Stress is the new normal for working Britons

14 May 2019

Work stress is the ‘new normal’ for working Britons. New report reveals the extent of the damage this causes to employee wellbeing and sets out an action plan to help employers address the issue and gain a healthier, more productive workforce as a result.

Published during Mental Health Awareness week, the Workplace Wellness report* reveals that:

  • Nearly half (45%) have considered leaving a job because of the stress it’s caused them
  • Nearly half (49%) weren’t sure whether their line manager would know what to do if they talked to them about a mental health issue
  • A third (33%) have lost sleep over their finances
  • Over a third (35%) feel stressed about their current financial situation
  • Over half (52%) were worried they’d be judged by their colleagues if they took too much time off sick
  • Nearly half (46%) felt their employer didn’t care about their health as long as they came into work

Financial wellbeing

The research found that many employees are struggling financially, and they are suffering from stress and sleepless nights as a result.

35% feel stressed about their current financial situation and 33% have lost sleep worrying about their finances. 30% worry about how they’ll get through the month on their salary, with 22% struggling to pay their monthly living costs and 19% regularly borrowing money so they can meet their day-to-day living costs.

These worries affect 21% of respondents’ work, with the younger age group (16- to 34-year-olds) being particularly affected – 35% say their financial worries affect their work.

Mental health

So it’s no surprise that many of our respondents are stressed: 79% have experienced stress at work during the last year, with 22% feeling stressed more often than not or all the time and almost half (47%) finding it normal to feel stress and anxiety at work.

And almost a quarter – 24% - have taken time off work after experiencing stress.

But many hide their stress from their managers – 59% didn’t tell their line managers when they experienced stress – even though it can get so bad that they consider handing in their notice.

People also don’t like to admit that they’ve taken time off because they’re stressed, whether that’s to their managers (35% record their sick leave as something other than stress) or to their colleagues (just 37% would be happy to tell colleagues they’d taken time off because of a mental health issue such as stress or anxiety).

Physical health

That reticence extends to physical health. Our research shows that 65% of respondents went to work the last time they were ill, with 55% saying they would rather come into work while ill than have work building up while they’re away.

Presenteeism – the act of coming into work while ill – affects people’s productivity, organisations’ ability to get a true picture of the health of their workforce, and – ultimately – the bottom line.

Many respondents say they come into work when they’re ill because they feel pressured by their managers if they take time off (47%) and they’re scared they’ll be judged by their colleagues for being off sick (52%).

The importance of having the right strategy

Wellbeing requires a joined-up approach to its financial, mental and physical aspects. While organisations may not be able to address all their employees’ issues, they should be creating open and sympathetic cultures and giving people the tools and support they need.

Line managers, senior executives and HR all play crucial roles in implementing successful wellbeing strategies: line managers are the eyes and ears of an organisation, while C-suite buy-in is critical to establishing a strategy’s credibility. HR supports and guides line managers, provides evidence to the board of the strategy’s success and uses employee data to provide an evidence-led approach.

And we provide an 8-point checklist of things HR can do now to make sure their organisations are providing their people with the best possible support for their financial, mental and physical wellbeing:

  • Make sure you’re compliant with Health and Safety legislation covering physical and mental wellbeing
  • Carry out a wellbeing audit of what you have in place now to make sure it’s working for your organisation and your people
  • Look at the data for valuable insights into the trends, patterns and problem hot spots that you’ll want to address
  • Train your line managers to be able to make a difference
  • Provide financial education so your employees can make better-informed decisions and understand what's available to help them get their finances under control
  • Optimise your wellness benefits and look at creative ideas around nudge incentives for healthy behaviour, wearable tech and financial wellness tools
  • Break down the stigma by encouraging a workplace culture where people are supported and encouraged to speak up and line managers facilitate open and sympathetic discussions
  • Demonstrate the tangible outcomes and impact of your wellbeing initiatives to strengthen the case for growing your wellness programme

“The benefits of this approach are a healthier, more productive workforce; an HR team able to demonstrate RoI; a culture of openness and tolerance, and a place where people want to work and can do their best,” says Kelly Higson, Head of Equality, Diversity, Inclusion and Wellness at Capita.

“Wellbeing, or wellness, in the workplace was once a buzzword: something that often invoked an ad-hoc response from well-intentioned HRDs and business leaders. They found themselves creating strategies and interventions that ticked another box on a check list, but that had no discernible, positive impact on their employees.

“Today there is more evidence of the tangible benefits of an integrated wellness strategy and a clearer narrative about the important role that employers play.

“Employee wellness is no longer just a buzzword. It’s a real, measurable and sizeable issue for employer and employee alike. Having a sustainable, relevant and integrated strategy that delivers proactive interventions and education is not only a great business investment but also something that employees expect to see.”


*Research conducted online by Research Now in March 2019 among 1,514 employees from across the UK aged 16+