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Staff who have a lot on at work are too quick to think they are suffering from stress

Employees have been criticised by a professor of health for being too quick to describe them as suffering from 'work stress'.

David Wainwright believes today's employees have heightened vulnerability when concerned with their workload.

"The Government is vigorous in promoting health scares; if you're feeling down after Christmas, you have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), and if you have a lot on at work you suffer from work stress. It is a way of making sense of work problems and medical sing something related to every day life," he told HR magazine.

He explained people think they are more fragile than they actually are but the pressures of today are no different from that of the 1930s. Wainwright admitted work life is not easy but during the war work conditions were just as tough and people need to tackle this issue with a more traditional approach.

Speaking to HR magazine, James Kendrick, leader of the healthcare practice at Hewitt Associates, added: "Although stress, anxiety and depression is the number one cause of absenteeism, after colds and flu, only 19% is work stress-related. GPs are quick to sign people off, but employers need to tackle the issue at the root of the cause. Stress vocational rehabilitation is a recognised method to identify and manage stress at work and many HR departments are holding workshops in-house.

"Work life is very different to 10 years ago. Technology is a contributing factor, with staff checking emails on holiday and being contactable 24-hours-a-day. Likewise, the recession is adding to everyday pressure as people are taking on more and worrying about job security."

Ann McCracken, chair of International Stress Management Association, agrees with Wainwright's comments. She said: "People confuse pressure with stress. Pressure is considered a heavy workload whereas stress leads to ill-health."

Stress can result in frequent coughs or colds to more serious illnesses like irritable bowel syndrome and heart disease. After 10 days absent from work employees can be medically signed off.