Stress epidemic fuelled by recession is stalking UK workers – NU report

Stress-related illnesses are set to be the most critical occupational health issue of 2009, according to GPs responding to Norwich Union Healthcare\'s third Health of the Workplace study.

The report shows the financial downturn is taking a toll on workers’ mental wellbeing, with almost half admitting to being stressed, while one in five are suffering depression.

Pressure on businesses means more than half (55 per cent) of employees have gone into work ill, 48 per cent have been working longer hours and 37 per cent have been skipping lunch breaks.

This has left almost 46 per cent of workers suffering insomnia, 33 per cent with migraines and 21 per cent with anxiety attacks and palpitations.

As many as 48 per cent of GPs have seen patients increasing alcohol and drug use and 89 per cent expect requests for anti-depressants to dramatically increase .

Norwich Union Healthcare says companies could find themselves in breach of Health and Safety requirements if they do not take steps to mitigate these stress factors.

But the annual study, which polled bosses, workers and GPs, reveals the dilemma facing Britain’s bosses. Four in five acknowledge the need for a healthy workforce in challenging times, but 46 per cent believe cutting health incentives like gym memberships is best for the bottom line.

And while 86 per cent of respondents say they need workers to be more productive than ever, 62 per cent describe workplace healthcare investment as a “luxury few businesses can afford in 2009”.

The research shows that the majority, 97 per cent, know there is a direct link between worker health and productivity, and 61 per cent are now calling on Government to provide more tax incentives on workplace health investment.

Dr Douglas Wright, head of clinical governance at Norwich Union Healthcare, said: “This is an alarming diagnosis for the future economic health of the country’s businesses and a very clear signal that employers and Government must work together with the UK’s workforce on occupational health.

“Two-thirds of employees told us they will work harder for a company that invests in their health, yet just 1 per cent of British businesses plan to introduce new employee health benefits in 2009.”