89% of UK employees have suffered excessive stress in the workplace

The 2019 Stress in the Workplace study puts improving understanding of mental health concern over stress levels at work under the spotlight.

One in eight UK employees took time off after experiencing stress in the workplace last year, according to new research carried out by Dolan Contractor Group, experts in contractor payroll and accountancy.

The Stress in the Workplace study asked employees in 140 UK companies what causes ‘excessive workplace stress’, how they deal with it to maintain good mental health and what their employers do to support them through stress. 

The study found the greatest cause of stress in the workplace to be working hours, according to 41% of respondents. Deadlines and client pressure had impacted 32% of the respondents, followed by low pay and the 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. Just under half of the employees in SMEs (47%) stated that low pay, the inability to build savings and no chance of progression were stress points.

There were also crucial differences between the support available to permanent employees and that offered to employees hired on a contractor or freelance basis.

Dealing with stress in the workplace

When asked how they would deal with stress, 6% of permanent employees claimed they wouldn’t seek help if they were suffering from excessive stress, opting to ‘hope it gets better,’ instead. This figure rose to 17% of contractors and freelancers surveyed. 

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%).

Further findings from the study:

  • Female contractor workers are less likely to suffer from excessive stress due to long working hours when compared to female permanent workers. It is still predominantly women who take time off work, as the main carers for children within a family. They have to set their working hours around childcare, made possible by freelancing and contracting.
  • Contractors and freelancers were found to rely more heavily on their friends and families for support, with 26% stating this was their method to combat excessive stress. Furthermore, 30% of contractor and freelancer workers have taken leave from work to combat excessive stress. 

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.

“With the potential IR35 reforms looming, this adds a degree of uncertainty which we understand is unsettling and stressful for our clients. With 27% of contractors and freelancers stating that tax, red tape, and government changes contribute to excessive stress at work, we make sure that we offer IR35 contract reviews so our clients have the advice they need, plus we can offer them both umbrella employment as well as limited company accountancy. This takes the added stress of finding a new umbrella employer should the IR35 reforms affect them.” 

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.”

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