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A 'burnt-out nation'? UK struggles with high levels of stress-related work absence

Over a third of british adults experienced high or extreme levels of pressure and stress.
Over a third of british adults experienced high or extreme levels of pressure and stress. Copyright Canva
Copyright Canva
By Laura Llach
Published on Updated
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Employers don't have a plan in place to identify signs of chronic stress and prevent burnout, according to almost half of the workers surveyed.

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Looking after her two children while trying to complete a degree in psychology left Rose, 29, feeling overwhelmed. It was then that she realised she was experiencing burnout.

"I often have a lot on my plate. I've had to ask for several extensions for my university work. Over time this has worn me down and led to burnout. I felt overwhelmed and defeated on a daily basis," she said.

"Worse still, burnout has affected my motivation, meaning I struggle to function and complete my daily tasks, falling further behind," she added.

The British woman says her state of mind has changed her relationship with her children to the point where she feels she can no longer be the fun mum they want her to be.

More than 90 per cent of adults in the UK have experienced "high or extreme levels of pressure or stress at some point in the past year", according to the latest report from Mental Health UK.

The number of workers forced to take time off work to look after their mental health is "worrying". One in five have had to take a break because of the pressure or stress they are under, according to the charity.

"Put simply, this temperature test of the nation's wellbeing suggests that the UK is fast becoming a burnt-out nation, with a worrying number of people taking time off work due to poor mental health caused by stress," said Brian Dow, Chief Executive of Mental Health UK.

The figures in the report show growing evidence that the UK is struggling with high levels of work absence and the associated costs to individuals, employers, and the taxpayer.

The charity believes this is an issue that needs to be tackled and is calling on the UK government to recognise this and work to create healthy workplaces and support people struggling with stress and mental health problems.

The survey suggests that workplaces may be ill-prepared to support employees experiencing high levels of stress.
The survey suggests that workplaces may be ill-prepared to support employees experiencing high levels of stress.Canva

'Burnout is harmful to our wellbeing'

The Mental Health UK report was based on figures from a YouGov survey conducted among 2,060 adults, including 1,132 workers. The results show that workplaces may be ill-prepared to support employees experiencing high levels of stress.

Almost half of workers surveyed said their employer didn't have a plan in place to identify signs of chronic stress and prevent burnout.

"Experiencing burnout myself has really shown me how harmful it can be to our wellbeing and why employers need to prioritise concrete action to prevent it," said Deidre Bowen, the Director of National Programmes at Mental Health UK.

For Bowen, work was at the centre of her life, and burnout took her by surprise. At her previous company, she felt she was juggling multiple roles, working around the clock while dealing with the uncertainty caused by the pandemic.

"Physically, I was exhausted, constantly jittery, and battling headaches. I would fall asleep quickly but wake up in the night with thoughts consuming me. I had difficulty concentrating and was often distracted," said Bowen.

"I was living in a state of overwhelm, with the lines between work and life outside of work becoming increasingly blurred," she added.

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When she finally realised she was suffering from burnout, she decided to take three weeks off work and go to therapy, but it took longer than she expected to recover. She says she had to change the way she approached work.

"Now I openly show vulnerability, it's not a weakness," she explained.

The survey also found that as rising prices hit the nation's pockets, almost 38 per cent of workers have experienced stress as a result of taking on extra work because of the cost of living crisis.

However, even though high levels of stress seem to be the norm, one in four adults (24 per cent) feel unable to cope with the stress in their lives.

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"There will be no simple, one-size-fits-all solution, but a failure to properly understand and address the challenges we face will threaten our long-term health and success as a nation," said Dow.

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