress; and sets professional standards for the benefit of individuals and organisations using the services of its members. For more information, please visit the ISMAUK website -

For further information on National Stress Awareness Day, please contact:

Jonathan Pearce at Concept 32 on 020 8607 9858 or email [email protected]
Rachel West, AXA Insurance on 020 7369 4293 email: [email protected]