The truth about workplace stress in Britain

Do you ever feel like your email inbox is your worst enemy?

These days, it’s almost the norm for organisations and individuals to engage the services of productivity consultants and enrol on courses that go by names like ‘Getting your inbox back into shape’. How interesting that the technology that was supposed to simplify and streamline our lives is now showing its darker side, as all promises of free ease and comfort in life inevitably do.

A new survey by recruiters StepStone and Total Jobs shows that Britain is leading the way on the work stress stakes with 24% of British respondents (out of a total sample of over 2,500 which included employees from France, Germany, Spain and Switzerland) admitting they suffer from workplace stress.

Consistent with this trend was the number of British participants who said that they did not suffer from any stress at work – which was three times lower than the European average (13% for the Brits, 42% for our European neighbours).

It should come as no surprise, then, that the most recent figures from the Office of National Statistics in this area, reveal that absence from work as related to stress, anxiety and depression was up by almost 30% in 2013, compared with 2010.

This has to translate into more visits to counsellors, psychotherapists and skilled helpers or, if it doesn’t, arguably it should. At the very least, we might expect it to become an increasing focus within counselling sessions, as technology assumes dominance where once simple men ruled the roost. Such a cultural shift also has implications for workplace security (or should I say insecurity) – you only have to look at initiatives like self-serve supermarket check-outs or the plans to replace London Underground station workers with machines to tap into the prevailing zeitgeist of jobs being under threat.

Like all psychological conditions for which people seek help, it’s impossible to pin workplace stress down to any one cause, but for my money, one of the obvious potential culprits must be boundary failure – that is, a breakdown in the individual’s ability or willingness to say ‘no’ to unreasonable work demands. This will, of course, be especially acute in an insecure work environment, further complicating the picture.

What it all boils down to, in my opinion, is the need to develop and cultivate that highly elusive and long-lost virtue in these resolutely secular times – that is, the virtue of faith. Because faith allows us to say ‘no’ when it’s absolutely justified and be able to shoulder the consequences. And faith has us know that we are much, much more than our jobs and, in the end, all shall be well.

Written by Jacqui Hogan