A quarter of people have taken time off work with stress but blamed it on a physical illness

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New research released to coincide with National Stress Awareness Day has revealed the startling number of people in the UK who are suffering from stress but are hiding it from their employers. According to Aviva, a quarter of people (25%) surveyed admitted taking a day off work with stress but then blamed it on a physical illness. Based on the current number of people working in the UK, it indicates that almost eight million people are suffering in silence.

It also found that a third of people (33%) have taken a day off work with stress at some stage in their career. 25-34 year olds were the most likely to have taken time off (46%) with those aged over 55 seemingly the least likely to need time away from work (25%).

Similarly, this is also proved by figures released in the fourth annual Employee Insight Report from Capita. It reveals that one in four workers (26%) say they have complained to their employers about feeling stressed but have received no support. It found that stress is prevalent among the vast majority of UK workers, with three quarters (75%) saying they have felt stressed at some point over the past 12 months – more than a quarter (28%) say they feel stressed on and off throughout the year, while 5% say they feel stressed ‘all the time’.

The report also shows most people (56%) would not feel comfortable talking about taking time off for issues such as depression or stress with their fellow workers, suggesting stigmas remain around mental health concerns. In addition, 51% said they were scared they would be judged badly by colleagues if they took too much time off.

With almost half of workers (43%) believing their personal health and wellbeing is the responsibility of the employer, organisations need to do more, says Alistair Dornan, head of health management at Capita Employee Benefits. “With half of people saying they would still go to work while ill to avoid having work stack up in their absence, it’s clear that employers have a significant role to play in supporting the personal health of their staff, which should include mental health. Significantly, three-quarters of employees say they have not taken any time off work due to stress.

“Yet our research reveals there is still a reluctance to talk about stress related issues in the workplace, with stigma still attached to mental health and many feeling too uncomfortable to discuss stress with their bosses.

“For National Stress Awareness Day, we are urging employers to make sure they are doing all they can to make sure their workers feel they have somewhere to turn if they are suffering from stress at work.”

Additionally, research by Aviva also found that more than a quarter of people cited money as their main cause of stress (27%), followed by relationships (15%), health (13%) and work (13%).

Steve Bridger, managing director of group protection at Aviva, commented: “In 2016 people should not feel that they have to hide their stress away and suffer in silence. Feeling that you can’t be open about a problem is likely to make it worse, not better. People don’t raise an eyebrow if a colleague is off work with flu, but anything to do with mental health still appears to be taboo.

“The most recent government figures say that 15 million working days a year are being lost because of stress and mental illness so this is clearly something employers need to focus on.

“This can be helped by creating a culture within an organisation which is open and supportive. Mental wellbeing is a dynamic spectrum that applies to all of us, rather than just a few people some of the time. We all experience stress to varying degrees at some point in our lives so it is something we can all relate to. I hope events such as National Stress Awareness Day can encourage more of us to talk about mental health issues instead of keeping it a secret.”