Mental ill-health made up half of work-related illness in last year, research reveals

Rising workloads among reasons for increase in reports of stress, anxiety and depression among UK employees

Stress, anxiety and depression were the cause of half of all work-related illness in the last year, according to new research.

More than 800,000 people experienced work-related stress, anxiety or depression in 2020-21, a new report from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has revealed, with 451,000 of those being newly reported this year.

Women aged 25 to 34 were most likely to report work-related stress, anxiety or depression, while rates were higher than average among those working in the public admin and defence, health and social care and education sectors, according to self-reported data from the Labour Force Survey cited by the report.

Reported causes for work-related stress, depression or anxiety in recent years included rising workloads, lack of support, violence, threats or bullying and changes at work. However, the Covid-19 pandemic was a major contributor towards poor mental health among workers over the last year, the report stated. 

Sarah Albon, HSE’s chief executive, said: “The 12-month period in question coincides with the first national lockdown and the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic. There have been significant impacts on the labour market, which is reflected in our reporting.

“The latest figures on work-related stress reinforce our previous concerns around the scale of this issue in workplaces.”

Andy Bell, deputy chief executive of the Centre for Mental Health, said the findings were worrying but not surprising. “The last two years have put people’s mental health under unprecedented pressure. Many people have experienced anxiety, trauma and loss as a result of the pandemic, and economic uncertainty is an added pressure for many more,” Bell said. 

“Employers can help to provide people with safe working conditions, in workplaces that are open about mental health and where help is at hand when it’s needed.”

Emma Slaven, mental health and wellbeing senior business partner at Acas, said there were ways for both employers and staff to support mental wellbeing at work.  

“Whether people are working from home or back in the office, employers can proactively support staff by encouraging two-way conversations about health and wellbeing, as well as support their line managers with the skills to recognise the signs and have conversations with staff who are struggling.

“Employees can also look after their own mental health by being open and honest with their line managers about their difficulties and taking steps to support their own wellbeing including putting in work boundaries, making time for activities they enjoy and keeping active.”

The research follows analysis by Glassdoor in October this year, which found that employee burnout has doubled since lockdown ended, while a poll by Reassured found that more than a third of UK workers have felt more stressed since lockdown restrictions eased earlier this year.