Spiralling levels of workplace stress is loosing the UK an estimated 1,554,256 working days every year at a cost of £1.24bn, a figure that means 11 per cent of the UK's total sickness absence is due to stress.
Research among 700 managers by Personnel Today magazine revealed that more than eight out of ten managers believed stress was damaging the UK’s competitiveness and six out of ten believe that it increases staff retention problems.
The problem also seems to be getting worse, with more than half of those polled reporting an increase in stress. A mere seven per cent said things were getting better.
“The only reason Britain has kept pace at all is because we work the longest hours in Europe,” the report says. “We are having to work harder and longer to maintain our position in the pack - less inspiration means more perspiration."
The UK's productivity performance is "atrocious", the report adds, with output per hours worked 20 per cent lower than in Germany or France and way below the European average.
The main reason for this epidemic appears to be ingrained in the cultures of many organisations and exacerbated by simple bad management. Problems include placing unreasonable demands on staff, a lack of support and training, bullying and poorly defined job roles.
But more than half the managers surveyed said that they believed that about half of the time lost to stress was not genuine.
"As organisations strive to increase their productivity they appear to be putting greater stress on their employees," said Jane King, editor of Personnel Today. "This in turn is adversely affecting their productivity. This is a vicious circle that employers must interrupt.
"A first step towards this is to ensure that individuals have clear, achievable aims and targets and that they are given proper training to help them achieve those targets."
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.
"It confirms what we have been hearing from employers - they would welcome help with identifying practical interventions to manage the sources of stress."