United Kingdom

Experts warn of epidemic as work-related stress levels increase

November 2018

New figures from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have revealed a worrying rise in work-related stress among UK workers over the past year. 15.4 million working days were lost due to stress last year – an increase of three million from 12.4 million the previous year.

Of the 595,000 workers who suffered from work-related stress, depression and anxiety in 2017/18, 239,000 of those were newly-reported cases. In total, 26.8million working days have been lost to workplace ill-health in general, including mental health issues, musculoskeletal disorders and workplace injury.

The TUC said the increase in workers suffering from work-related stress has reached ‘epidemic’ levels and last week called on employers to take the issue more seriously.

“Warm words are not going to fix the problem,” said TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady. “Managers needs to do far more to reduce the causes of stress and support employees struggling to cope. This means tackling issues like excessive workloads and bullying in the office. Toxic workplaces are bad for staff and productivity.”

Charles Alberts, head of health management at Aon warned that the HSE’s work-related ill health and injury statistics show a ‘worrying picture’ for mental health, with 69,000 more people suffering from work-related stress, depression and anxiety in 2017/18 than 2016/17 – a 13 per cent increase.

“It’s concerning that despite awareness of mental health being greater than ever before and many examples of good practice by employers up and down the country, the situation appears to be worsening,” he said. “Whilst there is much activity in workplace mental health, these figures are a startling reminder that there is much more to be done.”

According to Alberts, technology and the pace of work as well as the financial crisis are likely to have contributed to rising stress levels. Brexit too, which has given rise to speculation and uncertainty with some industries already impacted and having to make cuts could also be having an effect, he said.

Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (1999) and the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, employers have a legal duty to protect employees from stress at work including carrying out risk assessments and making reasonable adjustments. But Alberts warns that too many employers are failing to adequately assess psychosocial hazards as they do for physiological hazards such as noise, vibration and dust.

“We won’t get away with inaction for much longer,” he said. “Whilst it’s understood that the regulator’s audits have traditionally focused more on physical hazards, with the scale of work-related stress, we are expecting greater attention to this issue in the future.”

He added: “There is a misconception that stress is a normal part of working life and a fear amongst some about what a stress risk assessment may uncover. But putting our heads in the sand is not the answer; inaction is bad for business, bad for individuals and bad for society as a whole. The time for action is now.”



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