The Global Benefits Attitudes Survey from Willis Towers Watson found 69% of UK workers indulge themselves or use retail therapy to cope with stressful periods at work. But only 46% create a plan to tackle the source of the problem.
The findings suggest that many workers take on stress on their own, rather than turn to outside help. Only 28% seek help from a medical professional, a fifth (20%) seek support from a manager, and just 16% use services from their employer or health benefits provider.
The study found that stress can have a negative impact both at home and in the workplace; 43% of workers believe it has an adverse effect on relationships with family and friends, while 45% say it reduces the quality of their work.
However, potentially helpful self-reliant methods of coping with stress cited included physical activity (cited by 67%), and relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises or meditation (cited by 36%).
Employees find it slightly easier to talk to those close to them, the survey found, with 37% seeking support from family, friends or co-workers.
Mike Blake, wellbeing lead for Willis Towers Watson, said that stigma surrounding mental illness and stress is part of the problem.
“Stress is a problem that too often goes untreated, partly because each individual has their own personal method for handling stress and partly because of the enduring stigma around issues related to mental health," he said.
Blake added that it was important for employers to create a culture where employees could talk openly about problems with stress.
“For too long workers have been discouraged from discussing problems with colleagues or management and will often struggle on in silence even when they could benefit from targeted support.
"There is no easy answer for employers looking to take a proactive approach to stress management, as the root causes and appropriate solutions will vary depending on the individual. It is important, however, for them to promote a culture of openness and to signpost treatment pathways so that employees can take action to prevent stress from adversely affecting their health."
The Global Benefits Attitudes survey was completed by 2,824 employees at medium and large private sector companies across the UK.