Study shows 40% increase in work-related stress

Study shows 40% increase in work-related stress

By Liz Lockhart

The Society of Occupational Medicine has today (21/02/12) revealed some very interesting information about work-related stress. 

As with the link between the general population and mental health conditions, one in four workers will experience work-related stress in a time of recession, according to new research.

The study findings are published in the scientific journal Occupational Medicine.  They also show that during a period of economic downturn, work-related stress increases by 40% and that the number of employees needing time off work due to work stress increased by 25%.  During a slump, the total amount of time off work due to stress-related problems increased by more than 33%.

These findings are a stark warning to employees at a time when gloomy predictions of Britain’s economic prospects suggest a ‘double dip’ recession. 

A warning from the Society of Occupational Medicine says that the study results show that companies should use occupational health services or they risk long-term damage to their productivity.

Dr Henry Goodall, President, Society of Occupational Medicine told Mental Healthy "A good Occupational Health team can help senior management develop programmes to educate line managers and the workforce about work related illness, so that the problem is recognised, appropriate early intervention given and employees are helped to cope better or, if they are already off sick, to return to work. Occupational Health staff will know about the particular stressors and strains of the work environment and have experience of sensitive issues such as workplace confidentiality, job security and the timing of the return to part-time or full-time working. They are also well placed to work closely with Family Doctors or other Specialist health services."

He added "One of the problems is that only a small proportion of the UK's workforce have access to Specialist Occupational Health Doctors and Nurses. There is now a new Health for Work Advice line available, which provides help and support to organisations with fewer than 250 employees, who often feel the burden of common mental illnesses caused by pressure at work the hardest, particularly during this period of relative economic instability. Visit for more information."

Tens of thousands of people were questioned in this large study which was undertaken by researchers at the University of Nottingham and University of Ulster.  All the people questioned were civil servants in Northern Ireland.

The study compared the findings from two surveys.  The first survey was conducted in 2005, a period of time prior to the onset of the recession.  The second survey was conducted in 2009 a period of time when the economy was severely hit. 

The scientists examined areas such as the demands of the job, the support they felt that they had from managers, and the control which they had over their work to assess how exposed the participants were to the pressures of their job.

The workers’ perceptions of how stressed they were at work and how much time they had taken off as a result of stress were also measured.  The findings underline the importance of focusing on looking after employees’ mental health and wellbeing during difficult economic periods.

There are large companies which recognise the need for this type of care.  BT is one such company which has set strategies in place to help with work-related stress.  Catherine Kilfedder, BT group health advisor said ‘BT has a wealth of information and support for its people and families on many aspects of health and wellbeing, including the impact of the recession and stress.  When the recession first hit, we partnered with Relate to make additional support available to employees to promote and develop our resources in these difficult times.’

The two most common reasons for people to start claiming long-term sickness benefits are depression and anxiety.  Senior management teams can play a vital role in aiding people to get back to work by investing in occupational health services.  This type of strategy can not only improve the overall performance of the organization but also greatly help the individual employees.  This, in turn, saves on the costs of sickness absence, both to the company and the employees.

Dr. Goodall told Mental Healthy "The rate of mental illness in the workplace is rising and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development estimates that the average cost of sickness absence to business is £666 per employee per year. Employers who invest a small proportion of that in the health of their staff will reap the rewards financially, by reducing sickness absence and by having a more healthy, productive and committed workforce."

"If you are under excessive pressure at work and feel unwell or unable to cope - see your GP to rule out any other causes for your symptoms. Then talk to your manager and ask for help- there are solutions to nearly every problem." 

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