Three in five employees feel stressed at work because of cost of living, study finds

Commentators call for clear distinction between pressure and stress, while encouraging employers to spot the warning signs and offer support

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Workers feel stressed as a result of the rising cost of living, with the majority of senior managers seeing the crisis as the top cause of stress, data has shown.

An Acas survey, which polled 1,014 employees in Great Britain, found that three out of five (63 per cent) employees felt stressed because of the rising cost of living, while just over a third (36 per cent) of workers said they did not feel stressed amid the economic situation.

At a time of significant social and political change, Chris Preston, director at The Culture Builders, warned of the danger of mixing up the concepts of stress and pressure: “By doing so, we cannot see the wood for the trees and thus find a fix,” he said.

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“Work is often a pressurised environment, but one that we should be able to sustainably cope with. Stress is a nagging worry, an anxiety or a sense of threat, and not having enough money to pay the bills will certainly cause this,”  Preston explained.

“[A workplace where] people are working hard and feeling the pressure to deliver can be achieved without stressing them in ways that cause damage.”

Carole Spiers, business stress consultant and chair of the International Stress Management Association, also acknowledged that there were more elements causing concern. “Cost of living certainly has an impact, together with uncertainty, together with things people are still trying to get back to [since the pandemic]. And now people are trying to work in a modern world of working – sometimes in a hybrid fashion,” she said. 

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To help staff with their mental health, Acas advises employers to be approachable and available, and to encourage team members to talk if they are having problems; to clearly communicate the internal and external support available to staff; and to consider offering practical help such as pointing to sources of financial advice or bringing advice providers into work.

Meanwhile, a Ciphr survey, which polled 265 leaders and senior managers, found 

that the cost of living crisis was the top cause of stress at places of work (30 per cent), followed by high inflation and rising prices (29 per cent) and exhaustion or burnout (22 per cent). Almost all (98 per cent) respondents found at least one aspect of their work stressful.

Mary McGeady, senior HR consultant at WorkNest, said that even in stressful environments employers have a duty of care towards their workers and responsibility supporting employee wellbeing. “There are early warning signs [of stress] that shouldn’t be ignored because, in the longer term, if not addressed, they will result in significant workplace stress and poor retention that can affect the company’s reputation and expose significant risks to the business,” she said.

“Like any other health and safety hazard, there are clear financial, moral and legal reasons to prioritise stress management in the workplace,” McGeady added. She recommended the HSE’s management standards as a good place to start, which can help employers understand their duties and obligations fully.

Ciphr’s survey also revealed the particular areas of concern for those polled. These included: their workload, to-do lists and unfinished work tasks (20 per cent); employee retention and staff turnover issues (17 per cent); business viability and profitability concerns (16 per cent); and ongoing wage inflation (16 per cent).

Spiers advised leaders and managers to be “kind and supportive of their staff” while encouraging the development of emotional intelligence skills for relationship management and training line managers to have such conversations.

“A lot of managers are promoted into their roles, but not necessarily into their roles of people responsibility, and are not necessarily trained to actually have those conversations, [but] companies think they'll learn on the job – they won't,” Spiers said.

“People need to be trained, and [would] see the benefits of listening attentively to what their employees are saying.”