New figures from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) show a significant rise in work-related stress among UK workers.
According to the HSE 15.4m working days were lost due to stress last year — an increase of three milllion from the 12.4m days the previous year.
In total the number of employees suffering from work-related stress, depression and anxiety has risen by 13 per cent, year-on-year to 595,000.
The figures show that 239,000 of these were newly-reported cases.
In total 26.8m working days have been lost to workplace ill-health in general. This includes mental health issues, such as stress, musculoskeletal disorders and workplace injury.
The TUC said the number of employees suffering from work-related stress has now reached “epidemic” levels and called for employers to do more to tackle this problem.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady says: “Warm words are not going to fix the problem. Managers need 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.”
Aon’s head of health management Charles Alberts adds that these figures show a “worrying picture” for mental health, with almost 70,000 more people suffering from work-related stress, anxiety and depression.
He says: “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.
“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.
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.
He adds: “Whilst it’s understood that the HSE’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.
“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.”