Workplace stress statistics in the UK

Whether it’s workload, time pressures, issues with pay, holiday allowances or workplace dynamics, our jobs can be the cause of much stress in our lives. Even for those of us who enjoy our careers and get along with our bosses – or are our own bosses – work life can be stressful, and it can be difficult to switch off and leave it all behind at the end of the working day.

That’s why we wanted to know, how many people in the UK experience stress on a regular basis? And just how much of an impact do our jobs or bosses have to do with it?

We conducted a series of surveys and investigations around the topic of stress. Our research found that:

  • Women experience stress more frequently than men. On average, women in the UK say they feel stressed approximately ten days each month, whereas men say they experience stress for an average of seven days a month
  • One in 14 UK adults (7%) feel stressed every single day
  • One in five people in the UK feel stressed more days a month than they don’t

What are some of our biggest stressors?

  • 39% of UK adults say that lack of sleep and money worries are some of the primary causes of stress in their lives
  • 23% say that work in general makes them feel stressed
  • And 18% say that workload demands are another cause of stress for them

How many people feel stressed in the UK?

In July 2021, we conducted a survey, using Censuswide, asking 2,000 UK adults: ‘On average, how many days do you feel stressed each month?’

The survey found that:

Stress

  • The overwhelming majority (79%) of UK adults feel stressed at least one day a month
  • On average, a typical UK adult feels stressed approximately 8.27 days a month. That’s more than twice a week!
  • Nearly half (49%) of UK adults admit to feeling stressed five or more days each month

Our survey also found that:

  • Nearly a third of adults (30%) feel stressed ten or more days a month
  • One in every 14 people (7%) in the UK say they feel stressed every single day
  • One in five UK adults (21%) say they never feel stressed

The graph below shows just how frequently people in the UK feel stressed in a typical month.

Stress

Which age groups are most likely to be affected by stress?

We experience stress at various different stages in our lives, whether that’s the stress of finding a job after finishing school or university, the stress of becoming a parent or even the stress of making the decision to retire. But which age group in the UK feels stressed most often in 2021?

  • 18-24 year olds feel stressed for more days a month than any other age group (9.82 days in a typical month on average)
  • This is then followed by 35-44 year-olds who feel stressed 9.67 days a month and 45-54 year-olds who experience stress 9.55 days each month
  • Those aged 55+ are the least stressed, in comparison, with the average person in this age group feeling stressed for around 6.31 days a month
  • The age category that experiences the most stress on a daily basis however is those aged 45-54. Our survey found that more than one in ten (11%) of people this age feel stressed every single day

Percentage who feel stressed at least once a month:

Stress

Which UK cities are the most stressed?

Does living in a busy city or bustling town mean you’re more likely to be stressed? And is the countryside really all it’s made out to be in terms of peacefulness and tranquillity? To find out, we took a closer look at where each of our 2,000 survey respondents were from, to determine which parts of the UK are actually the most stressed in 2021.

Our survey found:?

  • Plymouth has the highest proportion of people who say they feel stressed at least once a month (87%)
  • This is then followed by Liverpool and Glasgow, where around 86% of people say the same
  • The least stressed city appears to be Edinburgh, where 70% of people feel stressed on a regular basis
  • The city where people experience stress on the most regular basis however is Belfast, where 19% of people say they feel stressed every single day

Percentage of adults who feel stressed at least once a month:

Stress

What is the main cause of stress in the UK?

To find out a little more about why such a huge proportion of UK adults feel stressed, we asked the 1,590 respondents, who said they feel stressed at least once a month, what types of things cause them to feel stressed. We provided them with the following list of options to choose from as well as the option of ‘none of the above’ and asked them to tick all that apply.

Percentage of UK adults who say this causes them stress:

Stress

As you can see from the table:

  • Lack of sleep and financial worries are the main causes of stress among UK adults in 2021
  • Health, family, weight and the news are also some of the UK’s biggest stressors

Stress

You can use this image as it has been released under the Attribution Creative Commons licence, but we do ask that you please credit CIPHR – https://www.ciphr.com/ – with a link.

Where in the UK are people the most stressed due to lack of sleep?

