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Workload revealed as top cause of work-related stress, depression and anxiety in 2021

Workload pressures, including including tight deadlines, too much responsibility and a lack of managerial support, was the main cause of reported stress, depression and anxiety for 2021. 

According to new data from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) the number of people suffering from stress, depression and anxiety stayed the same overall compared to 2019/20 (down just 0.17% in 2020/21), yet the number of new cases rose by 30% over the year, now affecting 451,000 people nationwide.

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Speaking to HR magazine, Charles Alberts, head of wellbeing solutions UK at Aon, said that the overall plateau in work-related stress cases suggests that many more people have been able to find the support they need this year.

However, the rise in new cases, and their cause is concerning.

“What these the stats show me is that the issue [of work-related stress] is not going away, and it really is time for employers to take a much more proactive approach to this issue,” he said.

“Work-related stress, depression and anxiety is now half of all work-related ill health cases. So, it's by far the number one reason for work-related ill health.”

Managing workload to help with work-related stress is complicated, added Alberts.

The first step would be to take a stress-related risk assessment of the workplace he said.

“But perhaps the biggest concern about it [taking a risk assessment] is what you might find, because if you uncover particular issues around workload, you then have a responsibility to act on that,” he said.

Workload issues are line manager responsibility, so the best HR can do in this position is making sure they have all the right training and support in place so they know how to deal with it, Alberts added.

When it comes to overall health and wellbeing strategy too he argued a more proactive approach would be to focus on prevention, and remove the onus from the individual to take care of themselves first.

“Health and wellbeing programmes focus so much on what the employee can do themselves - sleep more, eating better, don't smoke, exercise - and whilst those are really important, I think we're missing a trick by not looking at factor as close to home in the workplace,” he said.

Resilience is important he added, but it shouldn’t be the only focus.

“It’s really important for employers not to simply focus on bolstering people's resilience, while throwing more work at them. We need to look at placing reasonable demands on our people as well.”