A third of us are so stressed at work we want to leave. Employers can’t afford to ignore this.

Man at office desk employers workplace stress
Sam Woolfe

So many of us struggle with stress and mental health issues at work. Yet as management services company ADP highlights in a recent survey, many employers don’t really seem to care. Employers are often completely backwards when it comes to handling employee wellbeing. Even if companies only care about profit margins, it would still make the most sense to protect workers’ mental health.

Work-related stress is getting out of hand

ADP’s research shows that a third (33%) of those surveyed are so stressed in their jobs that they want to quit. If you’re running a business, you obviously want to reduce staff turnover because – if you don’t – it’s going to cost your business in a number of ways.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) points out that 12.5m working days were lost from 2016 to 2017 due to work-related stress, anxiety and depression. Depression can deplete your motivation and energy, which makes normal functioning a struggle – a struggle not only to do your job but to even make it into work in the first place. From a purely practical point of view, an employer who doesn’t care about absent workers and lost productivity is a pretty lousy employer.

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According to ADP, a fifth (20%) of employees suffer from stress every day, but nearly a third (31%) say their employer isn’t interested in their mental health. Work-related stress is no joke. It’s causing us to get burnt out and – unfortunately, for some people – can result in psychological breakdown.

The dangers of chronic stress

There are healthy levels of stress. Experiencing moderate stress can make us mentally tougher. But millions in this country have jobs that are resulting in chronic stress. This is not healthy. Chronic stress puts us at risk of becoming depressed, makes us more easily sick, and shortens our lifespan.

No one should have to ruin their lives because of work. If businesses really want to tackle chronic stress, then they need to do more than offer mental health support. This just addresses the symptom of the problem. Work culture needs to change so that long-term stress is minimised. We need to stop seeing overwork as a virtue and we need to abandon micromanaging – which also damages employees’ physical and mental health.

A lack of care

The situation is actually a lot worse than employers not taking an interest in employee wellbeing. As The Canary previously reported, many employees who raise concerns about their mental health face disciplinary action, demotion, or getting fired. Mental health stigma is still a massive issue. And it’s clearly manifesting in the workplace. As one line manager said about mental health issues:

It is not OK to discuss these things. It is regarded as the employee’s problem and their problem alone.

George Bell is a writer who works at Sanctus, which helps startups to look after employee mental health. During an event, he shared an eye-opening story about mental health in the workplace. Firstly, his boss told a co-worker about his mental health issues without his permission. Then, in an email to Bell’s team leader, his boss said:

I know George is having a few issues but right now I couldn’t give a flying fuck about it.

Ironically, when businesses just focus on the bottom line and don’t consider the value and wellbeing of their employees, profits can suffer. Obviously, though, mental health should matter in itself – not just because depression and anxiety make you less productive. We should aim for a workplace that both employers and employees benefit from. Increased productivity is just the natural side effect that follows from the more important and primary concern of mental health.

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