Daily grind is taking its toll on a stressed-out workforce

An alarming number of office workers are seriously stressed. Sheena Hastings reports.

Under pressure

MORE than a fifth of office workers in Yorkshire admit to feeling stressed due to their job on a daily basis, according to new research.

The survey, carried out by stress experts on behalf of office supplies company Viking, reveals that 38 per cent of those interviewed and tested say work stress is affecting their everyday health. Worryingly, the high stress levels are manifesting themselves in unhealthy habits, with 35 per cent resorting to comfort eating in order to deal with pressure.

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Many people are also working unsociable hours, with 41 per cent doing unpaid overtime, and 22 per cent of these reporting that they do so because they fear for their job.

The Stress At Work research looked into stress levels in the workplace and included participants from large multi-national companies and smaller enterprises as well public sector organisations. Tests showed that 41 per cent of volunteers recorded a stress level ranging from “highly stressed” to “anxiety”.

Stress expert Neil Shah, who conducted the tests with volunteer office workers and small business owners, said: “This research shows that many people in the UK today are working under dangerous levels of stress.

“Tension and stress can manifest themselves in many different ways, but can be linked to long-term health problems such as headaches, heart problems and depression,” says Shah. “From a business point of view a stress-free worker is a more productive, proactive and valuable one. Ensuring really simple things like people taking a lunch break or doing exercises in the office can make a huge difference.”

IT, human resources and manufacturing were deemed to be the most stressful professions, with more than 60 per cent of workers in each profession 
feeling stressed at least twice a week.

Meanwhile 41 per cent of people in HR and in education listed incompetent colleagues as a reason for their workplace stress.

“As we’ve got further and 
further into the economic 
slump, more jobs have been 
cut and organisations are 
having to do more with less,” says Shah.

“Alongside lack of staffing in many workplaces, there are the demands put on people by the relentless pace of technology – so people feel they can never switch off.

“We’ve even heard instances of people making or receiving work-related phone calls while in the bathroom, or feeling they can’t go to the bathroom while at work because they have too much to do. People working for international companies have reported receiving emails at 2am that they are expected to answer within the hour. The problem is not the technology itself but that we are slaves to it rather than masters of it. “

Mr Shah added that many pressurised workers were “slowly committing suicide”, with experts reporting that around 85 per cent of serious illness being linked in some way to stress. One of our modern day maladies is that we have grown to accept a state of stress as the norm.

However he said that many employers do take stress in the workplace seriously these days – not out only out of concern for employees’ wellbeing, but as an acknowledgement that a chronically stressed worker is likely to become an unhealthy worker who is absent regularly and takes longer to get things done.

“Most people in most jobs are feeling the pressure,” says Bill Adams, regional secretary of the Trades Union Congress. “They’re seeing colleagues losing their jobs and not being replaced, with those who are left feeling unable to do the work properly because there is so little time.

“There’s also the ‘last out of the office syndrome’ thing, where people feel they must be seen to work longer and longer hours, with their heads down, not complaining, in order to keep their job.” A sizeable proportion of workers are suffering sleep disorders. “Stress is the last thing many people would want to raise with their boss, so they are just putting up with it.”

Mr Adams says many 
employers are feeling 
stressed, too. “They’ve had to cut staff to stay afloat, but worry that they may not be able to keep to their business commitments when stressed staff have to take time off.”

In his view, among the simple measures that would help Britain’s stressed workforce are bosses ensuring that staff take proper breaks in the working day and all leave due to them – at least they get a rest, even if they can 
not afford a holiday.