Percentage of people who feel stressed due to lack of sleep
East Midlands 48%
North West 47%
Wales 45%
South West 43%
East of England 41%
Northern Ireland 39%
South East 39%
West Midlands 38%
Scotland 36%
Yorkshire and the Humber 32%
North East 32%
Greater London 30%
Stress

The top five cities for sleep deprivation are Cardiff (50%), Liverpool (50%), Nottingham (48%), Bristol (45%) and Norwich (44%).

Where in the UK are people the most stressed about money?

Percentage of people who feel stressed about money
Wales 46%
North West 42%
Northern Ireland 41%
Scotland 41%
Yorkshire and the Humber 41%
East Midlands 41%
South East 41%
North East 39%
South West 38%
West Midlands 37%
Greater London 34%
East of England 33%
Stress

The top five cities for financial worries are Cardiff (54%), Sheffield (46%), Glasgow (45%), Liverpool (44%) and Brighton (42%).

Where in the UK are people the most stressed about their health?

Percentage of people who feel stressed about their health
Northern Ireland 49%
Wales 42%
South West 40%
North West 40%
Scotland 38%
West Midlands 36%
East of England 36%
Yorkshire and the Humber 34%
South East 31%
Greater London 30%
East Midlands 30%
North East 23%
Stress

The top five cities where people are most likely to feel stressed about their health are: Belfast (49%), Liverpool (46%), Cardiff (45%), Glasgow (42%) and Plymouth (41%).

How about work-related stress?

Financial worries are the joint-biggest source of stress for UK adults. In many cases, this can be because of pay issues at work. But what other work-related issues tend to cause stress for people in 2021?

  • Nearly a quarter of UK adults (23%) say that work, in general, causes them stress
  • 18% say their workloads make them feel stressed out
  • Work hours are a stress factor for 14% of UK adults
  • Work colleagues cause 11% of people stress
  • One in every ten UK adults (10%) say their boss makes them feel stressed
  • And finally, 8% say that commuting causes them to feel stressed

The table below shows the biggest sources of work-related stress for UK adults in 2021, based on 1,590 survey responses.

Causes of work-related stress (by age) 18 – 24 25 – 34 35 – 44 45 – 54 55+
Work in general 25% 24% 30% 29% 15%
My workload 23% 24% 21% 19% 11%
My working hours 20% 20% 19% 11% 6%
My colleagues 13% 17% 16% 12% 4%
My boss 12% 15% 13% 13% 5%
Commuting 12% 9% 13% 8% 4%
None of the above 4% 6% 6% 5% 11%

How many people take time off work for stress?

No matter what it’s caused by, stress can have a significant impact on a whole host of different aspects in your life. But just how many people take time off work due to stress*?

To find out, we analysed NHS Digital data showing which conditions GPs provided Fit Notes for between 2017 and 2020 in England. Fit Notes are official statements from doctors that determine whether or not a person is fit to work.

Fit Notes issued for mental and behavioural disorders in England from 2017-2020 (NHS Digital)

Stress

As you can see from the graph:

  • There were more Fit Notes issued for mental and behavioural disorders in March 2020 (at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic) than in any previous month
  • In 2019 alone, 376,048 Fit Notes were issued by GP practices in England for people with mental and behavioural disorders

*It’s important to note that not all Fit Notes issued for mental health conditions and behavioural disorders are down to stress. Various other conditions fall under this category.

How many people worry about their stress levels in the UK?

Symptoms of stress can be really worrisome, such as weight loss, hair loss, low energy and insomnia. Given that one in 14 adults in the UK feel stressed every day, we wanted to find out how many experience symptoms of stress, or more specifically search for common stress symptoms. To do this, we conducted an analysis of online searches using the tool Keyword Finder.

Our study found that:

  • 23,900 searches are conducted online in the UK every month for the term ‘Stress symptoms’
  • The UK city searching the most for symptoms of stress is Walsall, where an average of 12 in every 1,000 people searched for the term in the last year
  • Bedford, Bury, Wigan and Stockport also search for stress symptoms more than other parts of the UK, with between eight and ten people searching for the term in the last 12 months
Town / City Searches per 1,000 people in last 12 months (July 2020 – June 2021)
Walsall 11.60821589
Bedford 10.28079419
Bury 9.215442092
Wigan 8.087706686
Stockport 7.878668505

Cities conducting the highest volumes of searches per month for ‘stress symptoms’

To calculate the prevalence of searches per 1,000 people, we extracted the yearly search volumes for stress symptoms in all 119 of the UK’s major towns and cities (based on the Office for National Statistics’ Major Towns and Cities list). We then divided the number of yearly searches in each town and city by its population, before multiplying by 1,000 to give us the average number of searches per 1,000 people in the population.

