Employees in the UK are struggling with a workplace stress epidemic, with 64% suffering with poor or below average mental wellbeing. The news comes as International Stress Awareness Week begins, highlighting the need for action from British employees.

In a survey conducted by The Stress Management Society for workplace consultants Peldon Rose, and measured by the widely recognised Short-Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale, 41% of UK workers had workplace stress measured as ‘poor’, while a further 23% were measured as ‘below average’.

36% of people reported such workplace stress as having been on-going for at least five years, while 48% said they had needed to take at least one day off for their mental health.

“This new research is an urgent wake up call for employers to start assessing what their people and business really need to be healthy and productive, and start addressing the concerning levels of stress amongst the nation’s employees,” said Jitesh Patel, chief executive at Peldon Rose.

Key causes of workplace stress

The biggest cause of stress in the workplace was increasing workloads, with 56% of respondents citing this as a primary concern.

However, the length of time working was also key, with 36% of people reporting working over 9 hours a day, and 75% of respondents in a sedentary occupation. These two factors combine to create an environment where workers are sitting for very long periods, and for 46% this lack of time to focus on wellbeing and exercise was a key cause of stress.

Another key cause was slow or out of date technology, which presents a barrier to efficient work. 37% of respondents cited this as a key source of stress.

The workplace environment was also seen as important, with 51% saying their office or other work environment fails to have a positive impact on their mental health.

“As the pressures and demands of life just keep increasing and the pace of life continues to accelerate more and more people are finding themselves overwhelmed,” said Neil Shah, chief de-stressing officer, The Stress Management Society.

“The consequences of this are far reaching, both to the individual, the team and the organization.  It is clear that if we want our organisations to succeed and thrive we need to focus on our most important asset – our people.”

Combatting stress in the workplace

Aside from the obvious step of reducing workloads and hours, the survey also identified a number of key ways in which workplace stress could be reduced.

Almost half of workers (49%) would like to see their companies introduce a yoga and meditation room, while 50% want to have exercise facilities provided. In both cases, these would combat both stress and the issues surrounding sedentary work.

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44% also wanted improved heating and ventilation being improved, reflecting the importance of a good-quality working environment.

Many also indicated the need for more flexible working spaces, with 42% wanting quiet working areas and 38% calling for the introduction of breakout spaces.

Action from employers needed

The research highlights the need for employees to take action on workplace stress, particularly in light of the operational improvements it can bring.

“Workers are appealing to employers to help them to build time into their working day to focus on exercise and wellbeing and to provide the right office environment to facilitate this,” said Patel.

“Employers must listen, stand back and introduce the necessary, bold, new changes that will transform the culture and mental health of their workforce.”