89% of UK employees have suffered from workplace stress that is deemed excessive

One in every eight company employees in the UK has taken time off work for stress in the last year.

Conducted by the Dolan Contractor Group, the Stress in the Workplace study gathered responses from employees of 140 companies across the UK. Respondents were asked about the causes of what was deemed ‘excessive workplace stress’, how they combat stress to maintain good mental health and what their employers do to support them through stress.

The greatest cause of this stress in the UK workplace was found to be long working hours, with 41% of respondents to a study stating that they have been affected. Next most common is deadline or client pressure with 32%, followed by low pay and inability to build financial savings with 29%.

The study also identified differences in how stress is experienced between genders, and between employees of SMEs or large companies. Also revealed were crucial differences between the support available to permanent employees and that offered to employees hired on a contractor or freelance basis.

When asked how they would deal with stress, 6% of permanent employee respondents stated that they would not seek help if they were suffering from excessive stress, opting to ‘hope it gets better’. This figure rose to 17% of contractors and freelancers surveyed.

There were clear differences between SMEs and large companies when employees attributed sources of stress. Just under half of employees in SMEs (47%) stated that low pay, the inability to build savings and no chance of progression were stress points.

When respondents were asked how they’d tackle stress, 30% of those at large companies stated that they would speak to their manager. The amount who would seek help from their manager reduced to 12% of workers at SMEs. It’s possible that small businesses need to work harder to provide anonymity or an environment that workers feel comfortable to confide in senior staff members.

The majority of employees from large companies stated that long working hours (40%) caused them the most stress, followed by overwork and management pressure (36%).

Lauren Monks, Group Operations Director at Dolan Contractor Group, states: “The Stress in the workplace study deepens our understanding of our contractors, freelancers and the self employed. It outlines the key areas that cause stress and so gives us and employers insight to help reduce stress in the workplace.

“Stress is prevalent in all areas of work and across all industries regardless of the way you work – as a traditional employee or via your own limited company or umbrella employment, though contractors and freelancers are rarely mentioned in the conversation for stress in the workplace and mental wellbeing.”

Richard Holmes, Director of Wellbeing at Westfield Health, provides further comments on the study: “Burnout is a state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. Pressure at work is usually the main culprit and when budgets are tight and teams are small, people often find themselves with multiple roles and heavy workloads, piling on the stress.

“Policies like flexible or remote working can help employees balance work and home life, and things like turning off email servers outside of working hours helps ring fence valuable recovery time. Mental health first aid training can also help managers spot the signs or triggers and put preventions in place.

“Contractors or freelancers who don’t have the support of HR might need to adopt their own strategies such as setting working hours, turning off email alerts out of these hours and separating work and living space if working from home.”