More than a third say a colleague has complained about stress but didn’t receive employer support, while H&S reps name stress as a major workplace hazard

Nearly half (44 per cent) of UK workers know someone who has given up work because of stress, according to a new report.

The research, from Capita Employee Benefits, found that 36 per cent of workers have colleagues who have complained about stress to their employer but received no support.  Only a third (33 per cent) of the 3,000 workers surveyed said they would feel comfortable talking to their employer if they had a mental health problem.

More than half (56 per cent) of workers surveyed said they wouldn’t feel comfortable talking to colleagues about taking time off work following mental ill-health.  

In a separate report also released to coincide with World Mental Health Day (10 October), the health and safety representatives named stress as one of the UK’s top workplace hazards.

Seven in 10 (70 per cent) of the 1,000 health and safety (H&S) representatives surveyed by the TUC named stress as a problem that most affects employees; up three per cent on 2014’s study.

Stress was highest in the public sector, with 93 per cent of those surveyed who work in central government naming stress as a top five workplace hazard. Rates were also high in the education sector (89 per cent) and health services (82 per cent), found the TUC’s biennial Focus on health and safety report.

TUC secretary general Frances O’Grady said: “It’s in no-one’s interests to have overstretched workforces. People who experience high anxiety are less productive and are more likely to take time off. Stress is preventable if staff have reasonable workloads, supportive managers and a workplace free from violence, bullying and harassment.”

The report also showed a big rise in stress at medium-sized companies. Three-quarters said it was as a top-five concern in companies with 50-99 employees, compared with 62 per cent  in 2014.

O’Grady added: “The message from the shop floor is clear, stress is becoming a bigger and bigger problem. Pressures of long working hours and low job security are being felt in workplaces across the UK.”

Dr Jill Miller, research adviser at the CIPD, said: “Our key findings about stress in the workplace suggest workload and management style are some of the key causes of work related stress, but there are also non-work factors such as lifestyle, relationships and family issues. We don't lose ourselves walking through the door, and offering to support people with stress is not just about physically being in the office."

Despite the rise awareness and concern around stress and mental illness, many businesses are failing to support robust mental health at work. A survey from the Institute of Directors found that only 13 per cent of businesses have created plans to support good mental health – despite 95 per cent saying it was important for the performance of businesses.

A survey of more than 20,000 workers released last week by Business in the Community (BITC) found that over two-thirds of employees had  experienced symptoms of poor mental health where work was a contributing factor – but only 11 per cent of employees had discussed their problems with a line manager.

“Though we are getting better at talking about stress and mental health at work, we still have a long way to go, and it's essential to give line managers the training they need to make people in the organisational culture feel as though they can speak more freely,” Miller added.

“Initiatives like [Mind’s] 'Time to Change' campaign have been very effective, and organisations signing up to these can be a big help – but it's also important to train and equip line managers so they feel capable and confident in having these difficult conversations with employees. That way employees should feel able to raise an issue with stress at work before it develops into a crisis.”

For real-life stories about mental health in the world of HR, visit People Management’s End the Stigma tumblr, where HR practitioners share their experiences of mental ill-health at work.