· Insights

See stress in the workplace differently

In the UK employees work the longest hours in the EU. It should come as no surprise then that stress in the workplace is at an all-time high

While it may be easy for an employer to deem stress and mental health personal issues, they have a monumental impact on an individual’s performance and productivity at work. Therefore supporting the mental health and wellbeing of employees is vital for a company.


With as many as eight in 10 people suffering from work-related stress in the UK we are in the midst of a stress epidemic, and it’s time employers took action.

Mental ill health – including work-related stress, anxiety or depression – is estimated to account for more than half of all working days lost because of ill health and to cost UK employers £30 billion each year. A report in 2014 suggested time taken off work cost 4.5% of Britain’s GDP.

What else causes workplace stress?


While we may think we’re able to leave our personal issues at home, stress in the workplace is often caused by external factors. Women tend to feel more stressed than men (79% vs 66%) and 78% of women claim to suffer from a lack of sleep causing them to be less productive and thus more stressed at work, while 13% attribute their stress to personal health issues or concerns related to their financial situation.

At Cigna our global study identified an ‘always-on’ work culture as a key driver of stress across all demographics. Out of the 22 countries and 13,000 people we surveyed, 64% of people around the world work in an ‘always-on’ culture that has a major impact on stress, and adversely affects both physical and mental wellbeing.

In addition to this the HSE (Health and Safety Executive) identified the following as internal causes for stress in the workplace:

  • Staff being overloaded with work, leading them to being unable to cope with the amount of work or type of work they are asked to do.
  • Staff feeling disillusioned by their lack of involvement in decisions regarding how and when they do their work.
  • Lack of support from managers and colleagues.
  • Poor relationships with others at work.
  • A lack of understanding concerning what is expected of them or how their work fits into the wider objectives of the organisation.
  • Poorly-managed changes and developments within the workplace.


What can employers do to help?

Despite mental health awareness being at an all-time high in the UK, alarmingly only 28% of UK employers have a formal wellness programme in place to support employees. This may help explain why only a small percentage of people suffering from stress seek professional help.

Creating a well-run wellness programme instigates positive change in the workplace as it supports open dialogue. Implementing a wellness programme effectively requires a detailed understanding of key stress drivers inside and outside of the workplace. As our research shows, each demographic experiences stress triggers differently and employers need to be able to formulate and adapt their approach to make it work for everyone.


The benefit of implementing a wellness programme extends far beyond looking after your most important asset – your team. Your company will be more attractive to top talent, and it boosts employee retention and improves morale. This will not only create a competitive edge, but also set your business up to have a more nurturing and caring culture to the benefit of everyone.

Make a change


Many employees can be reluctant to talk about stress at work. There is still a stigma attached to stress and people think they will be seen as weak if they admit they are struggling. It is therefore important that an employer takes the relevant steps to tackle the work-related causes of stress in its organisation and encourages staff to seek help at the earliest opportunity.

Cigna can help you manage stress, improving health, wellbeing and peace of mind. Cigna’s new whitepaper – Building a Whole Person Health Approach to Chronic Stress at Work – looks at how to adopt a more open approach to healthcare that addresses the physical and mental wellbeing of all employees.

You can get access to advanced research and practical tips by downloading the whitepaper here, so that you and your colleagues can better understand and manage stress.

Kirsty Jagielko is UK head of marketing at Cigna