It’s important to note that each search does not necessarily correspond to, or represent, a different individual, as one person may search for the same term multiple times.

Burnout statistics in the UK

How many people are affected by work-related stress?

The International Classification of Diseases describes burnout as:

“Burnout is a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”

“Burnout refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.”

Using the same methods as above – but to calculate the proportion per 10,000 people instead of per 1,000 – we wanted to find out how many people were searching for the term ‘burnout’ online in each major town and city in the UK.

Our analysis found that:

  • More people in Cambridge searched online for ‘Burnout’ than any other UK town or city, at six in every 10,000 people
  • Oxford has the second-highest number of searches at just under five per 10,000 people

Here’s the top five:

Town / City Searches per 10,000 people in last 12 months
Cambridge 6.045908599
Oxford 4.929416912
Edinburgh 3.278352628
Bedford 3.212748185
Bristol 3.118254609

Notably, both of the top two cities in terms of burnout searches are known for their high-performance universities, and with academic burnout increasingly prevalent, could it be possible this is one of the reasons behind a relatively high volume of searches in these cities?

What can HR do?

Unquestionably, stress is a serious concern and this has a huge impact on staff, employers and HR teams.

Workplace stress can result in demoralised workforces, low morale, more absence and higher staff turnover. And while HR teams can’t resolve all of the causes of stress in employees’ lives, there’s certainly an argument for being more aware of the impact of work on the stress levels of staff.

Many HR teams across the country have increased the number of workplace initiatives that support staff in both physical and mental wellbeing. Over the last year, there’s been a huge increase in stress workshops, flexible working opportunities and the implementation of diversity initiatives. But there’s always more to be done, particularly with new insights such as these, providing HR teams with information on the types of issues that contribute to stress.

A few practical ideas that may come in useful, based on our survey findings, are:

  • Free healthy food in the workplace and discounts on gym memberships or personal training sessions. Given that 35% of respondents said their health is a big cause of stress, this could have a real impact on employee wellbeing in the workplace. Step tracker competitions and monthly yoga sessions (virtually or in-person) can also be a great way of encouraging staff to look after their health and wellbeing in a fun way.
  • An emphasis on healthier working hours. Our survey revealed that the most common cause of stress among UK adults is not getting enough sleep. For this reason, it may be beneficial to encourage staff to ‘switch off’ in the evenings where possible and instead focus on winding down and getting a good night’s sleep. Bringing in a new policy that encourages staff not to email one another outside of office hours could also be a useful strategy for helping staff to strike a healthier work life balance.
  • Financial advice and planning sessions – Given that 39% worry about money, it may be beneficial to organise drop-in sessions or workshops with a financial adviser (virtually or in-person). These can help staff to find better ways to manage their finances and feel less overwhelmed when it comes to money. Another idea is to introduce instant access to pay as it’s earned. Many organisations have found this method to not only help their staff to stay on top of their finances, but also feel more motivated and appreciated for the work they do.
  • Although it’s not possible to fully eradicate work-related stress, there are steps HR teams can take to help change workers’ relationships to the stress they experience and even make them more aware of their triggers. An example of this is by making employees aware of the benefits of meditation and other relaxation techniques. Putting on a weekly meditation session or even providing staff with discounts for meditation apps to use in their own time could be a really useful approach to reducing stress levels.
  • If 23% find work, in general, to be stressful, ask them how you can improve their work environment. Do members of staff wish their office space or workplace had more colourful decor? Or perhaps that the coffee in the work kitchen was higher quality? Maybe they’d appreciate a breakout area with beanbags and a pool table so they can relax and play some games during lunch? For remote workers, make sure everyone is appropriately set up to work from home, with the equipment they need. Send out a questionnaire or ask for opinions at your next meeting to find out what might help your employees feel less stressed. Above all, it’s important that people feel listened to, and that employers act on their feedback, wherever possible.

CIPHR has created a list of free resources for people looking for information and advice on supporting health and wellbeing at work, which is available at www.ciphr.com/health-wellbeing-resource-guide.