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Report shows poor mental health takes toll

15 February 2024

MENTAL HEALTH UK’s new annual benchmark report for burnout in the UK reveals that one in five working adults needed to take time off work in the past year due to poor mental health caused by pressure or stress, as the charity calls for a national summit on employment and mental health.

Over a third of adults experienced high or extreme levels of pressure and stress always or often in the past year (35%), according to the new annual report, which warns that the UK is at risk of becoming a ‘burnt-out nation’.

Against a backdrop of rising levels of people out of work due to long-term sickness, the polling of over 2,000 UK adults by YouGov for the Mental Health UK reveals that one in five workers (20%) needed to take time off due to poor mental health caused by pressure or stress in the past year.

Recognising the growing evidence that the UK is grappling with high levels of work absence and the subsequent cost to individuals, employers and the taxpayer, Mental Health UK is calling on the prime minister to convene a national summit, bringing together government ministers, employers and experts to determine how we can create healthy workplaces and best support people to stay in or return to work if they’re struggling with stress and poor mental health.

Though the causes of people taking time off work due to poor mental health are complex, our polling reveals that poor working relationships and processes could be pushing people into burnout, with more than one-third of working adults (35%) saying they do not feel comfortable letting their line managers or senior leaders know if they are experiencing high or extreme levels of pressure and stress at work. And nearly one in three (31%) said being bullied or intimidated by other colleagues had caused stress in the last year.

Meanwhile the survey suggests workplaces could be ill-prepared to support staff experiencing high levels of stress, with nearly half of workers (49%) saying their employer doesn’t have a plan to spot signs of chronic stress and prevent burnout, while a further 22% don’t know if their employer has such a plan in place.

Other factors in our jobs causing stress and contributing to burnout include a high or increased workload or volume of tasks (54%), working unpaid overtime beyond contracted hours (45%) and feeling isolated at work (42%).

And as soaring prices hit the nation’s pockets, almost four in ten workers (38%) experienced stress due to taking on additional work because of the cost-of-living crisis.

The survey also suggests that the UK is a nation of people tossing and turning at night, with six in ten saying poor sleep is contributing to stress and burnout (64%). Other factors potentially contributing to burnout in our personal lives include financial uncertainty due to the cost-of-living crisis (53%), money worries in general (53%), poor physical health (46%) and feeling isolated (43%).

Yet despite high or extreme levels of pressure and stress being common among the UK population, one in four adults (24%) feel unable to manage the stress in their lives.

When it comes to what best helps alleviate stress and prevent burnout at work, over half cited having a healthy work-life balance (56%), while four in ten said having a supportive line manager (43%) or supportive colleagues and peers (42%). Other leading factors included reasonable adjustments at work (38%), professional support for mental health such as Employee Assistance Programmes or coaching (29%) and organisations offering staff training around mental health at work (24%).

The likelihood that someone had taken time off work in the last year due to poor mental health caused by stress decreased with age, with 34% of workers aged 18 to 24-years-old having done so, compared with 15% of those aged 55 or over.

Workers aged 35 to 44-years-old were most likely to have experienced high or extreme levels of stress and pressure often or always in the past year (40%), while workers aged 55 or over were least likely (33%).