Updated: Sep 21, 2021
Today marks the start of International Week of Happiness at Work 2021, a timely reminder to ask ourselves just how happy at work we are. The Health & Safety Executive’s report, Work-related Stress, Anxiety or Depression Statistics in Great Britain 2020 reports a significant increase in work-related stress, anxiety and depression in the UK in 2020. Work-related stress is defined as a harmful reaction to undue pressures and demands at work. According the HSE, in 2019/20 there were an estimated 828,000 workers affected by work-related stress, depression or anxiety. This represents 2,440 per 100,000 workers and results in an estimated 17.9 million lost working days, an average of 21.6 days lost per case. In 2019/20 work-related stress, depression or anxiety accounted for 51% of all work-related ill health and 55% of all days lost due to work-related ill-health.
Over recent years the rate of self-reported work-related stress, anxiety or depression has increased, with 2019/20 significantly higher than the previous year. Although we might assume that Covid-19 may have been a causal factor for the increase, evidence suggests otherwise. The main causes of work-related stress, depression or anxiety were found to be workload pressures, tight deadlines and too much responsibility. Other factors include a lack of managerial support, organisational changes at work, violence in the workplace and role uncertainty (lack of clarity about job/uncertain what meant to do). This is backed up by the GP network analysis of work-related mental ill health which found that workload pressures were the predominant cause, with other significant factors including interpersonal relationships at work and changes at work.
Stress, depression and anxiety is more prevalent in public service industries, such as education, health and social care and public administration. Those reporting higher rates of stress, anxiety or depression include health professionals such as nurses and therapists, teaching professionals, welfare professionals, care professionals, protective service occupations such as police officers and customer service occupations. These occupations appear to share high levels of public contact or interaction, and many are also largely within the public sector.
Females have significantly higher rates of work-related stress, depression or anxiety. In particular, females aged 25 to 34, and 35 to 44 had significantly higher rates of work-related stress, depression or anxiety. Males aged 16 to 24 and 55 years plus have significantly lower rates of work-related stress, depression or anxiety.
CIPD’s annual survey, Health and Wellbeing at Work (2021) finds a range of contributing factors:
Mental ill health is the top cause of long-term absence
Management style is the second main cause of work-related stress, a stark reminder of the negative impact managers can have on people’s mental health and wellbeing
There’s a fall in the number of organisations training line managers to support people with mental ill health
Presenteeism and leaveism are widespread, with many employees feeling like they can’t switch off; two-fifths of organisations experiencing these issues are taking no action whatsoever.
Organisations are failing to support their employees’ financial wellbeing.
There is insufficient action to manage the health risks from increased homeworking.
Very few organisations collect and publish workforce disability information.
CIPD finds that there’s significant room for improvement. Happiness at Work Week is a timely reminder to reflect on how happiness in the workplace can be improved and the steps we can take as individuals to make a difference.
1. 360 degree feedback: if it feels safe to do so, you can provide feedback to HR and your line manager about how they can better support your mental health
2. Line management training: good people management can help manage and prevent stress, anxiety and depression. Awareness and training is needed for line managers and team leaders to enable them to engage staff on the subject of mental health, encourage open and supportive conversations and improve support for employees. If you are responsible for managing or team leading people in the workplace, you can request training in mental health
4. Employee Assistance Programme: ask your employer about their employee assistance programme and/or counselling services.
5. Appraisals and performance review: research shows that unmanageable workloads are the main cause of work-related stress. You can use your 1-2-1 meetings with your line manager to request a job design or workload review. Meaningful work with realistic workloads and timescales will help to manage the risk of work-related stress which can tip over into poor mental health.
6. Raising Awareness: Promoting awareness and educating others in the workplace about mental health can help to reduce the stigma and replace common myths with facts. You could start a workplace support group with the support of your line manager or HR representative.
7. Work-life balance: Review the number of hours you are working with your line manager. Working long hours is not a sustainable way of operating and will take its toll on. An appropriate balance between work and personal life means you will remain refreshed and productive.
8. Flexible work request: if you are returning to work after a period of absence due to mental ill health, or to have a better work-life balance to prevent stress, you can request flexible working arrangements, an adjustment to your working hours
9. Return to Work interview: most organisations use a combination of methods to manage sickness absence and promote attendance such as the return-to-work interview, attendance reviews, and leave for family circumstances. Use these to let your line manager know you are struggling and what help or support you need from them.
10. Mental health signposting: you can find further support on our helplines pages.
Mental ill-health is a major cause of long-term absence from work and will affect one in four of us at some point in our lives, having a significant impact on our wellbeing. We can all help promote wellbeing and provide good mental health support for those who are experiencing mental ill health. Fostering good workplace relationships and strong support for good mental health is good for employees and the organisation. Promoting mental health and wellbeing at work helps prevent work-related stress, creates positive working environments where individuals feel valued and organisations can thrive and people feel happy at work.