Workplace stress is at a four-year high, according to a report that reveals 35 per cent of UK employees are experiencing unreasonable levels of stress at work.

A four-year study of 60,000 workers in six countries by management group Kenexa High Performance Institute, shows that the UK’s stress level has risen by 10 per cent since 2008, making it the highest out of the countries surveyed; the UK, the United States, Germany, China, Brazil and India.

The report on the study called Stress: What’s the impact for organisations? – outlines the prevalence of stress, it’s physical and psychological consequences, who is at risk and what leaders and HR practitioners can do to reduce stress levels.

Dr Rena Rasch, research manager at Kenexa High Performance Institute, said: “There has been a marked increase in workplace stress in every country, industry and job type, to the extent that it is now higher than at any time in the last four years.”High stress levels increase absenteeism ad decrease productivity. For individuals, stress causes sleep deprivation, headaches, high blood pressure and greater susceptibility to illness, which lowers well being and increases the chance of burn out.”

The main causes of employee stress, identified in the report, are work-life conflict, poor leadership and management behaviour, lack of job security, lack of team cohesiveness and dissatisfaction with level of pay.”

“With the economic downturn, a major cause of stress for many people is the sense that they have no control over the fate of their jobs,” said Rasch.

“In organisations where staff had been made redundant, the average employee stress level was nearly 40 per cent, compared to just 25 per cent for organisations which hadn’t made lay-offs in the same period

“The study shows that workers in healthcare have the highest levels of stress, however, the public sector, financial services and retail sectors have seen the largest increase since 2008. Employees in high-tech manufacturing report the least stress.

Rasch added: “HR practitioners and leaders need to understand the root cause of stress, and who is most at risk, so they can target the right stress-reducing initiatives at the right people.

“Focus groups and interviews should be conducted to find out what employees want. For example, introducing more flexible working options, such as job sharing may help to improve employees’ work-life balance. Leaders also need to be honest and sympathetic towards their employees who may be anxious about their jobs.”

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