So far this year, there has been a 33 percent surge in employees looking for ‘how to reduce mental stress’, compared to Google search data from last year.

Experts are warning that we are reaching a ‘stress breaking point’ for employees.

This year’s rising demand for stress support comes on top of already high demand: employee numbers seeking stress support have doubled since pre-pandemic.

Sustained levels of stress can even impact our immune systems and have been linked to rises in cases of ‘brain fog’, which results in confusion and difficulty concentrating.

Over the last two years in the UK, there’s been a three-fold increase (187%) in searches for ‘brain fog’. And this trend continues to accelerate: searches so far in 2022 are up 39 percent when compared to the previous year.

To raise awareness of the scale of the issue, experts are now urging HR and leadership teams to turn their attention to the problem.

 

Burnout

Excessive stress is considered to be a major predictor of burnout and other mental health impacts.

A recent mental health and employee stress study, surveying employees from over 500 companies, found that almost half of employees (47%) experienced excessive stress at work in the past year. And this is becoming a big challenge for employers trying to retain their employees — one in eight have considered leaving their current job due to excessive work-related stress in the last 12 months, and a further one in ten have actually quit.

The research also uncovered some of the biggest impacts of excessive stress. Prominent effects described were an inability to sleep (reported by 41%), physical health impacts (30%) and withdrawal from social interactions and relationships (26%).

How does this change with job level?

Staff level employees were found to be most likely to experience excessive stress in the workplace, with 67 percent having suffered over the last year. This compares to 61 percent of employees in management roles, and 49 percent of company owners or directors.

However, those in management positions were found to be most likely to suffer from other mental health issues at least partly caused by work, such as anxiety or fatigue — one in five have experienced this over the last year. This could be due to increased pressure placed on middle-management roles.

Owners and directors are not immune to the effects of excessive stress. Nearly one in four have considered leaving their job role or have left their job role due to excessive stress over the last year.

 

Richard Holmes, director of wellbeing at Westfield Health, says: 

“Burnout is a state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. Pressure at work is usually the main culprit and when budgets are tight and teams are small, people often find themselves with multiple roles and heavy workloads, piling on the stress.

“Policies like turning off email servers outside of working hours helps ring-fence valuable recovery time. Mental health first aid training can also help managers spot the signs or triggers and put preventions in place.”

 

How can HR tackle excessive stress?

When employees were asked about the support received from their workplace, one in every eight employees felt they didn’t receive the required support.

In terms of the factors affecting stress levels, 26 percent of employees reported that the greatest cause of excessive stress in their job role was an unmanageable workload.

This was followed by financial concerns, with 24 percent saying the excessive stress was a result of inadequate pay, which left them struggling to keep up with their bills.

Dissatisfaction with employers and managers was also a significant contributing factor, with 18 percent of employees saying that management was poor or lacking, and 17 percernt describing a lack of support from their company.

 

Claire Brown, qualified life and career coach, says:

“Companies should look to encourage employees to have input into the organisation of tasks, duty and priorities and be invited to engage at every possible level in devising an in-house stress management policy. Employees should be encouraged to prioritise their health & wellbeing above productivity by taking regular breaks from the screen and getting fresh air where possible. Providing alternative and innovative ways for connection and communication between team members is also really valuable.

“By adopting a flexible attitude and approach to how and when work is completed, this alleviates some of the pressure and mental strain. As always, communication is key. It’s important for employers to be fair and realistic about what is possible and to seek opportunities to provide practical support to help team members manage their workload.”

 

Editor at HRreview

Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview. With a master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at the University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.